SEVERIANO BALLESTEROS passed away and in doing so the world lost of one of the sport’s true legends, a superstar who transcended his sport.
His greatness in time will be truly measured not only for his feats on the course but even more crucially the influence his actions had on others.
In golfing terms, Seve was for European golf what Arnold Palmer was for golf in America. He played the game in his own unique manner and propelled golf from a fringe sport to one that captured the imagination and participation of millions of golfers, most particularly in mainland Europe.
When he first arrived on the European Tour scene in the mid 70s, the European Tour was still in its infancy and struggling to survive.
The game was dominated by American golfers and, more crucially, the American PGA Tour.
However, in a couple of years he managed to change all that, spearheading an international charge that was to change the game for good.
In 1976, he won his first of six European Order of Merit titles, by winning five times on the European Tour while also finishing in second place to Johnny Miller at the British Open. His short-game brilliance, his creativity and his imagination were the foundations for Ballesteros’ success but these were complimented in no small way by his good looks, his charismatic swashbuckling approach and his never say die attitude, all of which won him admirers all round the world.
His most important success came in the US Masters in 1980, when at the tender age of 23 he became the first European to win it. In doing so he generated a new legion of fans for himself in America, but more importantly he demonstrated to his fellow European Tour players that they could compete with and beat the Americans on their home soil.
This victory was the fist of 11 European wins at Augusta between 1980 and 1999. In all, Ballesteros went on to win five major championships: the US Masters in 1980 and 1983, and the Open Championship in 1979, 1984 and 1988 in a professional career with 91 wins.
As a member of the European Tour throughout the late 80s and 90s I was fortunate to witness the profound impact he had on the Tour in resurrecting Europe’s fortunes in the Ryder Cup series. Never one to shirk away from a challenge, he doggedly refused to believe the Americans were more talented than their European counterparts.
Perhaps this passion was best demonstrated when, as captain, he brought the Ryder Cup into the European mainland for the first time, winning at Valderrama in 1997. Today the Ryder Cup is the single most commercially important event for the European Tour, the proceeds from which go towards supporting the further development of the European Tour worldwide.
I was fortunate to play competitively with Seve on a number of occasions. I always found him to be sincere and genuine and never short to offer help when requested.
Although a private man, he took great pride watching the European Tour develop and usually went out of his way to welcome new players on to the Tour. His last years actively playing were a struggle for him (game wise) but with great dignity he showed up for press conferences, answered all the questions, posed for all the photographs and signed all the autographs. He never shirked from his responsibilities — much like he never shirked from a challenge.
Over the past couple of years he quietly fought his illness with great dignity. It would have hurt him that he would not have been able to attend the champion’s dinner at last year’s British Open and this year’s US Masters, but he would have been there in spirit.
Today we mourn the passing of an iconic figure, one of the world’s greatest entertainers. Perhaps it is symbolic that he passed away during the week of the Spanish Open and at a time when his great Ryder Cup comrade Jose Maria Olazabal is the captain of the European Team and the European Tour is the most dominant tour in world golf.
Perhaps he felt that his job was done? We will all miss him.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved