Nine Holes with Severiano Ballesteros

We take a look back at one of the true legends of golf.

ProfilesAs I’m sure everyone in the golfing community has heard, Severiano Ballesteros passed early on the morning of May 7th. Seve was a larger than life figure in the world of European golf and golf around the world, and he is one of the few superstar athletes to have gained universal acclaim. Seve is widely considered to be the best European golfer of all time, and his death before his time comes to great dismay for golf fans across the globe. Ballesteros will be remembered as being one of the most exciting and creative golfers of all time, and one of the legends of the sport.

Hole One: Childhood.
Severiano Ballesteros Sota was born on April 9th, 1957, in Pedrena, Cantabria, Spain. Given a three-iron by an older brother, Seve spent long hours as a kid on the beach, whacking around golf balls while he was supposed to be in school. One can only assume that this is where his unmatched creativity with the wedges came to fruition.

Hole Two: Teenage Years.
Seve comes from a golfing family. His uncle Ramon Sota won four times on the Spanish professional tour and came in sixth at the 1965 Masters. Seve’s brother Manual was a very consistent European Tour player, finishing inside the top 100 of the Order of Merit 12 straight years from 1972 to 1983. Seve’s brothers Vicente and Baldomero and nephew Raul are also pros.

In March of 1974, Seve turned pro at the age of 16. He showed the world his talent for the first time on an international level in 1976, when he came in second in the Open Championship at just 19 years of age. In fact, Seve lead after three rounds, but a poor 74 on Sunday dropped him into a tie for second place. Seve’s first foray into major championship contention pitted him against tough opposition, as he finished behind only Johnny Miller and tied with Jack Nicklaus.

Hole Three: Ascension to Golf Greatness.
Seve would end up coming in first in the Order of Merit that year, earning 39,504 Euros after winning an amazing five times. He would also win the Order of Merit the next two years, earning 46,436 Euros and 54,348 Euros.

Seve’s breakthrough came at the 1979 Open Championship, which he won with a final-round score of 70. Seve won by three strokes over best-of-all-time Jack Nicklaus and putter extraordinaire Ben Crenshaw. After the final round, Seve was the only player under par, and it was a spectacular second-round score of 65 that put him in contention. The defining moment of the championship was the 16th hole on Sunday, when Seve hit his tee shot into a car park yet still managed birdie (see the first video below). This victory made Seve the youngest winner of the Open in the 20th century, and the first major winner from continental Europe since 1907.

Seve didn’t play the PGA Championship that year, but he won the next major he did play, the 1980 Masters. Seve shot a first-round 66 and never looked back. This was just Seve’s second win in America, after his win at the 1978 Greater Greensboro Open. By the time of his second major victory, Seve already had nine wins on the Euro Tour and several wins on the Japan Tour. Seve’s first Masters win was the first win at Augusta National by a European player, and at the time he was the youngest winner of Bobby Jones’ great tournament (a record that has since been surpassed by Tiger Woods).

Hole Four: One of the Greats.
Seve would go on to win three more major championships, his next one at the 1983 Masters. He won by four strokes over Tom Kite and again beat out Ben Crenshaw. Because of rain on Friday, the Masters was forced to finish on Monday for the first time in ten years, and that weather undoubtedly played into the hands of a Seve, a master at creating shots that no one else had the vision to dream up.

His next major win came a year later in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. With countryman Jose Maria Olazabal in the field for his first major, Seve was in the top 10 all week long, and closed the deal with a final round 69 to beat Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson by two strokes.

1988 makerd Seve’s last major championship, this one coming again in the Open Championship. Ballesteros won by two shots over Nick Price at Royal Lythan and St. Annes Golf Club. Like the 1983 Masters, the Open was rained out one of the days, and they had to finish on Monday, the first time the Open Championship ever finished on a Monday. Seve started the week with a first-round 67 to take the lead, but Price came back with a second-round 67 that put him in first place. Seve came into the final round two back, but a spectacular round of 65 beat out Price’s 69, and clinched him the victory.

