Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3: Seve Ballesteros
- By Randall Mell
- Dec 26, 2011 8:00 AM ET
His game couldn’t contain his giant spirit.
Bold and willful, charming and flamboyant, charismatic and stubborn, it all radiated off Seve Ballesteros in his regal marches across St. Andrews, Augusta National and beyond.
With his death from brain cancer on May 7, golf writers around the world searched for words to capture the essence of Europe’s celebrated champion.
With more than 90 worldwide titles, 50 European Tour victories, five major championships, Ballesteros was an inspiration to a generation of European pros who rule the world rankings today.
“America had Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer; Seve was our Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus rolled into one,” said Bernard Gallacher, who captained Ballesteros in three Ryder Cups. “You can’t speak too highly of him. Seve was Europe’s best-ever player.”
In his life, and in his death, Ballesteros was also an inspiration to golf writers.
“He went after a golf course the way a lion goes after a zebra,” the great Jim Murray once wrote.
In stories documenting his death, Ballesteros was remembered by writers around the world. Here’s a collection of tributes from other websites, newspapers and magazines:
Doug Ferguson, Associated Press
Seve Ballesteros was a genius with a golf club in his hands, an inspiration to everyone who saw him create shots that didn't seem possible. The Spaniard's passion and pride revived European golf and made the Ryder Cup one of the game's most compelling events.
His career was defined not only by what he won, but how he won.
“He was the greatest show on earth,” Nick Faldo said.
Ballesteros, a five-time major champion whose incomparable imagination and fiery passion made him one of the most significant figures in modern golf.
Jaime Diaz, Golf Digest
Ballesteros had a different allure from other champions. He was talented in the extreme, but it was the way his glory years in the late '70s and early '80s personified the purity of instinct that made him such a vicarious pleasure. That he would fall prey to paralysis by analysis in the full swing is one of the game's most cruel ironies.
For all his transcendent skill around the green - which he never really lost - what set Ballesteros apart was passion. Whenever he competed, he was all in. The crazy intensity of purpose is what made Ballesteros and Faldo blood brothers in the game, and it's why the Englishman was overcome recalling how a tearful Ballesteros embraced him in victory at the 1995 Ryder Cup and told him, "You are a great champion."
Rick Reilly, ESPN.com
As it turns out, there was one jam that Seve Ballesteros couldn't escape.
Ballesteros died early Saturday at 54, from complications of a cancerous brain tumor, but I'll never believe it. In 20 years covering him, I never saw a mess Seve couldn't get out of. He made birdies from parking lots, concession stands, bushes, trees, ditches, weeds you could lose an eighth-grader in, ponds, creeks, flower gardens and even women's purses. I saw him hit shots on his knees, on his tiptoes, stooped over, one-legged and one-armed . . .
He made bogeys that were more thrilling than some guys' eagles. But it wasn't so much what he did with the shot but what he did afterward - leaping, charging, punching unseen enemies in the sky.
Seve was Arnie with an accent. A conquistador in green pants. He was tan and handsome and raw. Emotion poured from his fingernails. He had so many urgent facial expressions, you'd have thought he was on trial.
Joe Posnanski, Sports Illustrated
They called him El Matador. His handsome face and flamboyant game demanded the nickname of an action hero. Ballesteros would drive balls into trees, into roughs, into galleries, under cars, into villains' lairs. Then he would summon impossible shots that leaped over tall buildings, bounced over traps, rolled up to greens. He would follow with chip shots softer than the housing market, and if the ball dared not drop, he would stare angrily, as if personally betrayed. Birdies, he felt, were his birthright.
Michael Bamberger, Sports Illustrated
He was at home in one place in the United States: Augusta National. He liked the cozy second-floor dining room, where he would have long lunches with family members. He won at Augusta in 1980 and '83, and he was in the Sunday mix another six times, seven if you count '78, when he finished 18th.
Ballesteros became the first European to win the Masters. Seve won by four, with a smart, pedestrian closing round of 72. When he got into the cabin for the traditional winner's interview, the new Augusta chairman, Hord Hardin, asked the new champ, "Seve, how tall are you?" It was a perfect question for the golfing artiste. He could have answered in Spanish or English, in meters or feet. He could have said, "As tall as I feel." He felt the game and he felt life. We could all see that. He made his 54 years count.
Steve Elling, CBSSports.com
For the American audience that never saw him play, Ballesteros' style was a cross between Arnold Palmer's magnetism and Phil Mickelson’s improvisational hero shots. The five-time major winner and Hall of Famer was more miraculous with a short stick than Merlin with his magic wand.
John Huggan, Golf World
Genius, it is often said, is an overused word, especially in sport. But Ballesteros qualified, with something to spare. Ever since he learned his golf whacking balls around with an old 3-iron on the beach at Pedrena, the tiny fishing village on Spain's windswept northern coast where he lived all of his too-short life, Seve was the creator of special shots. As far back as the late 1970s - using a persimmon-headed driver and a ball far removed from the turbo-charged missiles of today - he drove the 10th green at the Belfry. His opponent that day, Faldo, could only shake his head in wonder.
Bill Fields, Golf World
His name could be hard for certain tongues to get just right on the first try, but when it came to his golf, Severiano Ballesteros was a universal language, no translation required. Other players had more perfect swings and more even-keel mindsets, but has anybody ever seemed more meant for the game than Ballesteros? In his abbreviated prime - before back problems and swing gremlins took their toll - one only had to watch him for a hole or two to sense his charisma, his command, his creativity. Fairway-wood from 240 yards out of a bunker? Check. Punched 4-iron out a forest, curving toward the target like it was directed by remote control? Got it. Tricky pitch shot with everything on line? No problem. It was singular, inspiring golf that came out of Seve's heart, not from a book.
Chuck Culpepper, Los Angeles Times
At age 8, Ballesteros received a 3-iron that nearly became an appendage. In his youth he would learn every shot using that club alone, and by the time he turned professional at 17 in 1974, his unusual arsenal overrode the leanness of his amateur experience, which included only five annual local caddies' tournaments.
In a whoosh of precocity at 19, he won the Order of Merit as the European tour's top golfer in 1976 and said hello to the planet during a single weekend in July. That's when he turned up at the British Open at Royal Birkdale speaking no English, staying at a bed-and-breakfast, finding a police officer for a caddie and starting off 69-69 to play the weekend paired with eventual champion Johnny Miller and finishing second alongside Jack Nicklaus.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com
Many have likened Ballesteros to Arnold Palmer, who helped bring golf to the masses in the United States and became as beloved a figure in the game as there has ever been. Like Palmer, Ballesteros played with flash and flair. He was popular beyond his golf, connecting with the people, who were mesmerized by him.
As Palmer helped grow the game in the United States, Ballesteros did likewise in Europe. And where Palmer made the British Open popular again for American players, it was Ballesteros who helped energize a continent over the Ryder Cup, making it relevant again.
Great Britain and Ireland took a 4-1 lead after the opening fourballs Thursday in the Vivendi Seve Trophy against Continental Europe. Read More