Seve Ballesteros: Remembering a golfing great and even better father

On Friday, May 7th, the five-time main winner Seve Ballesteros will celebrate the 10th anniversary of brain cancer at the age of 54. His son Javier reflects the iconic life and career of the charismatic Spaniard.

Every day I wish my dad was still here and we could do things together like exercise and enjoy life.

He won five majors, helped Europe to five Ryder Cups and has a record of 50 wins on the European Tour, but I can tell you he was a much better father than a golfer so he was pretty good!

I can’t exactly remember the age at which I knew who my father was in the world of golf. He was just my dad to me, but I always say I wish I could have seen his victories live – I wish I could have been with St. Andrews when he won the Open Championship in 1984 or at Royal Lytham in 1988.

I played the Lytham Trophy on the same course about eight years ago and it was really special to be there. I saw where he made this chip on the 18th in 1988 and the parking lot was filmed on the 16th in 1979, that was definitely something special.

I was only five years old when my father last won the Spanish Open on the European Tour in 1995, so I really never saw him win.

The best I saw was when I cadded for him at the 2006 Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool in Hoylake. That was another level to see the love of the fans, it was just amazing.

Dad had a special relationship with the fans. There is a video at Wentworth on the 17th hole when he is about to take a shot. He just stops and walks back to a couple and says, “I know you’re nervous, but so am I” – this clip is very special. The players were much more spontaneous back then and he enjoyed this interaction.

I am very proud and happy how all fans around the world are now showing their love to me and my family. It’s always really nice to see clips on social media where he wins tournaments and some happy moments for him.

A couple of times people have even written to me saying: “This is my son, his name is Seve, after your father.” Or some other people say, “my wife didn’t allow me to call my son Seve, but my cat or dog is Seve” so it’s always very beautiful and I feel very proud.

A few weeks ago I spoke to my mother about some people who followed my father at every tournament in England and became family friends. We are still in contact now.

Javier Ballesteros as a small child with his father Seve and his mother Carmen

In Hoylake I was 15, almost 16 years old and my father stopped practicing because of his back. I told him he could play at The Open because he won it three times and I would be very happy if I could be a caddy for him. He said, “OK, I’m not practicing, but I’ll do it for you.” I felt pretty special, he just played it for me and it was fantastic.

On Thursday when we got to the first tee, all the applause from the people gave me goosebumps. I remember playing with Ian Poulter and Shaun Micheel. They were both very nice to me and I really enjoyed those two days. I think my dad missed the cut by five or so, but he played better and thought he should have made it.

I have brilliant memories. On the second day, on the fifth or sixth hole, he pulled out a five-stick from the tee and hit a very bad shot to the left. He lay down about 15 meters from the green and the fairway was very thin because it wasn’t. It didn’t rain.

There was 10 meters and then a pot bunker. I’ve talked to my father, I’m not sure what the words are, but basically I told him, “we’re not going to get this very close to the hole”. Now when I think about it, this is a pretty bad caddy!

His answer was, “OK, OK, don’t worry …” and he set it up just a foot or two from the flag. I said ‘OK, never underestimate your father!’

I was so amazed at everything that it probably lost some memories, but it was just amazing, the best memories of my life – it doesn’t matter if I play good golf in my career, these will be my best memories on a golf course, for sure. It was perfect.

The Open has always been special to him, but winning in St. Andrews, the home of golf, was even more special. I think this is the best moment of his career – the logo that I have on my shirt now is this celebration. I’ve seen it many times.

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When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I would wake up every morning and go to my parents’ bedroom to talk and we would talk about his big wins and tournaments.

He often told me he should have won at least four Masters – in 1986 he put it in the water when he was 15, in 1987 he lost a play-off and in 1989 he put it in when he was 16.

It really hurt him, especially in 1986, because his father had passed away a few months earlier and he really wanted to win for him and he couldn’t. He was very unhappy about it.

Augusta National was a very special place to him and his game was perfect for this golf course – the fairways are quite wide and you have to be really good on the greens and have a good putter. I think it really suited my dad’s game and that’s probably why he played well there almost every year in the 1980s.

