Seve Ballesteros was a golfing legend. The Spaniard, who died of brain cancer in May 2011 aged 54, amazed us both on and off the course. After reading his incredible autobiography, I thought I would write my own bio on the greatest golfer to ever live.
Split into 10 parts, I hope you find this in depth bio both fascinating and enjoyable to read. Today I begin with the very beginning…
Part 1: The Early Years (1957-1975)
“When I look back. I’m amazed by the way everything turned out. I think my case is remarkable. I turned professional before having any real experience. I didn’t turn amateur like José María Olazábal or Sergio García. I learnt it all the hard way.”
Seve was born in Padreña, Spain in 1957. Growing up, he lived with his family on a small farm. His brothers all became professional golfers before him (except Manuel who died aged 2 in a freak accident). Seve’s uncle Ramon Sota was the Spanish champion four times and even finished a respectable sixth in the Masters in 1965.
After flunking school and getting expelled for turning up drunk, Ballesteros’ mother was very keen for him to not undertake a career in golf. Shipyard work was offered to Seve however thanks to his father’s persistence to let his son pursue with his dream, he refused.
Seve’s father was very keen on him to grow like his brothers had. He encouraged him to go and practise on the beach whenever he could.
Ballesteros worked at his local golf club, the Real Club De Padreña, as a caddie at the age of eight. It was here where he first began to swing a club for the first time. His older brother Manuel gave his first club to him, a 3-iron.
Seve practised on the beaches of the Playa de Padreña as much as he could. As a caddie, Ballesteros was not allowed to use the golf course he worked on to practise. The only chance he got to play on it was during the Caddie’s Championship, which only occurred once a year.
The Caddie’s Championship consisted of three flights. The first flight was a mere nine holes. Do well and you progressed to the second flight of eighteen holes. The third flight was a two-day event of thirty-six holes.
Seve didn’t win the first flight, but after impressing the members of the club, he progressed on to win the second flight at the first attempt. Three third flight wins followed for Ballesteros in the early 70’s. Opening the doorway to professional golf.
New Years’ Eve 1973 will forever be one Seve would have remembered. Traditionally in Padreña, the local boys would play practical jokes in the town. One of the boys in the group decided to mess with the construction pipes on the hole 8 fairway where Ballesteros worked. After the members of the club found out the culprits, they were all banned for a month. This was a heart in mouth moment for Seve as his professional ambition had to be put on hold. However he managed to reapply for his job in February 1974 and make the jump to professional in 1975.
It was tough to begin with for Ballesteros. He was spending too much money on travel to get to tournaments as well as not winning enough prize money to fund it all. He decided he had to return home to secure more finances.
Seve returned to Padreña just in time for the Spanish under 25 Championship. Fortunately for him, the tournament was being played in his hometown. Seve won the tournament as well as 80,000 Pesetas. As a result, he gained sponsorship from a Dr. Campuzano who was very fond of the young prodigy.
One of my favourite quotes from Ballesteros is that of when he talks about participating at the Italian Open in Venice, October 1975:
“I came fifth. But the most important thing I experienced was watching Johnny Miller. He was world number one at the time ahead of Jack Nicholas and I thought I could beat him that day. All these top players in the world and I was unimpressed by them all. After watching them I was convinced I could beat them. No, I knew I was better than them.”
Seve ended 1975, his first season as a pro, sitting top of the Spanish and European rankings. However the year didn’t finish positively on the course. In November 1975, Ballesteros travelled to America where he tried to gain passage to the PGA Tour.
Informed by his brother/agent Manolo that he would have to stay in America over the winter months, Seve decided that being at home with his family was more important. He was in a healthy position to qualify, but he purposely flunked the back nine holes to miss the cut.
He went home to spend Xmas and New Year’s with his family. Not knowing at the time what would happen to him the following year….