On May 7th the sporting world lost of one its finest ambassadors. Golfing legend Severiano ‘Seve’ Ballesteros sadly passed away at his home in Pedrena, Cantabria, Spain. Ballesteros, diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2008, was aged 54.
Seve’s golfing record speaks for itself. The Spaniard won five Majors – three British Opens (‘79, ‘84 and ‘88) and two Masters (’80, ’83) – and numerous other individual titles, including a record 50 European Tour titles. He also won the Ryder Cup five times, both as a player and as captain, as well as triumphing in the World Match Play Championships a record-tying five times. He had talent, passion, charisma and style in abundance. As the tributes have flooded in over the last few days, German golfing star Bernhard Langer has claimed that Seve “produced the most amazing and miraculous shot I have ever seen”. He changed the course of European golf. Earlier today a number of European golfers were in favour of the European Tour logo honouring Seve.
For me, Seve achieved so much than that.
He transcended the game of golf and arguably sport itself. More significantly, Ballesteros shaped Spain’s sporting future. He was a sporting missionary and his success from the late 1970s inspired his countrymen and paved the way for future Spanish champions.
Ballesteros first came to the world’s attention in 1976, at the age of 18, when he finished second at The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. A year later he served in the Spanish Air Force. In 1979 Seve won his first Open – the first continental European to win the event since the Frenchman Arnaud Massey in 1907.
In 1979 Spain was a very different country to the one we now know. Franco’s military dictatorship, which had been in power since 1936, had only come to an end four years earlier. A modern, liberal, democratic Spain is only said to have started in 1982, with the election of the socialist PSOE party. Spanish sporting heroes and role models in the late 1970s were few and far between. Even the once feared soccer giants from Real Madrid were no longer dominating European soccer – Real’s last European Cup victory had been in 1966.
Since those days, Spain has successfully staged an Olympic Games (Barcelona in 1992) and, if you turn the clock forward to the modern era, you’ll see that Spain is now a genuine sporting power. Last year alone, Spain celebrated an incredible number of sporting triumphs:
- Alberto Contador sealed his third Tour de France cycling title
- Fernando Alonso won the German Formula One Grand Prix
- Jorge Lorenzo roared to MotoGP victory in the U.S.
- Spain lifted the soccer World Cup two years after winning the European Championships
- World Tennis Number 1 Rafael Nadal won his second Wimbledon Championship
There are of course many factors behind these successes. However, Seve Ballesteros – who was an idol and hero to so many – surely played a part.
Seve Ballesteros (1957-2011), RIP