SEVE REMAINS A TRUE INSPIRATION


Seve Ballesteros’ legendary status in European golf was confirmed yet again when he was identified as the inspiration for their latest Ryder Cup triumph – even though he was 800 miles from the action.

Seve wanted to fly to Wales to witness Europe’s bid to reclaim the trophy at Celtic Manor in October, but his doctors wanted him not to over-exert himself as he continues to recuperate from brain surgery. So he sent a message of support instead, talking to the players over speakerphone from his home in Spain. They hung on his every word, and European captain Colin Montgomerie and all 12 of his players agreed it was the perfect motivation for their thrilling one point win over the Americans.

World number one Lee Westwood made his Ryder Cup debut when Seve captained Europe to victory at Valderrama in 1997, providing a fitting climax to a career that had seen him play a pivotal role in establishing the competition as one of the greatest spectacles in all of sport.

Westwood summed up the mood generated by Seve’s stirring address to the European players, saying: “It was so good to hear from him – he sounded well, and he was just as passionate as he always is when he is talking about the Ryder Cup. He obviously is one of the legends of the game, and was instrumental in taking European golf to a world audience. He achieved that partly through his own career, but a majority of it was through all of that passion he showed in Ryder Cups.

“He certainly carried that through to Valderrama when he was captain. He was very, very passionate that week. We came out of it at the end of that week with the right result, and that has a lot to do with Seve. He’s a true European talisman when it comes to something like that.

“It was great to hear him talk of his love of European golf. Some of the lads that had not played with him, or spent much time with him, were given an extra idea of what it’s all about. I know it was over the phone, but you could still almost see a twinkle in his eyes when he was talking, he was so passionate.”

The Spanish superstar spoke to the players at Montgomerie’s request. And Monty also had a life-sized picture of Seve and his record-breaking partner Jose-Maria Olazabal hung on the wall of the European team room as an added inspiration. They are easily the most successful combination in Ryder Cup history, winning 11 and halving two of their 15 matches together, and tasting defeat just twice.
Montgomerie commented: “I think it was only right to get him on the phone – Seve is our Ryder Cup and always will be.

“And it’s always nice to not ever feel that Seve is taken for granted by us or by European golf in any way, shape or form. I just feel it was right for the rookies to hear that passion and motivation from one of Europe’s greatest sportsmen.

“I also played on his 1997 team, and I recall that it was just a very passionate speech that he gave to the team 13 years ago – and it was the same this time. We were just honoured to have him, to have his presence in the room.

“The whole team spoke to Seve for about ten minutes; and that was very motivational. The passion is very, very strong within Seve for us as a team, and he wished that he could have been with us. But his passion engulfed the whole room. I’ve never had anyone as passionate about sport and golf as him.”

Seve’s craving to see European golfers competing successfully on the world stage was also part of his motivation for creating the concept of the Royal Trophy, pitting the finest players from his Continent against their Asian counterparts every year. Since its launch in 2006 it has been a spectacular success – a description that applies to every aspect of Seve’s involvement with the game he has graced for almost four decades.

He exploded onto the scene at the 1976 Open Championship as a flamboyant 19-year-old, finishing joint runner-up to Johnny Miller at Royal Birkdale – sharing second place with another of the game’s true greats, Jack Nicklaus. He went one better in 1979, famously earning himself the title of ‘The Car Park Champion’ after hitting his drive amongst the parked vehicles alongside the 16th hole in the final round – and still conjuring up a crucial birdie.

Seve was never the straightest driver of them all, but he more than made up for that slight flaw with a magical short game, and an ability to fashion shots mere mortals would never dare to take on. His erratic tee shots merely added to his allure, as spectators waited with baited breath to see what sort of recovery shot he would produce.

And he mischievously claimed that famous birdie in 1979 was entirely intentional, saying: “Of course it was deliberate. That was the only spot that would create the right angle to attack the flag where it was positioned on the 16th that day!”

The twinkle is Seve’s eye that Westwood referred to was also there when he was presented with a lifetime achievement award as part of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony in December 2009. Seve’s long battle to regain full health after having a cancerous tumour removed from his brain in October 2008 again prevented him from travelling to accept his award in person, and he has been unable to attend the last two editions of his much-cherished Royal Trophy for the same reason.

Fellow Spaniard Olazabal, a lifelong friend as well as another golfing icon, was appointed to present Seve with his award in a live telecast from his villa in Bilbao. Olazabal seemed more motional than Seve as he handed the award over – prompting Seve to joke: “Are you okay – do YOU need to sit down Olly?”

It was a remark that produced huge laughter, but it also summed up the indomitable spirit that has typified both Seve’s fight for health and his all-conquering career.

He went on to win two more Open titles after that 1979 success and took his Major haul to five with two victories at the Masters. In all he won an incredible 87 titles, 50 of them on the European Tour, and won the European Order of Merit six times.

But the statistics are only half the story – it was the panache, the dazzling, daring brilliance that was the hallmark of Seve’s play that endeared him to a huge army of golf lovers, and which saw him elevated to golf’s Hall of Fame in 1999.

You only had to look at Seve swing a club to know he was born to be a golfer.

His uncle, Ramon Sota, was Spanish champion four times, and Seve’s older brother, Manuel, was a successful European Tour player before hanging up his clubs to act as manager to his richly-talented sibling. Two more brothers, Vicente and Baldomero, plus his nephew Raul, are also professional golfers.

Even though he has reluctantly retired form playing, Seve’s legacy lives on through his exploits in the Majors and the Ryder Cup and the burgeoning success of the Royal Trophy.

Golf is in Seve’s blood – just as players of his rare talent are the lifeblood of the game.

“Seve is an immense inspiration;” stated Lincoln Venancio, the Royal Trophy Managing Director.

“We will always ensure that the Royal Trophy is staged in such a manner that does justice to the legacy of this remarkable human being;” added Lincoln Venancio.

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