Seve Ballesteros, golfer.
Severiano Ballesteros, is the most famous golfer to come from Spain, and was one of the top European and the world golfers in the 1970s and 80s. Seve picked up the game from an early age as golf was part of the Ballesteros family, Seve's uncle Ramón Sota, was a Spanish champion golfer and had finished 6th in the US Masters in 1965. Seve's elder brothers, Baldomero, Manuel and Vicente also played professionally. Seve, equipped with only a homemade 3 iron club (a present from Manuel), would spend hours practising hitting pebbles on a beach near his home in northern Spain. This helped develop a natural rhythmic swing that allowed Seve to show off an unparalleled range of shot invention around the golf course. By his teenage years Seve was playing competitively in tournaments throughout Spain and turned professional in 1974 at the age of 16.
It was in 1976, at the Open at Royal Birkdale, where a 19 year old Seve first made a name for himself. Seve played a fearless brand of golf that captured the imagination, with a gift of being able to manufacture recoveries to make birdie or par from unpromising positions, and was in the lead for the first 3 rounds. Only in the final round did Seve fade away as the American Johnny Miller picked up the prize, instead Ballesteros had to be content with sharing second place with a certain Jack Nicklaus.
1976 also saw further success for Seve on the European Tour, where he won the Dutch Open and the Lancôme Trophy, and finished the year as winner of the Order of Merit, the first of 6 such successes. He won the Order again in 1977, and continued to win a succession of tournaments held at golf courses spread around the world. 1979 saw Seve win his first major tournament, triumphing at the Open at Royal Lytham St Annes. A typical blustery British summer had made conditions difficult on the links, but Seve's short game was ideal to help him succeed where other players couldn't, and finished the championship as the only player under par. The 16th hole on the last day saw perhaps the most typical example of Ballesteros play, as a wayward drive had left his ball in a temporary car park. His recovery shot then found the green, and the 30 footer required for a birdie was never going to miss. This win made Seve the youngest Open winner in the 20th Century.
The next year saw Seve conquering the famous Augusta National course that hosted the US Masters, he won at a canter and without challenge, having a ten shot cushion as he prepared to face Amen Corner on the final Sunday. He was the first European to win the right to put on the green jacket.
The Ryder Cup had seen the British and Irish team expanded to become a whole European team by 1979, in an attempt to make the competition a little less one-sided that it had been in the past. So Seve made the 1979 European team, but did not enjoy much success, losing 4 times to Larry Nelson. He missed the 1981 contest as he was embroiled in a dispute with the European PGA over appearance money. He returned to the side in 1983, and although the European side was more competitive, they still lost. By this time Seve had won a second US Masters title, and was acknowledged to be the finest player in the world at that point. This was confirmed in 1984 when Seve won the Open again, this time at the home of golf, St Andrews. He was also instrumental in giving the European side the belief that they could beat the USA in the Ryder Cup, and so in 1985 the Europeans managed to win the match-play title. Then they went across the pond in 1987 to play the Americans at Muirfield Village and won again.
By 1988, it was the turn of Royal Lytham St Annes to host the Open again, and Seve returned to the scene of his former victory, and won once more. The 16th hole was also a pivotal moment, but this time Seve made birdie in more conventional manner, driving safely onto the fairway and landing his 9 iron approach inches from the hole, leading to a tap-in birdie. The Zimbabwean Nick Price was relentless in pursuit of Seve on this occasion, and Ballesteros finally secured victory on the 18th, thanks to a chip from the back of the green, leaving him with a final round total of 65.
That was the last major victory of Seve's career, but he remained competitive for many years to come, playing in the Ryder Cup sides of 1989, 1991 and 1993, and tasting victory as a player in the 1995 win. He continued to win tournaments, at least one a year from a stretch lasting from 1976 to 1992. He won the European Order of Merit title 6 times, the last time in 1991, and the World Matchplay Championship 5 times. Then in 1997, he was made the (non-playing) Ryder Cup captain for Europe. The match was taking place in Spain for the first time, at the Valderrama course on the Costa del Sol. The match saw the European team looking weaker on the paper then the American side, but the Europeans took their inspiration from their leader, and built-up a team spirit that allowed them to overcome the individual talent of the USA players. On the final single days, Seve seemed to be everywhere as he sped up and down the course on a golf cart, offering encouragement and advice to any of his players who required it. The Europeans duly won.
Since then Seve's golf game has been in sad decline, his last tournament victory was in 1995, and any further victories are looking increasingly less likely. However in the match-play format over a single round he is still a threat to the best golfers. The European Tour launched the Seve Ballesteros Trophy, which has a format similar to the Ryder Cup, that pitches players from UK and Ireland against those from continental Europe. The inaugural event held in 2000, saw Seve as the European captain pitted against Colin Montgomerie. Montgomerie, at the time the undisputed best golfer in Europe, lost to Seve in their singles match, and continental Europe won the match overall.
These days Seve is still struggling to make cuts as a new breed of younger golfers are far longer off the tee then ever before. Seve, whose driving was always the least reliable part of his game, is now wildly erratic off the tee and apt to spend more time off the fairway than on it. He is still capable of shooting the odd low score, but stringing them together in one weekend is much harder, and he has had far too many scores in the high seventies and above for comfort. Whether Seve abandons the game completely remains to be seen, or if he sits out until 2008 to have a shot at the Seniors Tour, he remains a popular player across the globe and his ability to play astonishing recovery golf ensures he is always watched by a large gallery, eager to see his trademark fencing celebration after a long putt is holed.