There’s a story that comes from Billy Foster, Seve Ballesteros’ one-time caddy. Once on the golf course at Wentworth Seve knocked his approach shot through the back of a green. This left him with a seemingly impossible lie to recover from.
Seve had no green to work with because the flag stick was also positioned in the back. With this challenge at hand Billy turned to Seve and asked him “What do you think?” Seve answered “No problem, I will hit the flag.”.
Billy thought this would be a very risky play because hitting the flagstick could deflect the ball anywhere – if Seve managed to hit it at all. To his amazement Seve popped the ball up into the air and hit the actual cloth of the flag. The ball fell down and landed a few inches from the hole.
This little story captures the essence of what made Seve one of the most famous players of his era and why his imagination, bold plays and resulting successes changed the game of golf forever.
“The imaginative player sees several ways to recover from a situation, while the mechanical player sees only one.”
Europe’s Greatest Golfer
Severiano “Seve” Ballesteros Sota was born as the youngest of five sons on 9 April 1957 in the little village of Pedreña, Cantabria in Spain. He learned the game at a young age by playing with a 3 iron on the beaches near his home while he was supposed to go to school.
At the age of 16 he turned professional and at the age of 19, in 1976, he became famous internationally by finishing with a tied second-place at The Open Championship (He shared the second place with Jack Nicklaus!).
In his legendary career Ballesteros won more than 90 international tournaments including five major championships.
Tragically, Ballesteros was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour In 2008. He died on 7 May 2011.
His style, charisma and famous shots will be part of professional golf history forever.
This shot gave him the nickname of “The Car-Park Champion” at the time. During his first major win at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1979:
Largely ignoring the fairways in the final round, he played from rough, sand and even a temporary car park in which he found his drive way right of the 16th fairway. He made birdie there. Here are some more impressions from this unforgettable round of golf:
Finding Your Natural Golf Swing
Seve was a strong believer in practice and preparation. He knew that golf is a difficult game and always somewhat unpredictable. That’s why he worked on his own game relentlessly to give himself the best possible chance for every eventuality. This mindset of conscious preparation instead of mechanical repetition is worth a thought for every golfer.
“I’m constantly called a “natural”, as if I were born with a golf club in my hand and a scratch-handicap swing. That’s not true. I wasn’t innately blessed with the skill to smash a tee shot three hundred yards, the talent to hit an iron shot stiff to the flagstick, or the knack to knock a monster putt in the hole. No one is.”
Here are some chipping tips from Seve. Notice how mindful he his with everything he does. He doesn’t rush anything. Something worth imitating.
Listen To Your Body
Seve was famous for his spectacular short game, touch and feel. When asked whether he was born with his great feel Seve replied with an anecdote of a person who suddenly lost his sight.
““He must find the best routes to travel and remember where he’s probably going to run into trouble. Most of all, he must listen intently to what is going on all around him, as well as his own footsteps.”
Seve suggested to listen to your body very carefully all the time when you swing a golf club. I think it shows if you take a look at how Seve approaches his short game.
In the following video Seve gave a couple of tips on how to do different pitch shots:
Seve’s Preround Practice Routine
This excerpt is taken from his book “Natural Golf”. It’s an old book but a very good read. You can get a used copy from amazon if you look around.
“I’m very careful never to make big swings without loosening up thoroughly first for fear of seriously straining a muscle, particularly in my back. Thus I begin each session by working the driver through my elbows so that its shaft lies across the middle of my back, then carefully stretching by rotating my upper body left and right.
Next, I’ll take two or three irons together and swing them slowly back and forth a number of times with a ten-finger grip.I start my actual ball-hitting warm-up by playing lazy half shots with the sand-wedge, gradually working up to a longer and slightly faster swing by hitting a few balls with every second iron in my bag, from where I move on to the 3-wood and finally to the driver.
By taking everything slow and easy, my timing (the sequence of the actions comprising the swing) and tempo (the speed of the overall swing) begin to blend so that, by the time I complete this part of the warm-up, my full swing is hopefully totally cohesive and coordinated.”
Enjoy The Game
If you can learn one thing from Seve Ballasteros it’s that golf always has a way of its own. And that is the challenge that makes this game so exciting.
You’ve got to play golf one shot at a time, trying to make the most of it. And if you go about your way with a childlike mentality – experimenting, practicing and enjoying the process, you’ll get the most of your time.
Seve was often asked where his passion and dedication to the game came from. Although he struggled to give a definitive answer he found that the joy of impact and feeling the ball obey, making his visualisations a reality, was a large part of it.