Imagination passion only part of the Seve genius

By Doug FergusonMay 8, 2011, 12:25 am

Seve Ballesteros first showed off his magic to a worldwide audience as a 19-year-old at the British Open, playing with touch and imagination, bouncing shots between bunkers and finishing second to Johnny Miller.

Five years later, Ballesteros gave Miller another lasting impression.

It was 1981, the inaugural Million Dollar Challenge in South Africa, with a $500,000 first prize that dwarfed anything else in the world. The two were tied after regulation and went into a sudden-death playoff.

“The first extra hole, I take it right over the flag to about six feet,” Miller recalled during a phone interview Saturday from his ranch in Utah. “He takes out a 6-iron and takes it over the water and it hangs on the lip.”

The playoff went nine holes before Ballesteros blinked with a three-putt bogey. Miller said the Spaniard’s brother told him later that Ballesteros cried for the next two hours.

“You could see how much the guy cared about winning,” Miller said, hours after learning that his rival and five-time major champion had died at age 54 from a cancerous brain tumor.

“That’s the reason he was so attractive to watch,” Miller said. “It’s a little bit like Tiger. He just wanted it so bad. He never did anything lackadaisical.”

Jack Nicklaus said Ballesteros’ enthusiasm was unlike that of any other player, and his imagination also was without comparison.

“I have watched him play 1-irons out of greenside bunkers when just fooling around,” Nicklaus said. “He could do anything with a golf club and a golf ball.”

Hale Irwin played with Ballesteros in the final round of the 1979 British Open at Royal Lytham, famous for Ballesteros making birdie from the parking lot. Irwin said the Spaniard hit three fairways in the final round and still won his first major.

“It wasn’t because he was lucky,” Irwin said. “It was because he created some shots that were unbelievable. As sad as I was, I look back and scratch my head and say, ‘How does he do it?’ It wasn’t an accident or lucky. It was a skill factor he had.”

The skill was undeniable.

Ballesteros once said he would rank himself among the top 15 players of all time. Among Europeans, Harry Vardon and Nick Faldo have won more majors, and Bernhard Langer has played in more Ryder Cups.

But a more important figure in European golf?

Padraig Harrington suggested that an image of Ballesteros – perhaps his celebration upon winning at St. Andrews in 1984 – become the logo of the European Tour. Ernie Els referred to him as an iconic figure, the flag bearer for Europe.

“He opened up so many doors for Europe’s players by winning all over the world, and particularly in America,” the South African said. “The European Tour would not be what it is today without him.”

The philosophy of Ballesteros might best be explained through what some consider the greatest shot he ever hit, the top of a long list.

His tee shot had landed near a swimming pool. He was blocked by a 7-foot wall in front of him, trees everywhere. His caddie, Billy Foster, suggested he pitch to the fairway. Ballesteros saw a tiny gap – no one else would have noticed it – opened the blade of his pitching wedge and went over the trees, ending up just short of the green. Then he chipped in for birdie.

“I like to keep going forward,” Ballesteros said.

His shotmaking skill is legendary. He learned to play using the rusted head of a 3-iron, that he attached to whatever sticks he could find. He used pebbles on the beach near his home in Pedrena as golf balls, and from such humble beginnings learned to create.

“He saw shots no one else could see,” swing coach Butch Harmon said.

Before he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, Ballesteros told of his son, Javier, starting to play. He sent the boy out to their par-3 course with only an 8-iron.

“What happens is he goes over there and sees the other children with a full bag,” Ballesteros said. “And he always says to his friends, ‘Why do you carry a full bag?’ And the others say, ‘That’s how it’s supposed to be.’ And Javier says, ‘No, no. My father says it’s supposed to be playing with only one club.’

“It’s simple and clear,” he added. “One club. You have to develop your imagination.”

The legacy of Ballesteros goes beyond his incredible shots, however.

It was the Spaniard who pushed to bring continental Europe into the Ryder Cup, and he made his teammates believe it was the most important event of the year. He was part of the “Fab Five” in Europe that included Langer, Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam. Ballesteros was the first of that bunch to win a major, and the first to win the Masters. 

“He was the backbone of the European Tour for so long,” two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said. “Seve was their Arnold Palmer. We embellish the truth about things a lot of times, but it is the absolute truth.”

Charisma is hard to define, but there’s a reason Ballesteros is said to have had equal impact on Europe as Palmer did in America. Peter Alliss, the great British broadcaster, said that when Ballesteros was in a good mood, “the world smiled with him.”

“He could change the weather with his face,” David Feherty said.

