Seve Ballesteros is gone.
The seemingly immortal golfer was mournfully proven mortal on Saturday, reaching his untimely demise due to complications from brain cancer at the age of 54.
His death will be grieved over globally, the golf world dabbing its collective tears as memories of his brilliant career flow effortlessly. Those images will forever endure. His initial major championship victory at the 1979 Open Championship, when he was just 22; his breakthrough Masters title one year later, the first ever by a European; and of course, his fiery demeanor at the Ryder Cup, during which he won 20 career matches.
Equal parts mercurial and magnanimous, competitive and cunning, Ballesteros wasn’t just a golfer. He was an artist, painting abstract masterpieces on the course. A magician, escaping peril from the most disadvantageous situations. A hunter, preying on competitors with the keen eye of a marksman.
He is gone, yes. But he will never be forgotten.
While the memories survive the man, the spirit of Seve will also live on amongst the current generation of stars.
Every time Phil Mickelson appears stranded 50 yards from the nearest fairway, only to scramble for a miraculous par, we will remember Seve.
Every time Sergio Garcia speaks of his idol in hushed tones and unsurpassed reverence, we will remember Seve.
There is a little Ballesteros in every player. It’s that proverbial devil on the shoulder, the part of the conscience that allows for a hooked 4-iron shot between two branches and over a creek. It’s the notion that attempting a difficult bump-and-run may offer a greater reward than a simple flop shot – or vice versa.
And most of all, it’s the innate belief that these efforts will always result in success.
Some players compete with their heads, thinking their way around the golf course in a pursuit of strategic perfection.
That wasn’t Seve’s mission.
Seve competed with his heart, willing the ball into the hole from every angle and direction. He competed with his eyes, seeing pathways to prosperity that his peers could never imagine. He competed with his guts, employing moxie and confidence largely unmatched in the game’s storied history.
“I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck,” Ballesteros once famously said, “but I am thinking, ‘I am going to bury you.’”
That was his unfailing philosophy and never was it more apparent than every two years at the Ryder Cup. Competing for Europe eight times from 1979-95, no player has been more synonymous with the biennial competition than Ballesteros, who owned a 20-12-5 career record and captained the team to victory in his native Spain in 1997.
It’s the reason why, needing to draw some inspiration for his players, Colin Montgomerie phoned him prior to last year’s edition of the event, allowing his men to briefly speak with the legend. The strategy was so effective that eventual hero Graeme McDowell explained in the euphoric celebration, “Seve is everything that is European golf. … We did it for him this week, we really did.”
Ballesteros is largely credited for helping make the European Tour what it is today. He won six Order of Merit titles – starting in 1976, when he was just 19 years old – and was named Golfer of the Year on three occasions. In all, he claimed five major victories and 50 career wins on the circuit, but his imprint can’t be measured in numbers alone.
Ask any European professional who has burst onto the scene in the past two decades and nearly each one of them will list Seve as the predominant influence on his career. Actually, it transcends geographical boundaries. At last month’s Champions Dinner at the Masters, the U.S.-born Mickelson offered a Spanish-inspired meal in tribute to the two-time winner.
There will never be another Seve. He won’t be remembered as the greatest golfer of all-time, but his approach to the game surpassed all others in style, flair and creativity.
Through that, his spirit remains. Every time a player makes birdie from the rough, every time a hazard is viewed as more challenge than deterrent, every time a chip shot inexplicably finds the bottom of the cup, we will remember Seve Ballesteros.
Follow Jason Sobel on Twitter @JasonSobelGC