This year’s Open Championship won’t be the same without the most exciting European player ever.
Reports that Seve Ballesteros will not make the four-hole Champions’ Challenge at St. Andrews on the eve of this year’s Open come as sad news to fans on this side of the pond – and to this writer, in particular.
In a statement earlier this week, Seve said doctors had advised him not to make the trip. It confirmed what we had been hearing throughout the season, that Seve was in very poor health and unlikely to be able to travel to St Andrews.
On every trip I’ve made out on tour this year, from Abu Dhabi until now, the same question has been come up repeatedly: How’s Seve?
Every time, the answer was the same: Not good.
Everything you hear about the camaraderie of the European Tour is true. It really is a close-knit tour, maybe not as close as it was in Seve’s day, but close nevertheless. Players travel together, eat together, stay in the same hotels and share transportation to and from the golf course.
Not surprising, then, that the tour asks after comrades.
No wonder the Seve question kept coming up. And no wonder the news was always greeted with the same dismay. For no European Tour pro has done more to further the cause of European golf than the man from Pedrena, Spain.
Bitter on-course rivals he may have been with Bernhard Langer and Sir Nick Faldo, but they know how much Seve means to the game.
“It is a real shame we won’t be meeting up,” Bernhard Langer told Reuters at this week’s BMW International in Munich. “He was such a matador of golf, and we miss him dearly. It is so sad to see the path his life has taken him down. I shall continue to pray for him and hope earnestly he can recover to lead some kind of decent life.”
Faldo was just as effusive: “It is such a shame. I was really hoping he was going to be there. I have tried to see him before now, but he wasn’t feeling well enough. I’ve e-mailed him to say I want to see him as soon as possible and when he’s strong enough to get around a putting green, let’s do it.”
Seve didn’t have to play in this year’s Champions’ Challenge to thrill the fans. All he needed to do was turn up, stand on the Swilcan Bridge and wave to the crowd, say goodbye to the Old Course in the time-honored tradition that has served Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus so well in recent years.
One problem: that wouldn’t have suited Seve.
Seve not only has charisma, he has pride. Basque pride. No way was he going to come to St. Andrews and not perform, even if it was only four holes.
So Seve won’t get the Open Championship sendoff at St. Andrews that he richly deserves.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s better to remember the man as he was, not as he is now.
We should never forget that it was Seve’s personality and charisma that helped attract new sponsors to the game. The sense of adventure every time he teed it drew new European fans to the game the same way Arnold Palmer drew Americans to the game in the 1950s and ’60s.
European Tour pros should pay homage to Seve for helping them to a life of entitlement they don’t really deserve.
Yes, Seve did well out of the game, too, but he made it possible for plenty of others to follow in his footsteps.
As for The Open, he brought a sense of excitement to the championship that previously hadn’t existed. His win in 1979 proved that, when he hit it all over Royal Lytham and still won.
Maybe we should remember him winning the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1984. The sheer jubilation he showed when he holed that putt on the 18th green to win the greatest golf tournament in the world on the greatest golf course in the world is the most joyous celebration ever in a major-championship history.
We all agree with Langer and want the best quality of life for Seve in the future, but our abiding memory of the man should be the love and passion with which he played the game.
Our thoughts are with you, Seve.