Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Swashbuckling Spaniard

Golf writers far more gifted that I are eulogizing Severiano (Seve) Ballesteros today. Seve passed away at the age of 54 on Saturday morning, the victim of a vicious battle with brain cancer. Far too young for a man that breathed such exuberance, and passion to the game of golf. Golfers were not known for fist-pumps, and wild shows of emotion. Seve changed that. Every time a clutch putt left the face of his putter, the chances of it dropping into the cup were as good as you and I talking another breath.

Ballesteros' best golf was behind him when I began my broadcast career in 1993. He won the final three events of his life on the European Tour in 1994 (2) and 1995 (1). His tournament scorecard looks like this. 50 wins in Europe, 9 wins on the PGA Tour, his first coming in Greensboro at the GGO in 1978. He is a World Golf Hall of Fame member, and a winner of five majors. Three British Open titles, and two Masters. Numerically, Seve was a beast.

However, there was more to Seve than just great golf. He was the inspiration to so many European golfers, specifically in his native Spain. Players like Jose Maria Olazabal, and Sergio Garcia openly credit Seve as the man that led them to grab a golf club for the first time. While Garcia has yet to win a major, Olazabal has collected a pair of green jackets from Augusta.

And there was the way in which Seve thrilled galleries with his trips around the course. His hair, usually as long as Rickie Fowler's, but not as unruly nor hidden underneath a hat, waved and recoiled with every lash of the club. Seve would spray the ball off the tee, and then find it amongst the trees. Then, the nearly impossible became the routine: the opening just 12 inches wide is the low percentage shot, but it would get him on the green. He'd go that route, rather than punch out safely. The low percentage shot provided the better shot at birdie, so why not go that way? He would, he'd get home, and the fans would be amazed.

I began playing golf in 1982, during Seve's run of dominance, in which he would claim the world's top ranking. If you were a golfer back then, you knew who he was. Knew his name, his smile, his game.

Today, you are feeling a loss, much like I am.

Mike Solarte

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