DEREK LAWRENSON: A decade on from the death of Seve Ballesteros – the memory of 18 holes with the ‘most charismatic European golfer of all’ remains strong as the genius of the Spaniard lives on
- This week marks a decade since Seve Ballesteros’ death but his genius lives on
- My favourite memory of the Spaniard was 18 holes with him at Pedrena Golf Club
- I travelled to northern Spain hoping to bump into him and got offer of a lifetime
- Fascinating insight revealed his struggles as peak of his greatness began to pass
This week marks the 10th anniversary since Seve Ballesteros was stolen from us, and every golfer of a certain age will surely find themselves looking back with misty-eyed wonder.
Which shot was it that clinched it for you? Mine was his opening drive at the 1976 Open at Royal Birkdale, when I was still at school.
Nobody was either brave or foolish enough to drive over the corner of the dog-leg at that brutal opening hole until he stepped on to the tee. That was it. I got up from the small grandstand and proceeded to walk all 18 holes with the Spanish teenager.
Three days later, following a unique 72-hole exhibition of dash and daring, he’d finished runner-up to Johnny Miller and the whole sporting world knew his name.
Every golfer of a certain age will have memories of Seve Ballesteros, who died a decade ago
My memory is bumping into him in Spain and receiving offer of a lifetime to play 18 holes
My favourite memory of Seve, though, came 20 years later at his beloved Pedrena Golf Club. By then, he was a man truly marked by time’s passing.
Two weeks into a new job at the Sunday Telegraph, I’d ventured to northern Spain simply hoping to bump into him. No one had seen him since the last Ryder Cup five months earlier, when chronic back problems had left him barely able to contribute to the winning cause. What had happened to him?
It was looking to be a hopeless goose chase when I popped into the pro’s shop and was told he’d gone on holiday. I sat in the clubhouse nursing an espresso and feeling miserable, when who should move into view pulling a set of clubs and heading to the first tee with nobody for company, but Seve? Bolting down the coffee, I met him just as he pulled on his golf glove.
‘What are you doing here?’ he asked quizzically. ‘Funnily enough, I was hoping to bump into you,’ I replied. Back came the offer of a lifetime. ‘Well, I’m just about to play 18 holes,’ said Seve. ‘Want to join me?’
Like all the best interviews this one came with a fabulous scoop, as he revealed he would be accepting the offer to become Ryder Cup captain for Valderrama in 1997.
Seve revealed to me he would be captaining Europe in the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama
But that’s not why it has left such an indelible impression. It was the fascinating insight he gave into a sportsman operating at a heroic level but who had reached the wrong side of greatness; hoping for more good years but grappling with all the other things that life had thrown into the mix, such as failing health, having a family and the punctured armour of invincibility.
For about an hour we barely talked about golf at all. At one point he stopped walking and looked out towards the Bay of Santander and a mansion on the hill where General Franco used to spend his summer vacation.
‘I honestly think that one day someone is going to blow up the world,’ he said.
He came close to losing his temper on one fairway when I asked him about his back. ‘People don’t realise how sensitive the mind is,’ he rapped. ‘The more I’m asked about my back the more pain I feel. It’s not going to be perfect any more, so let’s leave it at that.’
It’s easy to forget the Spanish genius was a funny man even speaking in a second language
One thing that’s easily forgotten about Seve is how funny he was, even in a second language, and there were plenty of examples between the thoughts, both morbid and profound.
‘Do you know I’ve never had a hole in one at Pedrena?’ he said, as a perfectly struck two iron to the long par-three 15th came close to hitting the flagstick. ‘In fact, I’ve only ever had two in my life.’
‘I’ve had five,’ I told him.
‘You must be a great champion,’ he instantly responded.
When those unforgettable three hours came to a close, and we were sitting in the clubhouse, he presented me with two bottles of Rioja, and signed one: ‘Seve ’96.’
The bottle remains a vivid reminder of blessed moments of rare vintage, spent in the company of the most charismatic European golfer of all.
BROTHERLY LOVE LEADS WALKER CUP BID
It’s never been easy for a Britain and Ireland team to win the Walker Cup on US soil but what chance for the crop of ’21, who will try to wrest the oldest team trophy in golf out of American hands at the revered Seminole in Florida this weekend?
Certainly, it’s going to be difficult getting acclimatised to lightning-fast greens for those team members emerging from our winter and the lockdown, with little competitive practice as a result.
Happily, the majority of the 10-man team are American college-based, including Alex Fitzpatrick, who can surely count on the support of one former US amateur champion.
For obvious reasons his brother Matt, who has an American base close to Seminole, is giving the PGA Tour a miss this week.
Alex Fitzpatrick, brother of Matt, will be playing in the Walker Cup this weekend at Seminole
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