Severiano Ballesteros Biography
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Severiano Ballesteros was born on 9 April 1957 in Pedreña (Cantabria), a small village on the southern shore of the Bay of Santander in the north of Spain. Baldomero, his father, had formed part of one of the best rowing crews in history in Spanish “traineras” (fixed bench fishermen’s boat). In Pedreña there is a great tradition for this type of tough sport, although golf also formed part of the atmosphere at that time-the 50’s and 60’s. If, in all the Pedreña homes one could always find a member of the family who had caddied at the Royal Pedreña Golf Club – a prestigious club inaugurated in 1928 by de King of Spain – in the Ballesteros family this was more than a customary as Seve’s older brothers Baldomero, Manuel and Vicente were all professional golfers, as was his uncle Ramon Sota, his mother’s brother, one of the best golfers in Europe in the sixties, winner of four Spanish Professionals Championships, sixth in the 1965 U.S. Masters and a member of runners-up teams at two World Cups, in 1963 and 1965 (behind the USA and South Africa, respectively), in addition to other important victories all over the world. With this background, plus of course, impressive natural talent and his tremendous love of the game and enthusiasm for work, Seve, with a 3-iron his brother Manuel had given him as a present, invented a huge variety of shots that bestowed his game with enormous versatility.
At the age of 10 he took part in his first caddies tournament. He recorded a score of 51 over the 9 holes, beginning with a 10 on the first hole – a par 3. The following year, he came second with 42. At the age of 12, then playing the full 18 holes, he won the tournament with a score of 79. His made progress at lightning speed – at 13 he was already shooting 65 – and he picked up everything he saw. In 1971, when the La Manga Club was officially opened, he was able to watch the great golfers in action. The golfing star that most impressed him was Gary Player and his spirit of sacrifice on the practice ground. Seve did not have much chance to play at the Pedreña Golf Club and for that reason he sharpened his skills mainly on the beach and only on nights with a full moon did he tiptoe down a play the course. Of course, he was caught out more than once and punished for his misbehaviour, which made him think seriously about his future.
Despite these obstacles, on 22 March 1974 he turned professional (he was not quite 17). His first tournament was the Spanish Professionals Championship at San Cugat. He came 20th, causing his great disappointment as his objective was no less than outright victory. His first triumph came in Pedreña when he won the under 25 Championship of Spain and the following week he was Runner – Up at the Santander Open, at the North of Spain Circuit. At an international level, his best performance was at the Italian Open where he came 5th. 1976 was witness to his definite launching. Not as much for winning the Order of Merit with victories in the Dutch Open or Lancôme Trophy, catching up on the 4 shots Arnold Palmer had over him with 9 holes to go, or his triumphant World Cup Team win in California but for his performance, which catapulted him to world fame when he came second in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, sharing the honours with Jack Nicklaus as runners up to Johnny Miller. Seve was leader of the tournament for the first three days, surprising everybody with a chip that he shot clean as a whistle between two bunkers, rolling too little over a meter from the pin, giving him a birdie on the last hole. The intense look on his face and his courage from that day onwards mesmerise the masses. In 1977 he again came first on the Order of Merit and in 1978, with victories in the USA, Kenya and Japan; he became a truly international golfer. The truth is he achieved six consecutive tournament victories which, in addition, were over the remaining four continents after Europe. Seve won his first Open Championship in 1979, becoming the youngest winner that century. His next appearance in a major was at the US Masters where, in 1980, he again amazed everyone. With 9 holes to go he was 10 ahead of the player in second place… Seve managed 23 birdies and an eagle during en route to victory. At 23 he became the second non-American and first European to don the Green Jacket. The church bells in his home town of Pedrena rang out in joy. Seve was already known as one of the longest hitters in golfing history and his Augusta victory proved that he was the most complete player of the moment. The winning streak of two consecutive Grand Slam victories petered out in the United States where he was disqualified in the US Open for arriving late for his tee-off. This was his first great disappointment.
Seve’s fighting spirit was most likely inherited from his father and it has become a characteristic of his in all he does, whether on or off the course. He has fought to dignify the European Tour and this cost him no small upsets such as, for example, not being selected to play in the 1981 Ryder Cup. Despite all, his contribution has been vital in bringing the event to the brink of expectations and making it become one of the most keenly-followed sporting events shown on television. Seve, indeed, did not take part in the 1981 Ryder Cup but in the tournaments following that event, he put many a player to shame by showing that his level was far above that the rest of the European Tour. The following example is eloquent enough. In the six remaining tournaments he played after the Ryder Cup, he won four important titles (Spanish Open, World March Play, Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and Australian PGA Championship), losing in the play-off to Miller at the Million Dollars Challenge in Sun City and coming third in the Johnnie Walker Trophy.