Ballesteros had his battles with players and tours on both sides of the Atlantic. He missed the 1981 Ryder Cup during a dispute with Europe over appearance money, and he once was fined by his tour for refusing to accept a one-stroke penalty for slow play and signing for the lower score. He challenged the U.S. tour over the number of tournaments they demanded he play.

And then there was the Ryder Cup.

Paul Azinger mixed it up with Ballesteros more than once, calling him the “King of Gamesmanship,” to which Ballesteros once replied that the Americans had “11 nice guys and Paul Azinger.” They settled their difference in Jamaica one year, a conversation that ended with Ballesteros telling Azinger, “We make this like toilet water. We flush.”

Asked for his memories Saturday, Azinger called him an “encourager.”

“Look at the way he treated his partners at the Ryder Cup,” Azinger said. “There was always a pat on the back. He could bring the most out of his partners. I played with him in 1988 at Brookline and had a chance to win there. Seve was encouraging me the last few holes because he could no longer win. That was his nature. He would say, ‘You need to birdie the next hole. You can do this.’ I loved him.

“Anyone who was around Seve learned from Seve,” Azinger said. “And you can’t say that about everyone.”

The shotmaking. The charisma. The adulation from galleries. The legacy he left behind.

“Seve had it all,” Miller said.

Rose (62) sets blistering pace in Indonesia

By Associated PressDecember 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Justin Rose shot a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, starting on the back nine at Royale Jakarta Golf Club, had five birdies to go out in 31, then birdied four of five holes midway through his final nine and another birdie on his last hole in the $750,000 tournament.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Gunn Charoenkul (64) was in second place and Kim Giwhan and Phachara Khongwatmai (both 65) were tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Ranked 51st in the world, the American is aiming for a strong finish in Jakarta to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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LaCava: Woods wouldn't talk after H.O.R.S.E. match

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 2:27 pm

The competitive streak within Tiger Woods knows no bounds - even on the basketball court, according to caddie Joe LaCava.

LaCava has been on Woods' bag since 2011, and he recently shared a story on "Inside the Ropes" on Sirius/XM PGA Tour Radio about a clash between the two men over a seemingly friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. Actually, it turned into nine straight games (and nine straight wins) for LaCava, who exploited a weakness in Woods' on-court strategy while leaning on a mid-length jumper of his own:

"The thing with him was if I missed a shot, which I missed plenty of shots, but if I missed the shot he'd go back down to the 3 (point line) because he liked to make the 3," LaCava said. "But it's harder obviously to make a 3, and I'd go right back to the baseline 12-footer, and he couldn't make it."

It's a short list of people who have beaten Woods nine times in any athletic pursuit, let alone in a row. But for LaCava, the fallout from his afternoon of on-court dominance was less than subtle.

"He did not talk to me the rest of the day," LaCava explained. "I didn't even get the old text, 'Dinner is ready,' because I stay across at the beach house. I didn't even get that text that night. I had to get take-out. He didn't announce he wasn't (talking), he just did it. I'm telling you, nine games in a row. Like I said, he's so competitive, even at something like that."

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3, Tiger Woods

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:45 pm

After returning to competition at the Hero World Challenge in December 2016, Woods started the new year with an ambitious slate of tournament starts as he eyed his first full season since 2013. But he made it only three rounds, looking rusty en route to a missed cut at Torrey Pines before withdrawing abruptly in Dubai.

The “spasms” that led to that withdrawal turned out to be something far more serious, as Woods underwent his fourth and most invasive back surgery in April, a lumbar fusion. It brought with it an extensive rehabilitation, and at the Presidents Cup in September Woods humored the prospect that he might never again play competitive golf.

At Liberty National he also faced some scrutiny for an off-course incident from months prior. In May he was arrested for suspicion of DUI, an incident that produced a startling roadside video of an intoxicated Woods struggling to follow instructions from the arresting officer after driving erratically.

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While he was not drinking at the time, Woods was found to have a mix of several prescription medications in his system, including multiple painkillers. He checked himself into a private drug treatment program in July to address his dependency issues, and in October he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

But the incident was barely a memory when Woods again made a return to competition in the Bahamas at the tournament he hosts. This time around he exceeded nearly every expectation, twice shooting 4-under 68 while tying for ninth among the 18-man field. Having re-tooled his swing following fusion surgery, Woods appeared relaxed, happy and healthy while briefly taking the lead during the tournament’s second round.

What lies ahead for Woods in 2018 remains uncertain, as the stop-and-start nature of this past season serves as a cautionary tale. But after a harrowing arrest and another serious surgery, he seems once again focused on his game, intent on chasing down a new crop of elite talent, some of whom are barely more than half his age.

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:30 pm