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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 21 August, 2014

In the swing: Thank you, Seve

Neil Cullen pays tribute to golf legend Severiano Ballesteros who died aged 54 last Saturday.

Seve Ballesteros reacts after winning the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1984.
Seve Ballesteros reacts after winning the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1984.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

MAY 7 IS a date that has taken on a new significance on the golfing calendar. It’s the day Seve died.

Since 2008, Severiano Ballesteros battled with a brain tumor, a battle that was fought with great pride, emotion and fortitude, just like the way he played golf. It was with great sadness that we learned of his passing in the early hours of Saturday morning but he will remain an icon of the sport and will continue to be remembered as the man who almost single-handedly put European golf on the map.

He burst onto the European Tour at the tender age of 16 when the tour was only in its infancy, but from day one he excited crowds and invigorated golf fans in each and every event he played.

His magnetism and exuberance were contagious and stimulated the growth of golf throughout Europe. When we think of Seve, we think of his dynamism, his aggressive play, and the fact that he pleased crowds during every golf tournament he played.

Two years after turning professional, Seve became a household name at just 19 years of age when he was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at the 1976 British Open. Three years later, he went one better and beat Nicklaus by two shots at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s. The final year of the 1970s was also the dawn of one of the brightest decades in golf’s history.

In 1980, Seve claimed his first Major victory on American soil by winning the U.S. Masters at Augusta National. He won there again in 1983 and added another two British Opens in 1984 and 1988.

Outside of the Majors, Seve amassed a staggering 94 professional victories over the course of his career – he still holds the record for most wins on the European Tour.

Despite a scintillating individual career, Seve’s performances in the Ryder Cup are arguably his most memorable and are most certainly the sources of the greatest inspiration for today’s golfers. He won 20 points from 37 matches over his career and was the cornerstone of Europe’s run of 3 victories in a row from 1985-1989 after a long period of dominance by the Americans.

The peak of Ballesteros’ Ryder Cup career came in 1997 as Europe’s Captain. Played in his native Spain at Valderrama, Seve inspired both players and fans, leading Europe to one of the most famous victories in Ryder Cup history by 14 and a half points to 13 and a half.

The American team was stacked – they had then world number one Fred Couples, a youthful Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson. Nine of their 12 players had won or would go on to win Major championships.

Not a bother for Seve. We’ve seen in many of the recent renewals of the Ryder Cup that the better team on paper doesn’t always win, but it requires the Captain to instill a superior sense of team spirit and self-belief in order for that to become a reality. It was those qualities that ultimately led to that extra point that won it for the Europeans, a sentiment echoed by American Captain Tom Lehman in the aftermath.

We could write endlessly and chat endlessly about Seve Ballesteros and still not do the man justice. The fact that we even try shows just how much of an impact he had on the world of golf and how dearly and warmly he was held by anyone who has ever come into contact with the game, whether as a player or a fan.

Seve’s great friend Jose Maria Olazabal put it aptly when he said : “The best homage we can pay him is to continue playing but I don’t think any of the homages we make will ever be sufficient enough after everything he’s done for golf.”


Read more of Neil Cullen’s weekly golf column >

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