Seve Ballesteros succeeded in America but never embraced it, which was part of his greatness
you never heard Seve say how much he liked America. He didn't like our bland strawberries, our corporate hotels, our fast lunches and slow highways, our tree-lined U.S. Open courses. He and Deane Beman didn't hang at beach bars drinking San Miguel. Still, you could take away everything except what he did in the U.S., and he would, as Bobby Jones said of St. Andrews, have led a rich and full life.
Severiano Ballesteros, like Jones, was loaded with style, and he played with boyish joy. That's why his long Spanish name will always bring pleasure whenever golfheads are talking about the Masters or Great Natural Swings or the Ryder Cup.
Ballesteros won eight times in the States: once in Greensboro, once in New Orleans, twice at Westchester, twice at Augusta and twice in the Ryder Cup, at Oak Hill in 1995 and in '87, when the Europeans beat a U.S. team led by Jack Nicklaus on a course Jack built, Muirfield Village. Seve—you may remember the sky-blue shirt and the navy pants and the hatless head—made the putt that secured the European win. Like Nicklaus before him, Seve always stayed crouched while his ball was rolling, which is why there are so many thrilling photographs of him holing putts. In his jubilance, his putter would come up, then his head and then his right fist, punching the air.
Despite what you have heard, he drove it beautifully, with a mushy balata ball and the most beautiful persimmon driver you ever saw. There's no good reason he never finished better than third in a U.S. Open—let's not even talk PGA—except that he didn't like our strawberries.
He was at home in one place in the United States: Augusta National. He liked the cozy second-floor dining room, where he would have long lunches with family members. He won at Augusta in 1980 and '83, and he was in the Sunday mix another six times, seven if you count '78, when he finished 18th.
Ballesteros became the first European to win the Masters. Seve won by four, with a smart, pedestrian closing round of 72. When he got into the cabin for the traditional winner's interview, the new Augusta chairman, Hord Hardin, asked the new champ, "Seve, how tall are you?" It was a perfect question for the golfing artiste. He could have answered in Spanish or English, in meters or feet. He could have said, "As tall as I feel." He felt the game and he felt life. We could all see that. He made his 54 years count.
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GAME FACE Ballesteros, who passed away May 7, remains the embodiment of European golf.