The Life of Seve Ballesteros: Part 2 ‘The Army And The Maiden Major’

Following on from yesterday’s introduction to my bio on Seve Ballesteros, here is the next chapter. Today I wrote about his legacy started taking shape…

Part 2: The Army and The Maiden Major (1976-1980)

“In the end everything is down to your mind, your attitude, your will and effort. And also your ability to confront the hard knocks put against you.”

1976 was the year Seve Ballesteros announced himself to the world. It was the Open Championship taking place at the Royal Birkdale. The young Spaniard went into the final round two shots up on the rest of the field, with victory in sight.

Adolescence from Ballesteros cost him dear on the final round, double bogeying the sixth hole and triple bogeying the eleventh. But the young man turned it around in the final few holes to secure a well deserved second place overall. Johnny Miller told the press after the game, “ I think it’s very good for Seve to come second. He will be a champion some day.”

The success at the Open for Ballesteros was the platform from which to build. He had arrived onto the international scene. He was on the front and back pages of newspapers and magazines. He became an idol. He himself set objectives for 1977, and that was to win as much as possible. Including the majors.

“Life can derail your best laid plans. Just as my golfing career was taking off, I was called up to do military service.”

The first three months of 1977 proved tough for Ballesteros. He hated military service not because of what he had to do- but because he couldn’t practise his golf. His general, Antonio Bernal, was very reluctant to let him play. Due to fame for his achievements the year before, Seve was made to do the chores that required the most time. From painting all the sporting courts, to dishing up for fellow militants, Ballesteros was given no time to work on his swing.

By the time he had finished his three-month duty to the military, the Masters in Augusta was just round the corner. Seve hadn’t been round an eighteen-hole golf course since December of 1976. This cost him dearly as he missed out on automatic invitation to the event the year after for not making the top 24. Saying that, it wasn’t bad a feat for the Spaniard making his first appearance in the Masters. And things were only going to get better.

The Open of 1978. Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s. Seve went into the final round two shots back on leader Hale Irwin. On the first hole, Ballesteros made a birdie. Irwin could only secure a double-bogey. Seve had the lead. However both players were constantly dropping shots and the lead changed constantly throughout the front nine. But after sinking a putt on the thirteenth, Seve never looked back. Finishing under par, Seve Ballesteros was a major champion, an Open champion. He became the youngest player to win the championship in the twentieth century and also the first non-British winner since 1907 to win the claret jug. Seve was in the history books. His legacy had well and truly begun.

“When I think back to 1978, it’s not the Open that stands out for me. It’s a particular shot I played in the Hennessy Cup against Nick Faldo. This was the type of shot that marks your life and makes history.”

The Hennessy Cup was a tournament where British teams played teams made up of the rest of Europe. Ballesteros was paired up against Faldo in the singles. The tenth hole consisted of the famous ‘Belfry’. On this hole you have two options. Either aim to drive just in front of the stream with a six iron and play safe. Or go straight for the green. Not many players attempted the second option. That was until Ballesteros came along.

As the crowd watched on, Ballesteros swung the club with such accuracy that he landed the ball just a few feet from the hole. Magical. Shame he missed the putt though. It was the shot of shots that tournament. Faldo applauded. The crowd stunned. “This guy was a great, a natural”. And he would only go on to do better things.

“I became the first Spanish sportsman to prepare himself mentally for the critical moments in their sporting life.”

After three relatively successful outings at the Masters, 1980 was to be the year Ballesteros finally achieved his objective set out back in 1976. Ballesteros undertook phycology training before the tournament with Doctor Alfonso Caycedo. He learned every shade of green on the Augusta course. Studied the crowd through tape recordings. He visualised what the week would be like. All the hard work he put in just to prepare was rewarded. He became Masters Champion.

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