Severiano Ballesteros

Severiano Ballesteros is a charismatic Spaniard, who epitomised the spirit of European golf throughout his career. His fiery and passionate approach to the game meant he never knew when he was beaten, but it is impossible to measure the success of this golfer in titles. The sheer genius and creativity of his shots will always be remembered. Indeed, this is a man who should be discussed in terms of quality, not quantity.

Early Life

Severiano Ballesteros was born in Pedrena, North Spain, on April 9, 1957. The youngest of four golfing brothers, Seve began playing golf at the age of seven, with a cut down 3-iron his brother Manuel had given him as a present. It was at the age of ten that Seve began competing.

Early career

As a ten-year-old, Seve took part in his first caddies tournament. He did not win, but went on to finish second in the same tournament just a year later. Making fast progress, he played the full 18 holes at the age of twelve and won the tournament. During his youth, Seve did not have much chance to play on the golf course; instead he practiced on the beach near his home and occasionally snuck onto the course to play at night.

Professional career

Seve began his professional career on March 22, 1974, just before he turned 17. He was to remain an unknown entity for a short while longer, finally erupting into the public eye in 1976. The young golfer swiftly moved from near anonymity to second place in the open at Royal Birkdale, but it wasn’t winning second place that awarded him such fame. As an unknown 19 year old, Seve played in the lead for the first 3 rounds, using fearless shots that took both skill and imagination. With such a passion for the sport, it was impossible for the crowd not to notice such a player. It took until the final round for Seve to be beaten and from that moment Ballesteros had made a name for himself in professional golf.

In the year that followed, Seve came first on the Order of Merit, something he went on to do five more times. Attaining six Merits was a record Seve held until Colin Montgomerie surpassed him in 1999.

1979 led Seve to his first win on the British Open, making him the youngest player to win in the twentieth century. Some of the shots he took in this tournament are amongst the most famous in history and define Seve’s own unique golfing style. When taking on the 16th hole, Ballesteros chose the shortest route, leading him to hit his ball into the temporary car park. Where many would fail, Seve recovered, taking the shot from the car park to the green, still managing birdie for the hole. It was after this that Seve became labelled the “car park champion”.

Now his position in professional golf was concrete, Seve continued winning and became known as one of the longest hitters in golfing history. In 1980 he won The Masters at Augusta and was the first European player to win at that course. This win also made Seve the youngest ever winner at the age of 23, a record which was taken by Tiger Woods years later in 1997.

Seve’s career is well known to have been filled with controversy as much as it was success; in 1981 he was voted off the Ryder Cup team for playing too much in America. The small number of European events he had played meant he had not generated enough Ryder Cup points and a three man committee decided that Peter Oosterhuis and Mark James should be given places on the team instead. This decision provoked Seve to declare he would never play the Ryder cup again. The decision to vote Seve off the team was a mistake, as the team lost to the Americans. Seve’s subsequent contributions to the Ryder Cup have reinforced this mistake; the 1985 tournament saw a win over the Americans for the first time, with Seve winning three-and-a-half points out of five.

Following the Ryder Cup controversy, Seve argued with the U.S. PGA golf tour, who wanted a full time commitment from him. Seve only wanted to play part time and like a true Spaniard, he stuck to his guns and went back to play in Europe full time.

In 1983, Seve took part in the Masters, producing an opening round that left no question as to his ability or the position he would take. He came first, his second Masters win following the 1980 tournament played in Augusta.

The Open Championship in 1984 was played at St Andrews and brought Seve another one of his most famous moments. Seve won the tournament with his final putt for birdie, which has been described as one of the key moments in golfing history. Seve himself describes this as the most exciting shot he took in his career; so much so that his reaction of punching his fist in the air has become his company logo.

1987 was yet another winning year for Ballesteros. This time, though, he was a team player rather than an individual. Following the Ryder Cup controversy in previous years, Seve was chosen to play and he took Europe to new heights, as the team beat the Americans on U.S. soil for the first time. For all the years that Seve took part in the Ryder Cup, he was known as the heart and soul of the team for his determination to show the Americans that they do not hold precedence over the game. 1987 was one of the years that Seve and his determination truly won out.

The last of Seve’s individual major tournament wins was the Open Championship held in 1988. The tournament took the legend back to Lytham and St Anne’s, the golf course on which he had become the “car park champion”. Although this round didn’t bring Seve any dangerous shots or earn him any new nicknames, it was yet another tournament that would be placed in golfing history. Seve again used his unique style and imagination to tackle the course and secure first place. Returning to the course allowed Seve to tackle the 16th hole again. This time he found a perfect spot on the freeway and completed the hole in style. This is a tournament Ballesteros speaks of fondly, agreeing that it was the best final round in golfing history.

As the 1980s drew to a close, so too did Ballesteros’ big wins, although he continued to play professionally and went on to win many more important titles. However, it is without question that the years 1979 – 1989 should be referred to as the Ballesteros decade.

When the Ryder Cup was held in the Costa del Sol in 1997, it was the first time a venue in mainland Europe had been used. Ballesteros was the main driving force behind this decision and as such he was the prime candidate for Captain of the European team. Although captaining the team meant that Seve did not play, he still took the Europeans to winning heights.

The deterioration of Seve’s game since the 1990s was a result of arthritis in his back. When he turned 50 on April 9, 2007, golf fans worldwide were eagerly anticipating Seve partaking in the Champions tour. Unfortunately, the problems with his back proved too much and on July 16, 2007 Severiano Ballesteros announced his retirement from the sport, calling an end to one of the most successful, imaginative and thrilling careers in golfing history.

Off the course

In 1986, Seve founded two business projects. The first was the Amen Corner, a company which he runs with his brother. The company organises golf tournaments, particularly within the PGA European circuit.

The second company Seve founded was the Trajectory business (dealing in golf course design) which has proved very successful. Seve has designed many golf courses with over 30 open for play all over the world.

In the year 2000, a new biennial golf tournament was created and named the Seve Trophy. Seve himself was one of the key instigators of the tournament and it was named after him because of his astounding contribution to the European success in the Ryder Cup. The competition itself consists of two competing teams, one from Great Britain and Ireland and the other from continental Europe.

In terms of family life, Seve is divorced but has three children from his marriage. His son Javier wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a professional golfer. Seve wishes to both encourage and aid his son in fulfilling his dreams. However, he has also said that his studies must come first and only then will he be willing to help perfect his son’s game.

Awards and Honours

  • Captain European team, 1997 Ryder Cup
  • 8-time member European Ryder Cup team
  • European Tour scoring leader (six times)
  • Spanish sportsman of the century (named in 2000)
  • European player of the Century (named in 200)
  • World Golf Hall of Fame
  • PGA Recognition Award for services to golf (received in 2006)

What He Says

I really believe that when things are going your way, it is your destiny to win

I don’t want people to watch the way I dress. I want people to watch the way I play

I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back and wish them good luck, but I am thinking, ‘I am going to bury you.’

What They Say

Tom Kite: When he gets going, it’s almost as if Seve is driving a Ferrari and the rest of us are in Chevrolets

Lee Trevino: Every generation or so there emerges a golfer who is a little bit better than anybody else. I believe Ballesteros is one of them

Colin Montgomerie: I’ve only ever met two men with genuine charisma in my life. One was Sean Connery and the other is Severiano Ballesteros

Ben Crenshaw: Seve plays shots I don’t even see in my dreams