Editor’s Note: April’s edition of Living Golf focuses on Spain’s special relationship with the Masters. Watch the show by following this link.
Not many people are still talked about with such reverence seven years after their death. Not many people, though, have the aura of Seve Ballesteros.
The Spaniard died in 2011, but his son Javier is often contacted by people to tell him they’ve named their child after the legendary golfer.
The five-time major champion was a double winner at Augusta, two wins that go a long way to explaining Ballesteros’ greatness.
He became the first European to wear the green jacket in 1980 and triumphed again in 1983. With a nerve and verve rarely seen before, he blazed a trail for golf on the other side of the Atlantic.
For Seve’s 27 year-old son, there’s a special connection between him, his father and the first major of the Masters.
”It was definitely a unique place and he always used to tell me that he should have won four or five times there,” he tells CNN Living Golf’s Shane O’Donoghue in Madrid.
”He definitely loved the course. You have to be good around the greens and he was probably the best. He got on very well with Augusta.”
And, by the time of his death from brain cancer, Augusta had fallen in love with Seve.
“With the passing of Seve Ballesteros, the Masters Tournament loses one of its great champions,” former Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said in a statement..
“Best known for his fearless and heroic play, Seve annually showcased his brilliance at Augusta National, much to the enjoyment of the millions of fans he inspired around the world.
“He leaves an indelible mark on the history of our tournament and will be dearly missed.”
Ballesteros kicked open the door for international players on the US golf circuit, but as an outsider making waves stateside, he initially drew envious glances from some of his opponents.
“I think the Americans, the public, they really welcomed me nicely and they appreciate all my golf,” Ballesteros told CNN back in 2006. “I cannot say the same thing for some of the players, not everyone, some of the players. They were kind of a bit jealous, I would say.”
“The American tour they act as a unit and they tried to protect their own piece of cake,” he continued. “And obviously they didn’t like to see someone coming from a smaller country like Spain and go over there and take their money. I hear several times in the locker room ‘here comes the Spaniard to take our money.’”
It wasn’t just with the players that Ballesteros butted heads. In 1986, he was handed a one-year ban by the PGA Tour for failing to play in the requisite 15 tournaments the previous year.
For a man whose first exposure to the game was hitting stones with an old three-iron in Pedrena, Spain, beating the world’s best players on the sport’s premier tour gave him a special satisfaction.
“It was always a pleasure to beat Americans because obviously they have a better tour, better quality of golf courses, more opportunities and on paper they’re supposed to be better,” he explained.
“So any time you win in America, you must feel great. But I have nothing against the Americans, I love that country … I think it’s a great country.”
The success of this swashbuckling Spaniard helped raise the profile of European golf, not to mention the European Tour.
Ballesteros’ 50 wins on the European Tour is a number which is yet to be surpassed and his performances in the Ryder Cup are the stuff of golfing legend.
In 1979, alongside Antonio Garrido, Ballesteros became one of the first two players from continental Europe to play in the match.
He would go on to represent Europe on eight occasions, playing on three victorious teams and winning a total of 22.5 points over 16 years.
”I wouldn’t say I made the European Tour but obviously I helped carry the Tour for a number of years,” said Ballesteros.
“I opened the door for a lot of players behind me after I won. They came, they won majors and other tournaments so that really makes me very proud.”
Ballesteros’ will to win characterized his game, whether he was playing in Europe, America or the Ryder Cup.
”To be winner takes a lot of things. It takes talent, it obviously takes a lot of time to develop that talent, discipline, determination, desire and a good heart,” he replied 12 years ago when asked by CNN what it took to be a winner.
”I think everyone is born with some kind of talent for certain things, not necessarily in golf, but the key is to discover that talent and to be able to create a golfer.
“To put in a lot of work and develop the talent, that’s the key.”
With the weight of his father’s legacy on his shoulders, and his words of advice ringing in his ears, Javier is attempting to carve out his own professional golf career.
Although he’s so far struggled to earn his European Tour card, Ballesteros Jr. always knew success wasn’t going to come easy.
”Since I was very young I used to tell my dad that I really wanted to play professionally and he was happy with that,” says Javier.
“But he always told me that I would have to work very hard and that it was very difficult.
”We had great times on the course or practicing on the driving range, but it’s difficult to work with your family.
“He always told me to try to play as naturally as I could which is difficult because not everybody has the natural gifts that he had.”
Javier continues to honor the memory of his father through the work of the Seve Ballesteros Foundation, which aims to “contribute to the advancement of science for the benefit of those suffering from brain tumors.”
Seven years after his father’s death, Javier is still hearing new Seve stories.
”Through Twitter there’s many people who contact me, they sometimes send me photos of their babies that they’ve called Seve,” he says.
”It’s nice when you go to golf courses or you watch TV and they mention your dad, I think it makes things easier, to know that people still remember him. Seeing photos of him or hearing stories about him makes things easier.”
And while the world remembers a golf icon, Javier recalls someone else.
”He was a superstar in golf but he probably didn’t feel any different to the spectators who came to watch him.
“He came from a small town and was no different than any other fathers there.
“I always say he was a better dad than a golfer. He was really nice to us all the time. All the love he gave us or hugging us, he was just a really nice dad.”