Bill Elliott remembers Seve Ballesteros on what would have been the five-time Major champion's 64th birthday
If this world was a kinder, more forgiving place then Severiano Ballesteros would have been 64 today. This birthday would, of course, have been spent in Augusta, wowing crowds with his golf, acknowledging with his smile the birthday congratulations from the people on the other side of the ropes.
Instead we all must grasp the thought that the most charismatic golfer, the most charming magician, golf has so far produced, has been dead for a decade. Ten years lost to him and a lot of fun ripped from us.
My first Masters as a journalist was in 1980. The previous summer I had stood at the back of the 18th green as Seve became Open champion at Lytham. Already he was beloved by the crowds at the course and the millions watching on television. Already he was special.
But nine months later in Georgia he became a world superstar when he won the first of his Masters and Americans, too, fell under his spell. This, of course, did not include all of the players on the US Tour, many of whom resented this upstart Spaniard who had dared to step into the limelight and pocket the loot they believed should be theirs and theirs alone.
My own birthday is April 4 so more often than not I, too, was in Augusta for that day. Seve tried to make sure he wished me ‘felicitas’ on my special day and I made sure I did the same on his. The Masters has been special for a long time now, a triumph of fact as well as bits of fiction and Seve loved winning there because he loved tweaking the American ego almost as much as he loved American women.
That Sunday in 1980 changed everything for him, for European golf and for the European journalists who earned their living writing about a game that not everyone thought was brilliant. We didn’t know it at the time but it was the catalyst for others to raid this treasure chest and so where Seve led, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Jose-Maria Olazabal followed.
An hour after he had won, an invitation to his celebration party that evening was handed to half a dozen of us in the Press Centre. As it turned out, we got to the party at his rented house before he did. Finally, after finishing all the media chores a new champ must get through, he arrived in his new green blazer, his eyes gleaming, his happiness spilling over into the room. (I am second from the left in the photo attached to this article)
It was there an hour or so later that he had me try out the trapeze he had hanging from a door frame, explaining that he must dangle there for 20 minutes each morning to stretch his aching spine and relieve the pain. I managed a couple of minutes before I got back down.
As he helped me back to my feet Seve’s happy eyes dulled for a minute or two as we looked at each other. He knew, I knew, that whatever career he was destined to enjoy was almost certainly going to be a short one. What we didn’t know was that this applied to his life as well. Then we went and got drunk.
Felicitas amigo, vaya con Dios.
PS Why not check out the review of the new book Seve: His Life Through The Lens it’s a cracker.