SURREY, ENGLAND | At the recent Iberdrola Open, when there was a minute’s silence for Seve Ballesteros, the TV cameras focussed on a cluster of grieving Spaniards. Last week at Wentworth, however, laughter returned to the Spanish camp, with the 28-year-old Alvaro Quiros at the hub. In truth, the way in which he was entertaining his compatriots on the practice ground was not too far removed from how things were with Seve, at least in the good old days.
Quiros knows everything about Seve and the esteem in which he was held. “I grew up with this huge respect for him,” he says. “He was the best of fighters.”
He played with Ballesteros once, in a nine-hole exhibition game at San Roque. There were no compliments and no snippets of advice from the old champion, the most likely reason being that Seve was far too concerned with his own poor play to notice his then teenage opponent. All of which made it doubly fascinating when Manuel Ballesteros, one of Seve’s older brothers, asked to have a quiet word with Quiros last Monday, the day of the Olé Seve invitational pro-am.
Manuel said that he had read an article on Quiros after his win in this year’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic in which he had said he was not yet good enough to win a major. “You need to stop saying things like that,” Manuel said. “You have to think you can do it.”
Quiros was no less touched to have caught the eye of at least one of the Ballesteros band of brothers than he was when he heard that Westwood had singled him out as the best ball-striker on the European Tour.
Yet, paradoxical though this might sound, he has been playing much better since he stopped calling for great things of himself.
A year or so ago, it was a moot point as to which of the two, Quiros or Sergio Garcia, looked the more miserable on the course. In Garcia’s case, it was mostly a matter of the player having reached a saturation point. As happened with Seve, he was ruing the fact that he had given his teenage years almost wholly over to golf. Where Quiros was concerned, it was down to frustration. He was playing poorly and he was angry that he was not winning more often.
There are plenty of golf followers who would not begin to believe that a man who can hit 313.7 yards off the tee (Genworth Driving Distance Statistics following the Madeira Islands Open) could be less than content with his lot. But, as Quiros says, “I was only just surviving on Tour, I wasn’t going anywhere. It was too tough to be worthwhile.”
He knew he had to change his ways and, last December, he sought out the sports psychologist who had worked with all the athletes at the Madrid sports academy he attended as a schoolboy. The psychologist told him that he had to be more realistic. Since he was not playing well, it hardly made sense for him to be beating himself up because he was not bagging tournaments. He needed to work on his consistency and to change his target from winning to simply giving of his best.
“Last week,” he explained, using his performance in the Volvo Match Play championship as an example, “I was not playing well (he lost by two holes to Martin Kaymer in the quarterfinals) but I was doing my job properly. I behaved well. I tried as hard as I could.
“Today,” he continued, with a triumphant smile, “I am happier with me.”
As that little cameo on the practice ground suggested, he is back reveling in the rapport he has with his fellow Spaniards – and understanding its worth. Quiros, Alejandro Canizares, Rafael Cabrero-Bello, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Martin played alongside each other in the same Spanish amateur sides, while they all switched to the professional arena at much the same time.
“We are still like a team, only it is more than that,” Quiros claims. “We travel together and we like to have dinner together. We are not just golfers, we are persons. If we are happy off the course, we will find the life and the tough times easier to handle.”
They also have a father figure in Jose Maria Olazabal, the next Ryder Cup captain. Olazabal is fueled by the passion for the game he has inherited from Ballesteros and so, too, are the rest of them. They all want to win for Seve.
Quiros, who has a total of five European Tour titles under his belt, is unlikely to follow Manuel Ballesteros’ advice in playing his major championship chances up rather than down. “All I can tell you,” he says, “is that I am close to being at my best. Now I am looking for a little bit of magic.”
The “Seve factor” might suffice.