Commentary: Seve's artistry may never be matched
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
An artist was buried in Pedrena, Spain, today.
Perhaps not an artist in the conventional sense of the word, like a Picasso, a Dali or a Monet, but maybe the greatest artist golf has ever seen.
Seve’s record by itself is impressive enough to warrant his place in that part of the great clubhouse in the sky reserved for golf’s elite. Five major championships, a record 50 European Tour titles and 87 total tournament wins worldwide is testament to Seve’s talent.
Seve Ballesteros in photos
A look back at the career of Seve Ballesteros
His contribution to the Ryder Cup helped make it the game’s greatest spectacle. He turned the European Tour into the multimillion dollar global tour it is today. If not for his charisma, movie star good looks and exciting style of play, today’s European stars would not be earning the huge sums they are now.
However, Seve was more than all that. Quite simply, he was a genius. As the poet John Dryden once wrote: “Genius must be born, it can never be taught.”
Like Picasso, Dali and Monet whose genius shone through in their paintings, Seve’s genius shone through in his ability to hit shots few could ever have imagined, let alone played.
One of the frustrations of those of us who had the chance to watch Seve play is trying to convey just how good he was to those who never saw him in his prime.
To justify my use of the word artist, here are just five shots Seve played during his career that marked him apart from the pack. Proof that Royal Lytham professional Eddie Birchenough was spot on when he once said: “In a world of golfing draughtsmen, Seve draws freehand.”
One: Royal Birkdale 1976
Seve didn’t win the Open Championship that year. He finished second with Jack Nicklaus. However, the 19-year-old Spaniard thrilled all with his style of play. Not least his audacious chip at the last hole.
Seve’s approach to the par-5, 18th finished left of the green. With the flag on the left hand side of the green and two bunkers between his ball and the flag, the safe shot was to chip past the flag and hope to hole a 30-foot birdie putt. That’s what everyone else had done.
Seve saw another option. He noticed a narrow, three-foot strip of fairway that ran between the bunkers. He selected a 9-iron and ran the ball between the bunkers to four feet. He knocked in the birdie putt to tie for second.
Four thousand miles away in Texas, Lee Trevino whooped with delight. Coach John Jacobs said: “That shot alone convinced me that Seve was a genius. There wasn’t another man in the field who would have attempted it.”
Two: The 1983 Ryder Cup
Jack Nicklaus calls Seve’s 3-wood to the 18th green in a singles match against Fuzzy Zoeller the greatest shot he has ever seen.
All square on the 18th tee, Seve hooked his tee shot into the left hand rough. His second shot only advanced the ball into a fairway bunker some 240 yards from the green.
The late Dai Davies, former golf writer for The Guardian, watched Seve play the shot.
This is what Davies wrote:
“The ball was halfway up the face of the bunker, and would obviously have to be knocked out with a short iron. Seve took his stance and it dawned that he was actually going to play the shot with a 3-wood. It seemed suicidal.
“He swung, he hit, he gave the ball that incredible Seve stare and it flew miles….right to the fringe of the green. It was an impossible shot, and it was greeted firstly with a stunned silence, and then by incredulous laughter that greets something that is outwith the experience of the watcher. It was, in the literal sense of the word, fantastic.”
Ken Brown said: “It was a combination of the outrageousness of the shot and the fact that it was almost physically impossible that makes it one of the best shots ever hit.”
Three: 1993 European Masters
Seve birdied Cran-sur-Sierre’s 13th, 14th, 15th , 16th and 17th holes in the final round to tie for the lead. On the 18th he hit a big push with a 3-wood into the trees. In this week’s Sunday Times newspaper, caddie Billy Foster, now with Lee Westwood, described what happened next.
“When we get to the ball, it was lying six feet behind an eight foot wall. To get to near the green, he had a 150-yard shot over the wall, through a gap the size of a dinner plate between the pines, over a swimming pool and then over 60-foot pines.
“I pleaded with him, virtually got on my knees and begged…just chip it out. He shoved me back.
“He can only make a half swing with a pitching wedge but gets it over the wall, through the dinner plate, over the swimming pool, over the trees and lands five yards from the green. He then chips in for birdie. That shot over the wall, it was the best shot I’ve seen in my life.”
Four: 1979 Open Championship
Seve was dubbed “the car park champion” after winning his first Open because he played a shot from a temporary car park right of the 16th fairway. Seve’s ball ended up under the bumper of a blue car. He got relief, knocked his ball onto the green and holed out for birdie.
The term was derogatory for it implied that Seve was so wild he was hitting into car parks. That’s not Dave Musgrove’s contention. He caddied for Seve that week, and said Seve was the only player with the vision and imagination to hit his tee shot right.
“The 16th was deliberate,” Musgrove said. “The green was very hard and the only chance of stopping the ball on the green was from the right.”
Five: 1984 Sanyo Open
Robert Lee first played with Seve in the third round of the 1984 Sanyo Open at El Prat Golf Club in Barcelona. Lee takes up the story.
“The 9th in those days was a long par-3 and it had been a 3-iron the first two days. When we got to the tee I knew 3-iron wasn’t enough. I pulled 3-wood. Seve drew 3-iron, and I thought “I don’t care how long he is, he can’t reach.’
“Then Seve spent about two minutes building a makeshift tee with dirt and bits of grass about an inch and half high. If you think of those square cubes used to chalk snooker/pool cues, then you have an idea. So Seve creates this little tee and he sits the ball in the little depression where the snooker cue would go.
“I had no idea what he was doing, but I realised when he hit the ball. He had in effect built himself a flier lie. He knew that if he used a proper tee then the ball would just spin in the wind and not reach the green. The ball flew all the way to the fringe of the green.
“I didn’t have the imagination to think of such a thing, yet for Seve it was just a natural solution to the situation. It was probably something he’d done on the beach at Pedrena as a boy. It was just pure genius.”
Genius, artist, pick your term. He was both of those and more. And those who say they’ve seen every trick shot in the book from those exhibition guys, remember – Seve was playing these shots in the heat of competition.
We won’t see his like again.