In 1983 Seve received his second Green Jacket. His opening holes in the Final Round practically wrapped up The Masters for Seve, as he started birdie, eagle, par, birdie. Tom Kite, runner up said, “when he gets going, it’s almost as if Seve is driving a Ferrari and the rest of us are in Chevrolets”, thus showing the perfect symbiosis existing between the player and the tournament. Proof of this is the fact that in several of his golf course designs, details can be found than are reminiscent of Augusta National and which have melted into Seve’s own personal philosophy.
At the end of the 1980s, in a book written by personalities such Arnold Palmer, Mark McCormack, Peter Dobereiner and Peter Allis, the following appeared: “Even before winning the Open at Royal Lytham in 1979, there was an important stream of opinion that maintained than Severiano Ballesteros was number one. Toward 1983 all discussions on the theme ceased; the Spaniard was top of the poll, whatever criteria.” Golfing authorities pointed out that in Seve there was Hogan’s elegance, Snead’s ability and force, Palmer’s power and aggressiveness, Player’s tenacity, Nicklaus’ technique and Watson’s temple. “Every generation or so there emerges a golfer who is a little bit better than anybody else. I believe Ballesteros is one of them… On a golf course he’s got everything – I mean everything: touch, power, know-how, courage and charisma”. To talk about world golf was to talk about Seve and, for this reason, when he refused to play exclusively on the American Tour; the issue was taken up with the top mandatory circles of the all powerful US PGA Tour, resulting in an historical change of ruling. In 1984, The Open Championship was held at St. Andrews: that is, the most important tournament in the world at the most legendary setting; the very cradle of golf. Severiano rose to the occasion, showing his concentration, command and winning capacity. Without doubt, this is one of the key moments of golfing history. His last decisive putt for birdie was seen the world over and became the hallmark of an era. So much was this so that the image has become the new logo for Seve and his companies.
No major tournament victory is simple. The final round of the 1988 Open Championship was grandiose, precisely in the same scenario as Seve’s 1979 win, Royal Lytham St. Anne’s. With a score of 65, Seve was clearly ahead of his rivals, all great champions. Undoubtedly, it was one of the best final rounds of any Open Championship. With his triumph, Seve confirmed his domination of the game throughout the eighties. Curiously enough , “Golf World”, prior to that Open, published an exhaustive article on how Seve had played the last six holes at Royal Lytham St. Anne’s in 1979, comparing the “conventional route“ with “the Seve Way”. Those shots have gone down in history. They were a definition of the player’s own particular style, like for instance, his way or confronting the 16th hole by the shortest route, starting out with a driver instead of a conservative iron, then having to take his second shot from the parking lot far from where the other players had dropped their shots, reaching green in such a well-placed position that he could then finish off with an imposing putt to hole a decisive birdie.
