May 7th marks 10 years since the passing of Seve Ballesteros – the man who changed the face of European golf, and who many consider to be the greatest European golfer of all time.
In this exclusive feature, Bernard Gallacher, Manuel Piñero, and former Executive Director of the European Tour Ken Schofield pay tribute to Seve and give us their recollections of the great man.
Bernard had a close relationship with Seve, and the pair were synonymous with Europe’s Ryder Cup successes in the 1980s and 1990s. Here’s what Bernard had to say about Seve the man and golfer.
Can you remember when you first met Seve and what your impressions of him were?
I first met Seve in 1974 at The French Open at Chantilly. I was drawn to play with him the first two rounds, and his older brother Manuel introduced us to each other the day before.
He was 17 years old, and it was one of his first professional tournaments. He was slim and athletic with a long loose swing. He hit the ball with abandonment but completely lacked the course management skills needed to score. However, even back then, I saw plenty of potential, and I also knew his brother Manuel – who was a good swinger – would refine his swing and teach him how to score. The rest, of course, is history.
You once said in an interview with BBC Sport regarding Seve’s Ryder Cup impact: “We felt that Seve would get five points, so we only needed 14 and a half points for the team for a win.” How would you summarise Seve’s impact at the Ryder Cup, and how did it feel knowing that someone like him was on your team?
Tony Jacklin was fortunate because, during his captaincy of the Europe Ryder Cup team, Seve was at the peak of his powers and the best player in the world.
When you think back to the European team’s victory over the US at The Belfry in 1985 and Muirfield Village in 1987, Seve was instrumental in these victories and inspired the whole team. I was Tony’s vice-captain, and our feeling was Seve would play five times and win five points, so the rest of the team ‘only’ need to win 9.5 points for us to win! It was said in jest but with a hidden meaning, or double entendre.
Regarding the story that Seve persuaded you to let the team wear blue instead of green clothes on the final day of the 1995 Ryder Cup – what did this say about Seve’s mentality? Was he as superstitious a player as he was considered to be?
I was mostly happy to accept Seve’s advice, but Seve wanted to wear blue on the final day, so we all fell into line! That was ok because the team – including me – didn’t think it was a big issue. This was the kind of golfer he was – he’d always look to gain some sort of advantage.
I remember he even had his celebration from the 1984 Open tattooed on himself when he was going through a bad spell in his late 40s. He thought that if he had the tattoo, his fortunes would improve because he was very superstitious like that.
Seve took over from you as team captain of the Europe Ryder Cup team, which retained the title in 1997. What do make of the job Seve did as captain?
The European Tour wanted to take the Ryder Cup to Spain to thank and honour Seve for his outstanding contribution to the success of the European team.
The worry was that Seve would want to play all the shots for his players – he was never going to be a touchline type of captain. There were some tense moments, especially when Colin Montgomerie had to ask him to back off and let him play his own game.
But Seve was passionate, and at the end of the day, that passion neutralised his hands-on approach. When Seve smiled, the whole world smiled with him because he had such an infectious personality.
What’s your favourite Seve moment and why?
There’s quite an amusing story from 1997. When Spain was nominated as the host country for the Ryder Cup, and Seve was unanimously chosen as captain, the Ryder Cup Committee still had to pick a course. This was an important decision because it would be the first time the Ryder Cup was played outside the UK, and a successful Ryder Cup couldn’t be taken for granted.
Valderrama was everyone’s choice because it was the number one course in Europe and one of the best courses in the world. The European team also played their flagship end-of-season tournament The Volvo Masters there for many years, so success was guaranteed.
However, Seve disagreed vehemently. He felt it should have been played at Real Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club near Cadiz. This was a new public course in a part of Spain that had never hosted a golf tournament, and to suggest that we’d have been taking a chance on its success would be an understatement. But Seve was adamant that the Ryder Cup should be played there!
It transpired Seve designed the course, so there was a huge personal interest there. The Ryder Cup Committee pointed out that he would lose credibility if he continued to push for his own modest course and insisted the Ryder Cup was held at Valderrama. He doesn’t know it, but we helped him not make a fool of himself!
Another standout Seve moment would have to be his victory at the 1984 Open. That putt he holed at the 72nd hung on the edge for a second, and his celebration was an immortal moment.
What was Seve like away from the course, from your experience?
Seve was always tense and on edge during a tournament due to his Latin temperament, but after the event, he was very relaxed, especially if his wife Carmen was with him.
I got to know him through the Ryder Cup and when he played at the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, where I was the professional. So, I met him quite a lot, and Lesley and I were friendly with Seve and Carmen.
