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The day the great Seve saved me a fortune.....


HE was loved the world over and known simply as Seve.

To be recognised by your forename is the ultimate accolade and true testament of a genuine sporting great.

Never at any time could he be described as mundane or ordinary, and throughout his distinguished career it was always wise for his caddy to include a national survey map with the customary course guide and yardage marker as some of the unchartered territory Seve managed to find could only be located by grid reference.

It was quite within the bounds of possibility for him to play 18 holes without hitting a fairway or a green in regulation and still card a bogeyfree round.

That was the thrall of the great Severiano Ballesteros (even his full name has panache), who has had more words of tribute and genuine affection written following his sad death than I can remember for any other sportsman in my lifetime.

He inspired a generation of working men to play the game which, in truth, prior to his emergence was perceived as only for those educated within the confines of grammar or public schools.

He became the most loved and charismatic visitor to these shores, reigniting the Ryder Cup challenge and giving European golfers the confidence and belief to venture on to the US PGA tour, while instigating a raft of regulations that realised the commercial value of the sport.

He was the consummate shot maker, an escapologist and magician all rolled into one. In essence a golfing genius who could manufacture rescue shots from car parks and gorse bushes that were breathtaking in their audacity and accomplished with passion and bright burning eyes.

His prolonged fist-pumping routine on collecting the claret jug at St Andrews, the home of golf, in 1984 was one of the game's most enduring images. If you add his undoubted sex appeal and fractured accent that made the ladies swoon then he became the model we hacking mortals all aspired to be.

Of course he had his faults. He could be very angry and stubborn.

He could irritate with his singlemindedness and possessed a withering turn of phrase in both English and Spanish that could be cutting and dismissive.

He was careful with his money and was fully aware of his commercial value and importance. The last few years had been painful and lonely following personal crisis, domestic upheaval, numerous disputes with officialdom and, sadly, culminating in the discovery of a destructive brain tumour, but this never diminished his charismatic and redoubtable spirit.

Three instances where I can say "I was there" sum up the man.

At The Belfry in 1985 he violently hooked a ball into totally virgin wasteland on the left of the water on the sixth and then contrived a low draw back across the water before a pitch and putt achieved the most unlikely of pars. How the crowd roared.

At West Palm Beach in 1987 the US PGA Championship was taking place and 'er indoors and I, on holiday in Florida, decided to venture to the second day's play.

It was late morning and we found ourselves close to the practice putting area, which was deserted except for Seve rolling in regulation ten-footers assisted by his caddie and brother, Manuel.

It was quite surreal as if the four of us were the only occupants of the planet, and as he began to walk away I called out: "Excuse me Mr Ballesteros, could you spare a moment?" He grinned that familiar cavalier grin and sauntered over.

"My wife here is a huge fan and would just like to meet you."

"Of course," he replied and held out his hand to her. "I am so pleased to meet you," he intoned, the accent seemingly more enhanced.

No response from the good Mrs Ismay and I turned to find out why. She was shaking, trembling and dumbstruck. Again he smiled and spoke.

Again she quivered, her dry mouth desperately attempting to form some reply to but to no avail.

"I am so sorry," I said to Seve, who with a gesture of pity merely shrugged his shoulders, smiled disarmingly at her and strode away.

She remained perched on cloud nine through the remains of the day, wearing a trance-like smirk and forgetting totally her intent to raid the extortionate Palm Beach boutiques and lay waste to my plastic. For that alone, dear Seve, I will be eternally grateful.

Finally, during a Variety Club charity day at Wentworth the great Spaniard demonstrated, with his own somewhat halting commentary, fantastic bunker shots and how to manufacture rescue from the rough.

We all stood stunned by his trickery and sleight of hand and club until from the back of the crowd was heard the unmistakable voice of comedian Frank Carson begging the question: "How do we know he's telling the truth?" Seve roared with laughter and then quietly intoned with a knowing grin "you don't."

Seve would never accept defeat or take the easy option. What you saw is what you got.

Nothing about him was shallow or artificial. He believed that sheer will, steely resolve and the wondrous skills honed as a boy on the beach at Santander with a rusty four iron and handful of elderly misshapen golf balls would always triumph over adversity.

He was a Golfing God and long may he remain so.


Golfing god: Seve Ballesteros performs a typical recovery shot and (above) with the Claret Jug after winning The Open in 1988.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:May 12, 2011
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