If, in individual events Seve has created a style of his own, in the Ryder Cup his presence from 1979 and, particularly from 1983, has been the element of inspiration that changed the course of this competition. That was the first time for many years that Europe was defying the USA. Even today, that fantastic shot of Seve’s with a 3 wood, out of a bunker situated almost 220 yards from the green in his match against Fuzzy Zoeller at PGA National in Palm Beach is still remembered. For sure, the 1985 victory was very exciting but perhaps of even greater significance was the 1987 triumph on American soil. No doubt this is where a radical change took place in World Golf. The Europeans showed that golf was not only the American Tour and proof of this was that the following the Ohio victory, over the subsequent seven editions of The Masters, 6 Green Jackets crossed the waters to Europe. This would have been unthinkable in earlier years. The victories achieved by Europe over America made following editions of the Ryder Cup truly spectacular and, for this reason, Seve was bent on having the competition staged in Spain. Eventually, Seve’s dream came true and the 1997 Ryder Cup took place in Spain at Valderrama and was played on the Costa del Sol. Ballesteros himself was captain of the European team that justly beat the Americans. That Ryder Cup is remembered by many as “Seve’s Ryder Cup“: that is, the victory of a proper team over individual (American) stardom. There is no doubt that the British Open is very special for Seve, just as the Masters is. This is also true of the World Match Play Championship that has been won by Seve five times. Calling again upon this team spirit, the Seve Ballesteros Trophy has been created, or in other words, Continental Europe versus Great Britain & Ireland, somewhat similar to the matches played in the seventies. Precisely in one of them, held at The Belfry, in a match against Faldo, Severiano hit one of the most spectacular shots that had been ever seen at than venue, reaching number 10 green from the back of the tee, a par 4 flanked by a stream. From that day on this, the most spectacular hole of the course has a name: “The Ballesteros Hole“. In 1999, on the occasion of Severiano’s induction to the Hall of Fame, Lee Trevino pointed out that: “Every generation or so there emerges a golfer who is a little bit better than anybody else. I believe Ballesteros is one of them… On a golf course he’s got everything – I mean everything: touch, power, know– how, courage and charisma“. But the best summing – up was delivered by Ben Crenshaw when he stated Seve plays shots “Seve plays shots I don´t even see in my dreams”. During the first edition of the Seve Ballesteros Trophy played in April 2000 in England, he showed his unsurpassable virtues to perform many different types of shots. His talent helped him win Colin Montgomerie, captain of Great Britain and Ireland. This final round win was over-riding for the Continental team, commanded by Severiano, to get in this prestigious trophy. On July 16th 2007, at the start of the Open Championship in Carnoustie, Severiano announced his retirement in the same place where he played his first British Open in 1975.
The recognition paid by his colleagues was absolutely outstanding: José-Maria Olazábal said: “Seve is the own essence of European golf; and it is sad to know that the new generations have not watched him play and never will be able to understand him. He was my inspiration, the best friend I had in my career. He has been a true Master. I will always admire his determination, his confidence in the course. Maybe Tiger could be compared to him, but the charisma he held to push all of us will never be back.” Tiger Woods, remembered Seve with admiringly. “He is, without any doubt, the most creative golf player in this sport. I can’t remember anybody with his short game. I have seen him playing golf, I have been so lucky of learning his way of understanding golf around the green, and I also had the opportunity of asking him the reason for one specific shoot and not a safer or easier one indeed. He has been a genius beyond compare. It is sad that his physical problems prevent him from doing a normal swing. We will miss him a lot.”
The five times Open Championship winner, Peter Thomson, said “he is one of the two most outstanding golf players I have ever seen together with Sam Snead”. “I would say he was the most gifted young player I have ever seen, and his achievements certify it”. In July 2000, he received an outstanding award in Scotland, the birthplace of golf: Doctor Honoris Causa in Laws by the University of St. Andrews. In Spain, he has been also distinguished with both civil and sport distinctions. One of most important was the Principe de Asturias in Sports in 1989. He also received the distinction of “Honorary Ambassador of Marca Spain” from H.R.H. Prince of Asturias, in January 2005. In October, 2008, The Times, the most important and prestigious newspaper in GB, selected Seve as the first one in a list of athletes who has changed our point of view about sports. The journalist, Simon Barnes, the author of the list, declared that Seve was the man who made golf popular all around the world. “When Ballesteros appeared, golf players were only British or American, and they were lifeless. Ballesteros brought passion and risk to Golf“. On October, 5th, 2008, Seve had to be admitted at La Paz Hospital in Madrid, after suffering a collapse. A brain tumour was diagnosed and he had surgery on October 14th.As a result of the intervention he suffered a brain edema. On the 24th of the month, he had surgery again to act on a haematoma located inside his brain. On December 2nd, he returned to the operating room. Finally, he received the medical discharge from the Neurosurgery ward after more than two months in the hospital. During 2009, he received six cycles of chemotherapy, and then six weeks of radiotherapy. From when he left the hospital, Severiano followed tough physiotherapy exercises time-table, only interrupted by his dedication the “Severiano Ballesteros Foundation” which was created by Seve to help fight brain tumours, and by his designs of golf courses. His family all work towards the goals of The Ballesteros Foundation as they strive to find a cure for brain cancer and also open up opportunities to all children to take up the Game of Golf. All at The Heritage would like to pass on our sincere condolences to his family and friends on his untimely passing on Saturday May 7th 2011. He was a pleasure to work with and will be forever in our thoughts.
RIP Seve Ballesteros