Seve Ballesteros will be remembered as one of the most inventive shot makers in the history of the game.
Much of that is credited to the fact that as a child Ballesteros learned to play with a single club, a rusted 3-iron he turned into a magic wand.
“He could get it up and down out of a garbage can,” Jack Nicklaus once said.
Paul Azinger was witness to so many of the great recovery shots Ballesteros became famous for over the years.
“Seve had this ability to be so creative,” Azinger said. “If you gave Seve a 5-iron and said, `Ok, you have to shoot under par for nine holes in order to be allowed to turn pro,’ he would have done it, with one club.
“People act like Seve wasn’t a good ball striker, that he hit it all over the place. He might have hit some wild shots, but so does Tom Watson and so does Fred Couples. But those three guys never missed the sweet spot. They just don’t miss. Seve might have hit it off line, but he hit the sweet spot. He got confused late in his career, and it wasn’t as good, we’ll just say that. He didn’t always hit it as solid at the very end, but when Seve was winning, maybe he wasn’t the most accurate player, but he hit it on the sweet spot.”
Ballesteros hit so many impressive recovery shots in his time that it’s difficult to name his best.
There was his famed escape with a 3-wood from under the lip of a fairway bunker at the 18th hole at PGA National at the Ryder Cup in 1983, a shot he muscled 245 yards to the green to gain an improbable halve against Fuzzy Zoeller.
“Greatest shot I’ve ever seen,” Nicklaus once said.
There was the delicate 9-iron bump and run to 4 feet at the final hole of the British Open at Royal Birkdale in 1976, a shot that Ballesteros described as one of the most important of his life, securing the 19-year-old a second-place tie with Nicklaus. The sheer audacity of the shot made Lee Trevino laugh out loud watching it from his home.
“He could do anything he wanted with the ball,” Trevino said.
There was Ballesteros’ famous final-round escape from the parking lot aside the 16th fairway when he won his first British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s in 1979. He missed the fairway by 60 yards to the right, got a free drop in the parking lot and ended up making birdie.
“I remember a shot he hit against me in a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match in 1995,” Azinger said of their match at the Old Course at St. Andrews. “He hit a 9-iron out of a fairway bunker on the third, fourth or fifth hole, I think. It was the greatest shot I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t have gotten a sand wedge out of that bunker.”
Just about every round Ballesteros played featured some inventive shot.