I know he missed both cuts in ’81 and ’84 after winning the previous year, but alongside his Green Jackets in 1980 and 1983, he got five top five finishes during that time.

When he won in 1980 he got a call from Muhammad Ali – we still have a recording of the conversation at home. I’m sure he told me all the famous people he met, but I remember playing golf a couple of times with basketball star Michael Jordan – he was one of the best athletes in history, that was special for my father and I will say probably for Michael Jordan too!

Seve Ballesteros became the first European to win the Masters in 1980 and, at the age of 23, was the youngest player to claim a green jacket at the timeSeve Ballesteros became the first European to win the Masters in 1980 and, at the age of 23, was the youngest player to claim a green jacket at the time

Bringing the 1997 Ryder Cup to Spain was very special to him and I saw a lot of clips when he was captain at Valderrama – I think it was Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood who said he just wanted to be everywhere and get the shot play for everyone. He was like crazy and went to every place.

I think he was very happy to be captain but he probably felt he could, maybe not yet, but he really wanted to play and help and be everywhere. In the end they won, so he was very happy about it.

Before him, continental Europe couldn’t play in the Ryder Cup and he was the one who likely changed that. He was dying to beat the Americans all along and was very proud of what he did in the Ryder Cup.

In 2012 in Medinah, a year after his death, I remember going to my mother’s house and seeing it and we got really emotional. It was a miracle what Europe did, and it was special when Jose Maria Olazabal looked up to the sky after Martin Kaymer punctured that victorious putt and when Justin Rose pointed to my father’s logo on his sleeve.

I was grateful to Olazabal and we were glad that my father’s logo was on the whole European team. We also have one of the bags from that year at home and it is a special gift.

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Often times people tell me you look like your father or your swing looks similar to your father’s, and I keep saying the same thing: I’m not my father and I’m not trying to be him because he was unique, it does it doesn’t put any pressure on me because I’m just trying to be myself and know who I am and who my father was.

He was very strict with us about our schoolwork when we were kids, it was obviously a different time, but he always told us to study and be smart about everything we did. He was happy for us when we played golf or other sports. He just told us to exercise because he’s healthy and good.

My father loved boxing and was a huge soccer fan and a very big cycling fan. We always watched the Tour de France in July and he was always competitive in everything in his life – he sometimes let us win when we played golf or other sports, but usually he tried to beat us.

He was my golf coach and it was a difficult relationship! I learned a lot from him, especially in the short game, but we had days … well, there was a time or two that he went out of range. That kind of relationship, you know, father and son.

The advice that stays with me probably sounds very obvious, but it said the most important thing is work, work and work. He always said that you can have a lot of talent and a lot of everything, but if you don’t work, you probably get stuck.

Everyone has told me that they worked hard throughout their career and said “work, work and work” almost every day. I can remember going up to him and saying I hit my irons or my driver badly and he would say, “OK, go to work – it will probably get better if you work.” I really believe there is no other way.

I still have a few video clips at home when my father was practicing and I watched him when I was very young. It is very nice to be able to see them.

Javier Ballesteros caddies for Papa Seve at the 2006 OpenJavier Ballesteros caddies for Papa Seve at the 2006 Open

We mostly played together on our home course in Pedrena, but we also played the father-son challenge, like Charlie Woods did with Tiger, in the Bahamas at the Ocean Club and in Orlando at ChampionsGate.

In Pedrena he would often go into the forest or I would walk behind a tree and think, “I’ll just cut it out to the fairway.” He would say, ‘No, no! You can do it either way ‘and there was a shot.

Of course, there are times when all you have to do is get out and it doesn’t matter if you’re Seve Ballesteros or Tiger Woods, but the hard part is seeing the shot. It’s also difficult to shape and play, but if you can’t see it, you can’t do it – he had something special about seeing these recordings and he had the ability to make them come true.

I live in Madrid now, but I go to Pedrena as often as I can, it’s the best place in the world for me. I feel special when I go home to dad – which I still think it’s not my home, it’s his home.

The house is just the same as it was when he was with us and I love going there. We’re just one family in the village, just like everyone else there, probably because they all saw him grow up and become a superstar. I feel special every time I’m there.

Javier Ballesteros spoke to BBC Sport’s Alex Bysouth.


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