After winning the 1991 World Match Play Championship, he asked me if he could come to my house and watch his team Barcelona play. Along with his Carmen and his young daughter, he spent a nice evening with my family. That’s the kind of guy he was away from the course.
No one would ever get too close to Seve – he was his own man. It’s no secret that he was quite stubborn and difficult to get on with at times, but above all, he was very passionate about golf and desperately wanted to win. We all enjoyed his success with him.
To summarise, when you think of the name Seve Ballesteros, what does this represent to you?
Seve’s legacy should not be of someone who simply hit the ball all over the place and chipped and putted like a demon.
For the most part, he was a long straight driver of the ball. His swing deteriorated when he had back problems, but he was a fighter and always found a way to get around the course.
Seve will also be remembered for popularising the game in Europe – before he came along, golf wasn’t a popular sport in Spain. But he not only popularised golf in Spain but across all of Europe, whether it was France, Germany, or Switzerland.
We also shouldn’t forget that Seve had humble beginnings – his whole family were caddies – so he didn’t have the same advantages growing up as his contemporaries had. He wasn’t even allowed to play at his local golf club in Pedreña because of how exclusive it was – he learned how to play golf on the beach. By contrast to Seve, Tom Watson grew up playing at expensive country clubs and went to Stanford University. All of these examples contextualise just how impressive Seve’s achievements were.
His charisma lit up courses around the world, and he was a truly special player.
Manuel played for Europe in two Ryder Cups, most notably partnering Seve at the 1985 tournament at The Belfry. He was also Bernard’s vice-captain at three Ryder Cups and won nine European Tour titles during his career. Manuel shares his recollections of his compatriot and close friend.
What are among your earliest memories of Seve?
The first time I talked with Seve was in the Spanish Championship in Barcelona. I remembered I won the tournament, and I went to the locker room.
A Spanish golfer approached me and told me that there was a young chap from Pedreña, Santander, who was an extraordinary player. I heard about him through other Spanish golf players, and I went to say hi to him. He congratulated me for winning the tournament, and I realised he was a bit sad, so I asked him why.
His answer was: ‘I am sad because I came to win this tournament, and I did not do it.’ From then, I knew he was a player with lots of courage who was able to do anything he wanted.
What do you remember of your victory alongside Seve at the 1976 World Cup?
We arrived at Palm Springs, California, after spending three weeks together in Japan.
Obviously, we were highly motivated, and we always had the mentality that we would win. If you think you can win, you will have a chance to do so.
On the last day, we were lined third when we teed off, and on the 18th hole, we knew that if we could make a birdie, we’d win the tournament.
We had two putts, each with the same distance of around four meters. Seve told me: ‘I’ll putt first because I know if I miss it, you’ll hole it.’ And that’s how it turned out. He missed it, and I holed it. When I holed, I went to hug Seve, and he was very emotional – it was a great achievement for us.
The 1976 World Cup was very early on in Seve’s career, but he’d burst onto the scene with his second-place finish at the Open that year. Even though he was only 19, could you tell at that point that he was going to be a special player?
Of course. He had the courage, talent, and power to accomplish anything he dreamt of.
The 1985 Ryder Cup at the Belfry must be one of your fondest memories of playing alongside Seve. What do you remember of this tournament and of the matches you and he played?
On Thursday afternoon, I was on the 15th training with José María Cañizares and Bernard Langer. When we were at the middle of the fairway, Tony Jacklin came and told me that he and Seve had decided that we would play the foursome and four-ball matches together.
Obviously, it was not easy as he was the best player in the world and everyone’s idol, so it was a huge responsibility for me. Not only was I playing on such a big stage as the Ryder Cup, but I was also playing with Seve. Anyway, I felt very comfortable playing with him, and I was always open to new challenges. I never felt intimidated by any player and always played my own game.
Playing with Seve was fantastic. I was a player with lots of character, and I felt very comfortable when I played alongside Seve. We had a lot in common, and he was always a great partner. He was very supportive, always looking forward, and never gave up!
Away from golf, what was Seve like as a person? And what made him such a special person?
Seve was a fighter! He seemed to fight against everything and everyone, both on and off the course. He would carry his ideas until the end – sometimes he was right and others not. He was a real person.
He wasn’t always liked by everyone, and this is said by a person that had a few arguments with him. But Seve was Seve, and he was crystal clear. He was a one-soldier army.
What do you consider to be Seve’s legacy in golf?
His courage and willingness. That was what people liked about him, and for a lot of young people, liked it happened with Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, his attitude and passion awoke their interest in golf.
