Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Seve Ballesteros RIP - Rules Incidents

Photo: © Steve Munday/AllSport
Seve Ballesteros and John Paramor debate an abnormal ground condition.

I am taking this opportunity to pay my immense respects to Seve Ballesteros, who was undoubtedly Europe’s best ever golfer. I have many brilliant memories of watching Seve play, but for me the highlight was in July 1996 when I had the pleasure of attending a clinic at Royal Dublin Golf Club given jointly by Seve and Jack Nicklaus. To my embarrassment, I have probably never hit a drive as long and straight as the one that Seve played whilst kneeling down!

Probably the most celebrated ruling concerning Seve was in 1994 on the 18th hole in Valderama 1994. Seve needed a par to tie Langer for the Volvo title, but had left his drive in loose soil from a hole behind a large cork tree. The Spaniard called the Tour Referee, John Paramor, for a ruling, claiming that the hole had been made by a burrowing animal (see photo). Paramor didn’t agree and for the next 25 minutes there followed an unforgettable, animated discussion, with Seve utilising his renowned expertise in pressure persuasion. In the end relief was not granted, Seve had to chip out sideways and he finished with a bogey, resulting in Bernhard Langer being the outright winner by a single stroke.

Seve’s renowned and remarkable powers of recovery can be viewed in this 2 ½ minute video clip from the 1979 Open Championship at Lytham St. Annes. He drives into the car park (his ball not his car!), which was not designated out of bounds, negotiates free relief with a Referee, drops his ball over his shoulder (which was the Rule at the time) knocks his second to about 20 feet from the pin and sinks the putt to go 3 ahead. He went on to win his first major title. Wonderful.

For those receiving this blog by email click here to view the video

Of course, there were the occasional bad times as well. In 1980 he was weak with flu when he arrived at Baltusrol for the US Open as the warm favourite. His mood darkened even further when his brother, Baldomero, caddying for him, was not allowed into the clubhouse dining room. It is still not certain as to whether it was a deliberate act or a mistake, he was 12 strokes behind the leader after only one round, but he arrived at the 1st teeing ground seven minutes late and the official starter had no option but to disqualify him. Years later he is reported to have said of the Baltusrol incident:
“It was my fault. I was stupid. But I felt like a dog which had been kicked.”
Even worse, in March 2003 he was involved in an ugly altercation with an official after his group had been warned about their slow play during the Madeira Island Open. That was bad enough, but only six weeks later he was penalised a shot for playing too slowly during the third round of the Italian Open. His marker added the penalty to the score for the hole, which he promptly erased. Naturally, when he returned his score card that did not include the penalty that had been imposed he was disqualified. Subsequently, he was fined £5,000 and was severely reprimanded by the tour's players’ committee, mainly comprised of his playing peers.

And now he has gone. Fortunately, we have much to remember him by. TV recordings, DVDs, interviews, biographies, articles, and best of all, memories. Will there ever be another European golfer with his skill, charisma, passion and heroics on the course and inspirational leadership off it. I think it is extremely doubtful. Sir Nick Faldo summed it up nicely on Twitter:

"He was our Arnold Palmer, Pele, Muhammad Ali - he was that big a name. Sad day. I would now call him the Cirque du Soleil of golf. The greatest show on earth.”
RIP Seve, It was great to have known your genius.

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