They say that he had eyes of lightning and a kind smile. I agree with those assertions. Severiano Ballesteros bore a face that was unforgettable in its remarkable uniqueness. He was Iberian to the core, the dark black hair, the sallow skin tone, the passion with which he moved. If Italians like me speak with our hands, the Spanish speak with their entire body. Seve golfed with more of his body than any player I’ve seen since his days of greatness in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
I undertook the study of Spanish because my parents didn’t want me in the same German class as my brother. They understood that my life’s work was to annoy the boy to no end. My first Spanish class was in September of 1980, a few months after Ballesteros had triumphed at Augusta for the first of two Masters victories. I knew who he was, as I had competed on the varsity golf team for two seasons by then, but I came to “know” him a bit better through my study of the language and the people who speak it.
As we know, growing up means at times involves connecting one’s interests with one’s heritage. During the 1980s, there were no great Italian golfers, but there was Seve. While I did not abandon my Italian-ness, I certainly embraced Seve’s greatness. Screw the fairway! – I wanted to hit shots under, through and over trees as he did, I needed to hit clubs other than the sand wedge for greenside explosion recoveries … and I did … and I still do.
Seve was born to creativity. He saw the golf course and its three dimensions in a way that most of us do not. I fully believe that he interpreted angles, depth, undulations and matter in a way that the majority of us never could and that he used these elements to create what he later wrote on the scorecard.
Seve has been out of the American public eye for quite some time…his last victory on US soil was in 1988, at Westchester, in a four-way playoff. His last major title was claimed that same year, at the British Open. He captained the Ryder Cup team of Europe to victory 9 years later in Rochester at Oak Hill Country Club. Due to his absence, he has been fairly forgotten as Tiger Woods and other professionals have taken center stage. Now, in the days and weeks following his death, his life and career will be revisited and his triumphs, relived.