May 7: 10 years since Seve Ballesteros departed

Today is all about one man.

Ten years ago, on May 7 2011, Seve Ballesteros finally lost his two year battle with a malignant brain tumour and passed away.

I recently discovered some notes that I took from a documentary that Peter Alliss made at Seve’s home in Pedrena. It was 2010, and Seve had some things he wanted to say. When I re-read these notes, the words leapt off the page. He spoke about how he was coping with his condition and passed on his advice to anyone who might go through a similar ordeal then, or at any time in the future, to encourage them to pull through.

“Think positive – about anything and everything. It will change your mindset and vibration which will aid your recovery.

“Remember anything happy. Good things. Stay strong and fight. If you don’t fight you might as well pull out the white handkerchief of surrender.

“You don’t win by panicking. Stay relaxed and optimistic. Never give up. Recall all the good you have done rather than the bad or your mistakes. Like Roberto De Vincenzo said “when life rains on you, put up the umbrella and wait for it to stop”. Continue to set goals, continue to look forward”.

He said that he had become a champion because “I try to do things other guys are too cautious to do”.

He and Peter then talked about how Seve was perceived. Peter said “some winners in golf are not liked, but Seve has always been loved”. Seve agreed.

“There was always such chemistry between me and the gallery. The people help me play the game”.

“Ah yes,” replied Peter “Some of them would help look for your ball from a wayward shot and when found they would flatten the lie”.

Indeed. Unless you lived through the time that Seve played, you will never know. You can’t really know Seve Ballesteros from a book. In his galleries in Europe, right to the end of his career, the love from men, women and children alike for Seve, it was tangible. Women admired him, men wanted to be him. When he rewarded them with his play the roars were animal like, the electricity and emotion was always there sending him onwards. It wasn’t the same kind of support that Tiger or Jack or even Arnie had, this was something different. It surrounded him. That feeling has certainly lived on in the hearts of those of us who were out there through his times.

I also rediscovered some notes that I had made about Seve’s retirement from professional golf. There was shock and sadness and no warning when a hastily called press conference took place one afternoon during the Open at Carnoustie. Someone who had been there – it was a rare Open that I missed – told me what it was like.

They said that it was upsetting because Seve was doing his best not to cry, But it was also a mixture of brilliance and charisma which held hardened hacks spellbound for 30 minutes. He talked about the British public in particular, who adored Seve like no other. He said he never took their loyalty for granted.

“Right from the start there was that connection, that chemistry. They never forgot me from the moment I made my debut to last year at Hoylake (2006) they always came out to cheer and hope. I will never forget it. I say that many times but I want to say it one more time that most of the tournaments I won were thanks to them”.

It was a most dignified, poignant and warm exit from the stage.

Most of the journalists present were held in the palm of his hand at that moment. Except for one veteran American broadcaster who just had to say “Seve retires- who cares!”. Apparently, one of the men had to be restrained, saying “as old as he is I want to deck him for saying that”.

Jose-Maria Olazabal, Seve’s great Ryder Cup partner, withdrew from the Championship at the news. I found these words that I wrote in my notes. “Better to write a retirement piece than an obituary”. Which was strangely prophetic because at that point Seve lived on for less than four years.

Caddies were the butt of anything that went wrong, and they would sometimes describe him as a pink farm animal with a curly tail. But even some of them would love and admire him regardless. “God he was hard work” said David Musgrove, who caddied for him when he won the 1979 Open.

Tiger called Seve “The most creative player ever to play the game. The best short game ever”. Jack Nicklaus spoke of him with such genuine friendship and affection. Jack had been in regular touch and strongly supportive. Arnold Palmer sent him a dog for companionship, whom Seve called Phil (after Mickelson). Then, in the documentary, this happened.

Seve looked down the camera lens and addressed his people.

“I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I have had so much luck and fun and great moments, it’s been like two or three lifetimes for some people.

And please know that I love you from the bottom of my heart”.

It would be the last time we ever saw him speak in public.

That was in 2010. A year later, on May 6, Seve’s family paid his people such gracious consideration when they let us know through a statement that Seve’s condition had seriously worsened. That gave us a short amount of time to prepare for the news the following day that he had passed away aged just 54.

A couple of weeks later before the start of the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, the tour had arranged a special pro-am event in his honour which they called Ole Seve. It was well meant, but… Flags were at half mast, and people were still walking around in a daze. I remember seeing Sir Bruce Forsyth wandering around, just looking for people to talk to about it. A reporter from local television was tactlessly asking people how they felt, and no one would talk to him, such was the upset.

Now, ten years on, Peter Alliss, Arnold Palmer, Roberto De Vincenzo, Sir Bruce Forsyth and Seve’s brilliant caddie Davy Musgrove have joined him in the afterlife. What larks they must all be having together. It’s a comforting thought for today.

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