Story 6 Ballesteros Battle

By Brian HewittDecember 19, 2008, 5:00 pm
The great Severiano Ballesteros is still alive. What has not survived is the prime of his professional golf career. For the longest time, late this year, it didnt look like Ballesteros himself was going to live through a fierce battle with brain cancer.
 
The good news for him and the golf world ' that followed, from near and far, the guarded reports from Spain of his struggle ' is that, yes, the great Severiano Ballesteros is still alive.
 
So what follows is an obituary only for a golf game that long ago ceased to function as it had in his glorious golfing youth. Actually, this is more of a celebration of that glory. Lord knows its better to celebrate when the subject of the recognition is still among us.
 
The cancer arrived without much warning in early October when Ballesteros, 51, collapsed in a Madrid airport. The attack left doctors trying to explain why with words and phrases like edema and intracerebral hematoma and great complexity.
 
They might as well have been trying to make us understand how it was Ballesteros was able to famously get it up and down at the 16th from that car park to win the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham.
 
He brought a gleam of sunshine to a game that, until then, mainly involved umbrellas, wrote one Englishman of the Spaniard.
 
Former world No. 1 Nick Price, a South African and a Ballesteros contemporary, put it this way: When Seve was in full flight, the sky was the limit. Most of us have about 100 ways to shoot a 66. Seve had about 10,000 ways to shoot a 66.
 
To be sure, Seve played his best golf at a fever pitch, daring you to catch him if you could. Pitch and Catch. If Seve Ballesteros had been a baseball player he would have been a fireballer for sure. He was a roaring blast furnace of an athlete. But he could also get you out with his guile.
 
More appropriately, if he had been a matador, Ballesteros striking looks would have made the women at the corrida swoon; his skills with the cape and sword would have stirred even Hemingway; and his daring would have summoned comparisons to the storied toreros, Manolete and the wondrous Juan Belmonte.
 
Seve didnt play golf so much as he painted the game on a canvas you couldnt buy in any art supply store. The brushes of brilliant countrymen Velazquez and Goya didnt make a sound. But, por favor, a moment of silence today for the beautiful noise Seve made with his clubs.
 
His surpassing athletic gifts deserted him much too early without even leaving a forwarding address. Never straight off the tee, his driver couldnt keep the ball on the world in recent years.
 
So Ballesteros spent much of his last two playing decades, often bitter and contentious, lost in a torment you could see in his eyes. For every metaphor his golf had inspired, there were now 1,000 missed fairways that tortured his sporting soul and defaced too many of his scorecards.
 
The record books will show Ballesteros won 94 titles including six European Orders of Merit and five major championships ' three British Opens and two Masters. He played on three victorious Ryder Cup teams and added one more triumph as captain in 1997 at Valderrama in his native land.
 
The Ryder Cup was his passion, providing Europe with 20 full points and five halves in 37 matches. It was also the arena in which his competitive passion ' certain Americans called it gamesmanship ' fully surfaced. Say what you will, but Ballesteros, more than anybody else before or after, knew what the Ryder Cup meant to him.
 
The Americans nobly play for the honor of their own flag. But to this day they havent consistently figured out how to work up a proper motivation to beat the amorphous Europe. The Europeans, on the other hand, waste little pride defending their continents reputation, saving their energies instead for the task of beating the Americans. Ballesteros was the poster boy for this mindset from the moment Great Britain and Ireland were allowed to add continentals to their side in 1979.
 
But there was even more than that with Ballesteros when it came to the Ryder Cup. It was personal. John Hopkins, the distinguished golf voice of The Times of London, called it Seves personal medieval crusade.
 
It was popular for a long time to describe Ballesteros as the Arnold Palmer of European golf. Truth is, their differences were greater than their similarities. Mark Twain once said, The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. But for all that, Palmer and Ballesteros were the only two players of the latter part of the 20th century who could correctly be described as dashing and/or swashbuckling. Greg Norman was a distant third.
 
It is, Norman said, while Ballesteros was fighting his way through the four brain surgeries, a bit of a reality check for all of us at that age.
 
Golf historians will tell you there are no more than three or four dozen golfers who ever lived that deserved the label great. Ballesteros was one of them. But what makes him different than the others, from a recognition standpoint, is the importance of television to the growth of the game.
 
There are newsreels and video footage available of Jones, Hagen, Nelson, Snead, Sarazen and others. But Ballesteros was the first great player whose greatest achievements on the course were almost all recorded on live television. We know him so much better that way than we do his predecessors.
 
And that helps explain the massive outpouring of worldwide support that followed the news that doctors had discovered the brain tumor. Everybody who had been paying even the least bit of attention, it seemed, had a Seve story.
 
One of the best came from Mark Simon, a native Augustan and an unabashed golf fan. In 1983, the year Ballesteros won his first Masters, Seve and his compadres rented a house across Washington Road from Augusta National.
 
According to Simon, Ballesteros and one of his friends set up a chipping course around their rented house and yard. They played it every morning and later in the day after his rounds. They allowed very few of us to be in the gallery, Simon said. Of course, being Augustans, we know how to respect our heroes.
 
Simons story conjures up images right out of a Dan Jenkins novel where his buddies would make bets on who could get a golf ball from the first tee at Goat Hills into a shoe in somebodys closet across town.
 
Who wouldnt have wanted to see Seve chipping and pitching from the garden, through the front hallway, up the staircase and off the balcony onto the chaise lounge? How much could the scalpers have gotten for one of those tickets?
 
Or as Lee Trevino once said of Ballesteros: He could get it up and down from a running cement mixer.
 
A worldwide prayer vigil continued for Seve much of October and November. It was noted that the malignant tumor on the brain of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy had turned up in June and he was still alive. It was also noted, over and over, by those that knew him closely that Ballesteros was a fighter.
 
By the middle of December Ballesteros was an outpatient. He apologized for being difficult with the doctors. Former Ryder Cup opponents knew that part of him. Seve Ballesteros was not above petulance.
 
Then this statement appeared on his Web site: There is a long recovery time ahead and I shall keep on fighting with patience and determination.Thanks to them (the doctors) I will be able to play the mulligan of my life, which I expect to enjoy at my best. Six days before Christmas Ballesteros began chemotherapy treatments at his home in northern Spain.
 
So it is that the life of Seve Ballesteros has been one, long brilliant storm. During his golfing heyday he was every bit as hard on himself as he would be on the doctors this year. His physiognomy back then was like one of those speeded up elapsed time clocks ' all flashing smiles and bright white teeth one moment and dark-complected disappointment and frustration the next.
 
He was a prisoner of his own talent and emotions. And that talent tormented those emotions when it revealed how good he could be at his best only to wag a finger in his face when he came up short.
 
Everybody loses their game eventually. But for now, Ballesteros still has his life.
 
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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.