What is your lasting memory of Seve?
What I remember most about him is his passion for golf and personally, when he called me after his second surgery to thank me for asking about him.
I told him that I wanted to see him in Pedreña, and he said: ‘Come any time Manolo, but please bring Angelines (my wife) and do not search for any hotel, I want you to stay home with me.’
The first time he went out of his home after surgery was to go to the Barcelona against Racing Santander match. I couldn’t make the match, so we had dinner afterwards in Somo with his brothers. When he arrived at the restaurant, we hugged each other, and both started crying. We spend a day and a half with him in his house, and he always showed a huge hope for life.
Ken was executive director of the European Tour from 1975 to 2004. During this time, he oversaw the global transformation of European golf and worked closely with Seve in a professional capacity. Ken shares some amazing memories of Seve from both on and off the course.
Can you remember when you first heard about Seve and what your initial impressions of him were?
I first saw Seve at the 1976 French Open. I went over for the last two days, and my first sighting of him was watching him emerge from the trees. Seve didn’t go on to win that particular French Open, but he would, of course, win several titles in the years that followed – he was every bit as adored in Paris as he was in London with his victories at the PGA and World Match Play Championships.
Seve was everything that I’d been told before I met him. I remember watching him finish second alongside Jack Nicklaus at the 1976 British Open and playing an audacious pitch shot between the bunkers on the final hole. A few weeks later, he won the Dutch Open, and he was up and away.
Two years later, he won three consecutive events on the European Tour, and of course, we all know what he achieved in the years that followed.
There was never any doubt in my mind that he would go on to become a special player. It felt like he would win every time he played – he was that dominant.
You were instrumental in bringing the rest of Europe into the Ryder Cup in the late ’70s. It’s almost a rhetorical question, but just how big a part did the performances of players like Seve play in the restructuring of the tournament?
In a word, Seve’s performances were instrumental – and Europe joining the Ryder Cup was a pivotal moment.
For anyone who isn’t aware, it was during the 1977 Open that Jack Nicklaus spoke to Lord Derby – the then-President of the Professional Golfers’ Association and Chairman of the Ryder Cup Committee – about restructuring the Ryder Cup. Jack and Lord Derby were on first name terms, and Jack said: ‘John, don’t you think it’s time to do something about the Ryder Cup?’. The Americans knew they were too powerful for the Great Britain and Ireland team.
Jack didn’t have one ounce of arrogance in his make-up and wanted to make the Ryder Cup more competitive. Jack knew of Seve’s rise and that other European golfers would follow, which is why they expanded the Ryder Cup to include continental Europeans.
This is where I came in. I was invited to stay with Lord Derby, the plans were put together, and by 1978 these plans were signed off.
Seve and Antonio Garrido were the first continental Europeans to play at the Ryder Cup, and although the Americans won in 1979 and 1981, by 1983, Europe had bridged the gap.
As soon as Europe were able to compete in the Ryder Cup with Seve in the team, did you feel it was only a matter of time before the tide began to turn?
Seve was the leader of the pack as far as European golf was concerned. When he won the Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1979 and then the Masters less than a year later, he gave belief to the guys that followed him, like Bernard Langer, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, and Ian Woosnam.
All these great golfers went on to win majors and were born within 12 months of each other, and there’s no question that Seve’s success was integral to their successes. Seve was the first European golfer to win the Masters, which showed the other guys that the great Americans could be beaten at the citadel of American golf.
These guys played alongside Seve week in, week out, so he would have inspired them greatly.
As someone who guided Europe to five Ryder Cup wins as player and captain, Seve is synonymous with this great competition. If you had to pick out one or two moments that you feel define Seve’s success in the competition, which would you choose?
It would have to be the 1983 Ryder Cup at Palm Beach – which, ironically, Europe lost.
It was Tony Jacklin’s first captaincy, and Jack was captain of the American team. At the par-5 18th, Lanny Wadkins stiffed his pitch and hit his pitching wedge third shot stone dead to get the half that America needed – he halved with José María Cañizares. Jack was so relieved that he went down to the divot and kissed the divot that Wadkins had played the shot from! That’s how much it meant to them.
At this point, a lot of the Europeans were distraught and upset that they’d got so close only for the Americans to win yet again. But Seve got everybody quiet and said: ‘Why is everybody so down?! We are the real winners. When they come to the Belfry in two years, we’ll win.’ And, of course, he was right.
This moment was Seve in a nutshell – he was a leader, a winner, and had a passion for beating the Americans! You sensed a step change, and this came to fruition in the years that followed.
