How UK fans fell in love with Seve Ballesteros
On the tenth anniversary of his death, we remember how the British fell in love with the great Seve Ballesteros.
A month before the British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1979, Hale Irwin made $ 50,000 by winning the US Open at the then newly refurbished Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. For three days in Lancashire, he looked like he wanted to secure the Claret Jug as well. However, behind the scenes stood a young, creative and fierce competitor.
Seve Ballesteros, 22, persevered, while Hale collapsed. Swollen crowds in spitting rain with high winds did nothing to help Missouri-born Hale. On the 9th hole of his failed third round, Hale showed the rowdies a closed fist. It shouldn’t be.
But Ballesteros’ path was not clear. Jack Nicklaus was still there with a scream. More so, Texan Ben Crenshaw. Crenshaw and Nicklaus would be tied for second of 2. They wouldn’t have enough to match the Spaniard’s power and sleight of hand on the green.
Ballesteros became the youngest champion in 86 years since William Auchterlonie from St Andrews. If you’ve been to St Andrews and picked up some golf gear from Auchterlonies Golf Shop, you might know where the name comes from. Otherwise, you do it now.
It would be some time before Ballesteros had its own branded clothing line. But wearing a wide-necked white shirt and navy blue sweater, it was on the 16th hole of his final lap where he would capture the imagination of the viewing gallery.
After taking off from 356 yards, par 4, Linnet and Pied Wagtail joined in the fight against the stiff wind by the ball hit by Ballesteros. Unlike the summer birds, the Ballesteros ball kind of snuck into an impromptu parking lot, adjacent to the fairway. That it ended there was just bad luck. That he placed it so comfortably on the green with his iron was skillful and moving.
The balance and precision he then showed to birdie the same hole, was greeted with a burst of energy released. Of the golfer and the following crowd; who now weren’t just caught up, but felt part of the romance.
With three strokes to lose, he would maintain that difference in the last hole and prove too tough a challenge to stop.
It was the first of a hat-trick in British Open titles for the late golfer. Five years later he would travel to St Andrews and perform another compelling performance to beat off competition from Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson.
His final victory was back at Royal Lytham in 1988; a rain-filled golf weekend meant the unplayable flooded greens would see the final round on a Monday for the first time. However, he produced some of the best golf courses of his career to hold his closest challenger, Nick Price of Zimbabwe.
While he is a golfer of grace and control who has captured the public imagination, that shouldn’t overlook the calculated approach he tailored to need and resolve. It is the fusion of all these qualities, in 1979, which allowed him to lay the most solid foundations of his career.