Seve Ballesteros was European golf’s Picasso; his brush, a golf club, his canvas, a golf course. He possessed a vision and creativity that we could not comprehend. Time and again, we would marvel at the shots he would create from positions that any other would have conceded to unalterable fate.
Many have called him, “the Arnold Palmer of European golf,” and that comparison is not without merit. Palmer won seven Majors and sixty-three events on Tour. Ballesteros won five Majors and fifty European Tour events (First, all-time), and an additional four events on the PGA Tour. Like Palmer, Ballesteros was a spark of inspiration for his continent, instilling in all the belief that they too can be champions.
The indelible image of Ballesteros is from the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews on the 18th green. After making a heroic birdie, he pumped his fist in triumphant repose and began a dance of jubilation. The image is more than a celebration of victory; it is a celebration of life. A full-bore embrace of a talent that flashed across our collective conciseness’ like a streaking comment; brilliant and intense in it’s all too fleeting glimpse.
Ballesteros will likely be best remembered for his role in the Ryder Cup. In eight Ryder Cup appearances, his record was 20-15-5, but his impact went well beyond such a staid measure. Ballesteros was the soul of the European Ryder Cup. Even this last fall while tending to the complications from the brain tumors, he addressed the European Ryder Cup team, via teleconference, in a secret team meeting that none present have ever revealed the content of, aside to say that it was the motivational spark that carried the team to victory. At that time, European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomery simply said, “Seve is our Ryder Cup and always will be.”
Ballasteros had a reputation for gamesmanship and a liberal interpretation of the rules of golf if it suited his needs. His heated confrontations with Paul Azinger at the 1991 Ryder Cup stand out, but even Azinger conceded that his passion between the ropes did not give full credit to the man he was outside them. “Even thought we’ve had some tense moments, we respected each other and our differences were resolved after the ’91 Ryder Cup. He was one of the first players to call me when I got sick in ’93. We played a Shell Wonderful World of Golf match at St Andrews in ’95. One of the most talented and flamboyant players ever to play the game.”
While words, even hyperbole, seem inadequate at times like these, it can not be debated that Ballesteros was a complex genius. True genius defies the time period in which it exists, not constrained by such a mortal measure. Therefore, in a sport in which our heroes usually enjoy long, leisurely strolls into the sunset, at 54 years young, we said good-bye too soon to a man without his singular brand of artistry, the game simply would not be what it is today.
Good-bye, Seve Ballesteros and thank you.