Part four of my Seve Ballesteros piece looks at his final major victory, his private life, the thorns of his career, his mixed opinions of the public and press and a very heart warming story…
Part 4: ‘ The End of the Golden Years 1988-1991’
“My best round at the Open- perhaps even the best round of my career- wasn’t at St. Andrews in 1984. It was the round of 65 with which I finished to win once again at Royal Lytham 4 years later.”
1988, Seve was back at Royal Lytham where he nearly won the Open twelve years previous. He had been struggling for form for the past two years due to the death of his father.
But this tournament was going to bring him back to the heights of the game’s elite. Seve hit the round of 65 on the final day as he overcame a strong challenge by Nick Price to win his third Open Championship. This was his fifth major victory (three wins at the Open and two wins at the Masters) but unfortunately for Seve it was to be his last.
1988 was also a very special year for Ballesteros. In November, he married his childhood sweetheart Carmen Botín. The couple had been seeing each other for eight years before they tied the knot.
Ballesteros had his house in Padreña built from scratch. It was a big house with a huge garden. From one side of the house you could see Santander Bay. On the other side of the house, you could see the Real Club del Padreña.
Ballesteros went on to have three children. Javier, Manuel and Carmen.
“The sport of golf is everywhere. However, it is a very exclusive club at the highest level. It is very difficult to remain at the very top.”
Everyone sportsman has their ‘bogey-team’ or their unluckiest venue. Seve was no exception. The US Open was the thorn of his career. In 1990 he was disqualified from the tournament for turning up late for his tee-off time. Every year pre and post 1990, Ballesteros struggled.
The US Open was the only major Seve had to qualify for as he was never invited to compete. This upset him mainly because the people who were invited were names rather than players who were on top of their game.
“I made a statement to the PGA asking for them to make their invitations more sensibly for the best golfers of the day.”
It wasn’t just the US Open either. The USPGA was another tournament that didn’t favour the Spaniard. He refused to compete after 1990 in the USPGA so he could rest up and prepare for the other majors.
“Journalists, or war correspondents, dub areas of conflict as ‘Comanche Territory’. For me, the ‘Comanche Territory’ of my world was the Royal Club Del Padreña.”
Seve and the golf club didn’t have the best of relationships. As the townsfolk of Padreña congratulated Seve for his achievements, and even set up supporters clubs for their idol. The golf club stayed away. Ballesteros believes it was because they “couldn’t handle the fact a caddie from their club became a golfing superstar.”
Ballesteros never won Spain’s version of Sports Personality, although he won many accolades abroad.
Ballesteros was also asked by the Spanish bidders to host the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 if he could support them by wearing the Barcelona ’92 cap. Seve accepted, and when they won the games, he was never told thanks for his help. “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. I don’t believe in this saying, as I am among my own people.”
“I’d like to underline the importance of visual imagination, when you have to meet a challenge, face an uphill struggle or battle against illness. If you see yourself winning and winning comfortably, that in my opinion is the first step to victory.”
Ballesteros won many fans by his achievements on the golf course. One of those fans, whose name wasn’t revealed by Seve but referred to as Martín in his autobiography, was perhaps his biggest.
Martín was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia when he twelve years old. Ballesteros was asked to visit the boy in hospital, just so that he could meet his hero. When Ballesteros got there, they both instantly got on. They spoke about everything, their childhoods, Seve’s golfing career, everything expect the illness.
Ballesteros carried on visiting, telling detailed stories of his Masters win in 1980, and his triumph at St. Andrews in 1984.
After playing in a tournament in Japan, Seve visited the boy, bringing him caps from the tournament and miniature golf games. However, when he got there he was informed the boy was moved to a different room…
Martín was recovering. He was fighting his illness so hard it was beginning to give up. “His cheeks were rosier in colour, his fair hair had grown. His mother happily told me he was getting better, and stronger each day.”
To Ballesteros’ delight, Martín fully recovered. He is playing golf and has fully qualified to become a lawyer. This was a young man that until Seve died, was like another son to him…