Hole Five: A Euro Tour Legacy.
Seve is known as the “European Arnold Palmer,” a fitting title. Like Palmer in the U.S., Seve was the biggest golf star on continental Europe at the time, and his record on the European Tour bears that out. From 1980 to 1990, Seve placed in the top 11 in all but two Masters. In fact, he was rarely out of contention in any majors championship in the 1980s. Although he was done winning majors in 1988, he continued to win on the European Tour until 1995. All in all, Seve won 45 times on the European Tour, four times on the PGA Tour, and six times on the Japan Tour, plus his five majors. Ballesteros dominated the Euro Tour in the 1980s, but his game began to deteriorate in the 1990s. His driving became more erratic than it already was, and injuries had limited his play by the middle of the decade. By 2003 he was mostly done with professional golf, aside from a brief stint on the Champions Tour in 2007. In his career, Seve spent 61 weeks at number one in the world golf rankings, which is the fourth most of all time.

Hole Six: A Match Play Legend.
Seve’s greatest legacy might be in the Ryder Cup. His was picked for the 1979 Ryder Cup, then participated in every event from 1983 to 1997, though he was the non-playing captain in 1997. Seve and the Europeans won four times, lost four times, and tied once. The only year he didn’t play was 1981, when he was voted off the European team for playing too much in America. Europe could have used him that year too, as they got trounced 18.5 to 9.5 by a Dave Marr-captained American team.

For his career, Seve compiled a Ryder Cup record of 20-12-5. Even more spectacularly was his record in foursomes and fourballs when paied up with fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal. The pairing was given the nickname the “Spanish Armada,” and is the most successful Ryder Cup pairing of all time, compiling a record of 11-2-2.

Seve also played in the Alfred Dunhill Cup three times, and the World Cup of Golf four times, including two wins. Seve became so well known for his match play prowess that a tournament was named after him, called the Seve Trophy. Seve even won his own tournament its inaugural year in 2000, captaining the successful Euro team to victory over Colin Montgomery and the Great Britain and Ireland team.

Hole Seven: Late Life and Passing.
Seve was admitted to the hospital on October 6th, 2008, after falling unconscious at the Madrid-Barajas Airport, and was later diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He underwent two different surgeries over the course of a month, and by October 24th it was confirmed that the tumor had been removed. Ballesteros was moved to La Paz Hospital in Madrid to continue his rehab, and was discharged in December. He received three different courses of chemotherapy as an outpatient ending in April. In June, he started the Seve Ballesteros Foundation at his first public appearance to aid cancer patients as well as young golfers. During the Spanish Open this last week, the Ballesteros family announced that Seve’s condition had taken a turn for the worse, and that he had passed on May 7th, 2011.

Hole Eight: Sentiments for Seve

Just to hear him explain how to hit shots around there – it was just artful. Just how much spin you need to put it here and where you need to land it, where it needs to kick and the way he explained it… And what he needs to do with the body to do that with the hands. He looked like he didn’t try and do anything mechanical – he just understood it. He would have been so much fun to watch and compete against… Seve was one of the most talented and excited golfers to ever play the game. His creativity and inventiveness on the golf course may never be surpassed. His death came much too soon.

Tiger Woods

He was the greatest show on earth.

Nick Faldo

Today, golf lost a great champion and a great friend. We also lost a great entertainer and ambassador for our sport. No matter the golf that particular day, you always knew you were going to be entertained. Seve’s enthusiasm was just unmatched by anybody I think that ever played the game.

Jack Nicklaus

He was a man who got into trouble. Only for Seve, there was no such thing as trouble.

Gary Player

Seve made European golf what it is today.

Lee Westwood

He did for European golf what Tiger Woods did for worldwide golf. His allegiance to the European Tour was admirable.

Nick Price

Whenever he went to the chipping green, I went too. Just to watch. For me, he is maybe the most talented player ever.

Geoff Ogilvy

The best imagination. The best short game. You never really knew where he was going to hit it.

Mark Calcavecchia

He could hit shots that no one else could hit. I remember playing with him at El Saler in the Spanish Open. He missed the green at a short hole. The ball finished wide of a bunker and finished in heavy rough. There was tree overhanging between him and the flag, which was only ten feet or so from the edge of the green. I actually found his ball and thought he had an impossible shot… I told my caddie the best he could do was maybe 12 feet past the hole. Of course, he goes over there, takes a couple of practice swings and hits the perfect shot. The ball lipped out. He hit it so softly. He had that ability no one else had.

Jose Maria Olazabal

Hole Nine: Videos of Greatness

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