His singular place in golf history had been established long before his death today, based on a winning combination of quantifiable factors... like five major championships and a 20-12-5 Ryder Cup record... and more abstract elements; imagination, astounding artistry, swashbuckling fearlessness, and a rare generosity.
Death is a fact of life. Such an inevitable one that we often manage to be pragmatic about it, even where our closest friends and relatives are concerned. In the case of this passing however, I see very little pragmatism. Players, officials and fans have reacted with visible emotion. Perhaps in part because Seve Ballesteros had come to represent the idea of endless possibilities, and that's a wonderful thing to believe in, especially for a golfer.
The silver lining... and with Seve, of course there's going to be a silver lining ... is that he'll continue to inspire golf greatness... and passion for the game. As the sport grows globally his name will continue to evoke everything that's exciting and appealing about golf. Hasta siempre.
The Springtime of a Dashing Young SpaniardGolf meant nothing to me growing up. Which may seem strange when you consider that my first twenty years were spent in Greenwich, CT, where cloistered country clubs... and the golf courses within them... are almost as ubiquitous as the fine restaurants and expensive emporiums that line the town's main shopping street.
(a post I wrote last month just prior to the Masters)
However, Greenwich is a coastal community, and I spent my summers sailing on Long Island Sound. Sunfish regattas and Laser racing... the splashing, speed and billowing spinnakers... seemed so much more exciting to me than the deliberate-looking game that took place beyond the trim hedges of those back country bastions.
I never thought of golf as a spectator sport either. In fact the only memory I have of televised golf as I was growing up, is the yearly right-of-spring that was the Masters, and I don't think there's anyone who grew up in the US who doesn't have memories of that. The intense, velvety green, the bright pink, and the evocative Masters song were all so unmistakable and memorable.
Even those who never followed the sport inevitably caught bits and pieces of the Masters spectacle each year... on some TV screen, somewhere... and I'm quite sure the memories resonate with many, to this day They certainly do with me.
But my most vivid golf memory of that era... the seventies and eighties... is of glancing up at the TV one random Friday in early spring and seeing the most implausibly handsome man I'd ever seen. It was Severino Ballesteros. He'd just turned 23 and was on his way to winning the 1980 Masters. I remember thinking he didn't look like a golfer... though I don't suppose I really knew what a golfer looked like. I do know I made a point to watch the tournament for the remainder of the weekend, which must have seemed extremely odd to my family. I also absconded with the next issue of Sports Illustrated, the one that featured "The Youngest Master" on its cover.
I developed a major crush that long ago springtime, on the man sports writers everywhere were describing as handsome and dashing. He was sexy and exciting in way the sometimes seemed out of context on the trim fairways of staid country clubs. Back then they didn't use the word hot, but in retrospect Seve was the personification of hot.
His appeal of course, went way beyond his physique. Despite my disinterest in golf at the time, I noticed the way he played; the unbridled, scrambling way. My youthful infatuation made more sense when I read, not long ago, that he had defended that wild Friday round by saying, "...it doesn't matter where you put the drive if you make the putt" and then adding, "it's very boring to go fairway, fairway, fairway."
Seve seemed very foreign too. In the much more insular world of the early eighties, his unaffected elegance was exciting and intriguing... in a way that suddenly made golf compelling, and made me a nascent fan of a sport I'd never had the least bit of interest in before.
Over the year's that followed I watched the ups and downs of Señor Ballesteros: a second Masters, three Claret Jugs and his prolific Ryder Cup partnership with fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal were all brilliant, though they were sometimes overshadowed by the injuries... and altercations. The spirited Spaniard was prone to back problems... and his demonstrative nature was sometimes misunderstood.
The Masters is when the memories of Ballestero's brilliance are most vivid. At the 2011 Champion's Dinner earlier this week, Phil Mickelson chose to honor Seve by selecting a menu based on the cusine of Spain and my Spanish golf writer friends have written some moving tributes to their countryman who is without a doubt one of the 20th century's greatest golfers, and whose talent and charisma is what brought so many fans, from so many places, to the game.
I'm heading to Augusta tomorrow, for the first time, and it's definitely a trip inspired by Seve.
Photos: Seve Ballesteros 1980 via Bleacher Report, The Youngest Master John Iacono/SI, Second shot on hole 10, Hugo Costa, Canal+Golf