Manuel Piñero partnered Seve in the foursomes matches in 1985, and he remains a dear friend of mine. He always said that when you partnered with Seve, you knew you were going to win – and that says a lot about Seve’s genius and excellence.
Do you have a favourite Seve moment aside from his brilliance in the Ryder Cup? Perhaps the winning putt at the 1984 Open and the famous celebration which followed?
It has to be the 1984 Open at St Andrews for a multitude of reasons.
When Seve won that Open, he not only played magnificent golf and gave us the famous jig, he also stopped Tom Watson, who was the greatest American golfer at that time.
Although 1984 was a couple of years before the golf world rankings were unveiled, Seve and Tom were, without question, the respective kingpins from both sides of the Atlantic. In stopping Tom Watson, Seve stopped the dominance of American golf, as there wasn’t another American winner of the Open until 1989 when Mark Calcavecchia won at Troon. So, his win was a great moment, and the celebration was iconic.
I had the privilege of having dinner with Seve a few months later, and I asked him how he managed to punch the wedge shot over the Valley of Sin. I said to him, ‘Seve, what was going through your mind?’ and he said he just wanted to make darn sure he didn’t duff it! He just wanted to make sure he went through all the correct processes – even the greatest have to conquer their own inner demons.
Away from the golf course, what was Seve like as a person? And which of his characteristics did you most admire?
He was a fierce competitor, but, importantly, he was also a very loyal person. In 1978, just after he’d won three successive European Tour events, he and I were travelling to Akron, Ohio for the World Series of Golf in Ohio.
In those days, the field was very limited – there were only about 22 guys on the roster, and Seve was the only European. Seve had asked me when I was travelling, and I’d said I was flying over with my wife Evelyn on the Monday, so he asked me if I wanted to have dinner.
To cut a long story short, we flew to New York and had to make a change to get to Akron. We ended up being an hour and a half late, and Seve was still there to meet us for dinner. That’s the kind of man that Seve was.
He and I may have had some issues along the way, but that’s because somebody – and it happened to be me – had to say no to him from time to time. And saying no to great sportspeople is not an easy thing! The only issues we ever had were never personal.
Seve was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. If he had issues, he would come and discuss them with you, and I always respected that about him.
Whichever way you look at it, Seve was a leader, friend, and great man.
When you consider where European golf was when you joined the European Tour and where it was when you left, how does this make you feel on a personal level, and how much of this success do you attribute to Seve?
The success of the Ryder Cup was central to the European Tour growing each year in terms of sponsor interest and broadcasting contracts, and Seve led this success. He was a five-time major champion and had such an amazing mindset.
In fact, one story from the 1987 Masters springs to mind when I think about Seve’s mentality. 1987 was my first time at Augusta, and many people remember that Masters for Larry Mize’s incredible chip shot. But what they may not remember is that Seve was one of the three golfers in the sudden death playoff.
Seve unfortunately three-putted the first playoff hole, and it’s the only time in 30 years of going to the Masters that I walked inside the ropes. Normally you’re liable to get shot if you do that!
Seve and his caddie had to make the walk up the hill, knowing that he wouldn’t win another green jacket even though he’d come so close. There were tears in his eyes, and there was nothing I could say that could console him in that moment, so we were silent all the way to the top of the hill. I turned left to go to the committee room, and he went straight ahead to the players’ locker room. But just as we were about to go our separate ways, I said one thing to him: ‘Seve – remember – you are a great champion. Nobody beat you over 72 holes.’
The Cannes Open was little over a week later, and all of the Fleet Street guys had gone down to France for the press conference on the Wednesday. At the press conference, Seve said: ‘I’m still a great champion, nobody beat me over 72 holes.’ By the Sunday, he’d won the Cannes Open.
Stories like this showed what he meant to European golf and the type of character he was.
Looking back on the impact he had on your career and your life, what feelings spring to mind when you think about Seve?
I feel privileged to have known, worked with, worked for, and been touched by Seve. He was the Arnold Palmer of his day – he was to European golf what Arnold Palmer was to American golf, and you can’t pay Seve a higher compliment than that.
He gave so much belief to other golfers, and not just the Europeans – when you consider the impact he had on the likes of Greg Norman and Nick Price, it’s clear how much Seve set the example and led the way. He made them believe that they could beat the great Americans, and that’s what they did.
What does the name Seve Ballesteros mean to golf?
There’s no question that Seve transformed European golf. It may be said – and I think Nick Faldo would agree with this – that, although Seve ended up with five majors and Nick Faldo managed to get to six, the leader of the pack and the real driver of the modern European Tour was, and remains, Severiano Ballesteros.