Enough Again Already

I probably shouldn’t be thinking this, never mind writing it, because what I am thinking is irreverent and if I write it down, then that is probably treacherous, perhaps treasonous. I’ll be sent to the Tower. In fact, I’m done for already. The Beefeaters are at the door.
My dilemma is this. I have huge admi¬ration for Severiano Ballesteros yet for the week spent at the Ryder Cup in Chi¬cago (and a good few of the weeks lead¬ing up to it) I had Seve rammed down my throat to such effect that, frankly, it drove me to distraction. One hasn’t been able to open a newspaper, turn on the television, have a conversation without Seve’s name being introduced.
It is odd and unexpected that I should feel this way.
There are many golfers who leave me unmoved and some who irritate me to no end. But Ballesteros was my hero, the golfer who gave me more pleasure than any other. When discussions turn to identi¬fying our all-time favourite player and the names of Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are mentioned, I think of Seve and countless moments of his that gave so much pleasure.
It is not just because of his Ryder Cup record, his five major championships, his occasionally wild golf. It is not that he put the pride back into European golf, that no cause was lost when he was around, that he lit up a room when he walked into it. It is all these and others.
Ballesteros engaged me with his con¬summate talent at the short game as well as hitting the greatest shot I have ever seen, that famous 3-wood from a bun¬ker on the 18th hole of his singles match against Fuzzy Zoeller in the 1983 Ryder Cup. Jack Nicklaus, then captain of the US team, said it was the greatest shot he had seen, too. Standing perhaps 20 yards behind Ballesteros, I watched with awe as he took a 3-wood from Nick DePaul, his caddie, and when his ball ended on the green I found the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck.
More than that though, Ballesteros inspired me, an ordinary golfer. I occasion¬ally go and hit balls at my golf club and I was there recently working on some deli¬cate chips to a flag set a few feet the other side of a greenside bunker. As I pondered the challenge I thought to myself: What would Seve do?
What am I describing here? A poor golfer with ideas above his station? Certainly. But that is one reason why Ballesteros meant so much to me. I have never found myself in a similar situation and thought: What would Tiger do here, or Nicklaus or Palmer?
Ballesteros was the most charismatic golfer I have ever met. Even at his peak Woods did not have the charisma that Seve had. His eyes didn’t smoulder as Seve’s did and his walk was not instantly recogni¬sable as Seve’s was. Nor was his swing so graceful as Seve’s at its best, an unrivalled combination of power and elegance.
Before his fall, Woods intimidated people by the aura of mystery that sur¬rounded him. He worked out in the middle of the night if necessary. He travelled by himself, eating and staying with his people. He deliberately kept himself to himself.
Ballesteros was the opposite. He was not so aloof or frightening as Woods was. He fed off the reaction of his followers. He engaged with them, even journalists.
Ballesteros had difficulty with the Eng¬lish pronunciation of the letter J. It came out as a Y or an H and so to him I was Yon or Hon. For me, this was nothing more than a badge of honour. There was no one in the world by whom I would rather be called Yon or Hon. Whether Jack Nicklaus liked to be referred to as Yack or Hack is another matter.
At Medinah last week scarcely an hour went by in the build-up to the Ryder Cup without a reference to Seve. His silhouette was on the European team bags. Sunday’s shirts would carry some reference to the Spaniard, we were told. Captain Olazábal referred time and again to Seve and his influence, so did Davis Love III. There was a hint of a tear when Olazabal touched on Ballesteros’ name in his speech at the flag-raising ceremonies.
The last straw came when, on my way to the course on Saturday morning, I heard that there was to be a smoke signal sent up into the sky reading “Do it for Seve.” (It was created, allegedly, by Paddy Power, the imaginative Irish betting firm.) “That’s it,” I thought. Mae West may have thought that “too much of a good thing is wonder¬ful.” This past week, here at the Ryder Cup, too much of Seve was not wonderful. It was too much, far too much. There now I’ve said it. I’ve committed irreverence, a form of treason. May I be forgiven.


Recent Posts