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What can you say about Seve Ballesteros? Here is a man who single handedly put golf on to a higher plane. He very nearly won The Open as a 19 year old in 1976 after having led for three rounds he was pipped by Johnny Miller. Still he was the one of youngest ever winners of a Major in the modern era when he won the Open Championship at the age of 22 in 1979 at Royal Lytham and captured 2 other Open titles in 1984 at St Andrews and 1988 back at Royal Lytham, he also won 2 US Masters titles in 1980 and 1983. As The Open is back at Royal Lytham this year it will be good to see Ballesteros back at the scene of some of his most memorable golf.
It must be said a mere listing of titles does not define Ballesteros as it does perhaps Jack Nicklaus. Where Nicklaus accumulated titles by relentless attrition, Ballesteros combined enormously hit but sometimes wayward tee-shots with recoveries that few could see let alone attempt. His swing is not what you could call classical. Like Arnold Palmer he as an ugly duckling of a swing. When he won that first Open title he recovered so often from the rough it was said the other players became demoralised by the brilliance of his recoveries. His swing showed him doing it all wrong, his feet moved too much, his weight transfer was all wrong, his grip was too firm at times too loose at others. But if the ball was not in position A after the tee shot it certainly was after the second.
The Ryder Cup wins at The Belfry (this years venue) in 1985 and at Muirfield Village in 1987 bore him to the pinnacle of the game. Ballesteros was always immensely marketable. His ability combined with his good looks meant he could name his price on advertising contracts. He chose his endorsements wisely though and he also settled down as a married man. Ballesteros did much to lift the European game at a time when the Americans were dominating the majors through players like Nicklaus, Miller, Tom Watson and Tom Weiskopf and a little earlier Lee Trevino. Only Gary player interrupted their supremacy for a few years. His wins in the Open and at the masters opened the door for Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, and later Bernahrd Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal all won the Masters green jacket.
Olazabal and Ballesteros forged a formidable partnership in the Ryder Cup in the later years and helped the Europeans to more success. Sadly Ballesteros is now ranked over 1100th in the world. An astonishing high number. He will of course remain exempt for the Open championship and the Masters until he is 60 and will always get regular invitations to Tour events. Ballesteros is still a great draw all over the world and his place in European Golf history is assured.