This next part of my Ballesteros tribute goes through to the mid eighties, when Seve experienced the biggest highs and also the biggest lows of his life…
Part 3: ‘Joy and Despair 1980-1987’
“This was the happiest moment of my sporting career. My moment of glory. My most fantastic shot. So much so that the picture of me gesturing in triumph is now the logo for my companies.”
Following the first Open and Masters wins of his career, Seve was full of confidence. His swing was good, every shot he undertook landed perfectly just as planned. Seve went on to win the Masters again in 1983. But it was 1984 that brings him the best memories.
The Open, held at the legendary St. Andrews Golf Club. Seve Ballesteros was two three shots down on the leaders heading into the final round. The press conference the night before allowed the Spaniard to show off his confidence of coming out as Champion. “I’ll see you tomorrow” he said as he left.
Tom Watson was leader overnight, and it seemed to be a two horse race for the Claret Jug. Similarly to the Ballesteros first Open victory five years previously, the lead was interchanging between the pair.
Then came hole 17. The famous Road Hole. Seve described it as the “most challenging par 4 in the world.” This is what separated the best from the rest. Seve managed to smash the ball onto the green, leaving him to two putt for a birdie.
Tom Watson however played it safe and after a comfortable drive, he fluffed up the second shot with a 2-iron. Ballesteros two shots clear. Seve scored par on the eighteenth meaning Watson needed an eagle to take it to a playoff. He didn’t manage it.
Ballesteros had once again won the Open Championship, and it felt better then ever. He still praises the shot on the 17th as the ‘golden ticket’ to the Claret Jug.
“My father’s illness had drastically curtailed my preparations for the Masters in 1986. Caring for him was my brother and I’s priority.”
Seve and his father had a very close relationship. They travelled around together to far away places. One trip Seve recalled very well was a trip to Ohio, USA. The golfer treated his father to a limousine to take across the state.
Ballesteros’ father was in attendance to see his boy win the Masters in 1983. Something that Seve always cherished.
Then things started to take a turn for the worst in 1985. Seve’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer. On New Year’s Eve 1985 Seve took his father home after receiving treatment in Houston, Texas. With no way of getting to Santander from Madrid, Seve went all out to get his ill father home. It was the last time the pair travelled together.
On March 4th 1986, Seve’s father passed away.
Seve was determined to win the Masters in dedication to his deceased father. “1986 will forever be in my mind. The Masters that year will always link with the death of my father.”
Seve began the tournament well. Scoring two-under par overall going into the weekend. A par on day three put him a stroke behind before the final round. After getting himself in a commanding position, things started to go catastrophically wrong.
The 13th hole was one Ballesteros was keen to eagle and extend his lead at the top of the leader board. But he misjudged the putt. Seve failed to score higher then a par in the remaining holes. Jack Nicklaus beat him.
With so much determination to win, and little practise, Seve made silly, amateurish mistakes. Jack Nicklaus admitted some shots were reminiscent of a “golfer that hasn’t played in a while.”
For Seve, all he felt was grief. “The hardest blow wasn’t that I didn’t become Masters champion, but that I couldn’t dedicate a victory to my father as I pledged.” For Seve, this was the worst feeling he had felt since becoming a professional golfer.
“Sometimes when I look back to 1986 and the Masters. I can’t stop myself crying silent tears.”
The following year, Ballesteros, now coming to terms with the one-year anniversary of his father’s death, was back at Augusta.
Despite feeling more prepared then 12 months ago, the Spaniard suffered yet another big, hard hitting defeat in the play-off with Larry Mize and Greg Norman.
The tenth hole staged the play-off. Ballesteros, Norman and Mize all hit good, solid tee shots. Norman and Mize found the green with their second shots, both only three to four yards from the pin. Seve on the other hand, put too much backspin on his shot, and his ball ended up nine yards back, too far to sink for a birdie.
For Ballesteros, things in golfing terms had hit a low point for the first time since turning pro. But one moment in 1986 he will never forget.
“Walking up the fairway on the 18th, the crowd stood and applauded as a mark of respect. I waved back. I was very appreciative. I will never forget that walk. Never.”