Arrow-right Camera

Never Count Out Ballesteros

Maybe Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club is what Seve Ballesteros needs to get his game back. Maybe what golf needs is to get Seve back.

It would be a most happy reunion. Golf needs Seve as much as Seve needs golf.

The most passionate player since Arnold Palmer meant almost as much to the game as Palmer. He pushed golf onto a world stage by moving it onto the European continent and by making the Ryder Cup competitive.

Now, at the relatively tender age of 39, Ballesteros seems to have lost it.

He won the last two British Opens played at Lytham - in 1979 with the famous birdie from the parking lot and in 1988 with a brilliant final-round 65. Both were perfect examples of the flair for the dramatic Seve brought to the game.

But Ballesteros has not won a major championship since 1988 at Lytham - his third Open to go along with two Masters title - and the man with 72 titles worldwide has won only once in the last two years.

He played miserably at the Ryder Cup in September, but his competitive fire was still the heart and soul of the victorious European team.

That fire still burns deep. It’s obvious in his eyes when he talks about golf and it’s clear in the way he searches for words to express just the right thoughts about the game.

“It’s possible,” Ballesteros said when asked if he could win this year. “I believe that. I know it’s going to be difficult, but it’s possible.”

Ballesteros has always made emotion and a brilliant short game his two biggest allies on the golf course. Both those weapons are still in his arsenal.

The short game lies in a magical touch derived from years of practice and some unexplainable something that lurks within him.

The emotion is a constant fire that has always made Ballesteros want to be better than anyone thought he could be. At no time is that more true than right now.

“It is not 100 percent,” he said Monday about his game. “But it is not so bad as some people may think.”

Ballesteros has always been brilliant at tapping his inner fire, finding inspiration everywhere around him. At Lytham inspiration is everywhere - on the course and in the memories.

Just across the railroad tracks from the second tee a banner hangs from the upper story window of a red brick building. It reads: “Severiano. Gana Por Favor.”

Ballesteros noticed it on his practice round Monday.

“That sign is really inspiring,” he said. “It says in Spanish: “Severiano, win again, please.”

Ballesteros also finds inspiration in the videotape of the 1988 British Open he has watched over and over again for the last two weeks.

Seve was at his erratic best that day, shooting a 65 that included an 11-hole stretch in which he made two pars, two bogeys, six birdies and an eagle.

He closed Nick Price out with a brilliant chip from behind the 18th green that somehow stayed out of the cup and ended up inches away.

“I keep watching over and over that clip and I keep thinking one of these days it will go in,” Ballesteros said.

He keeps watching the entire tape of that round over and over again, looking for the edge that might let him steal this year’s Open.

“I watched the film to pick up some details I am not doing now,” he said. “And to inspire myself.”

Then, with a pause as he searched for just the right words, he said: “I am only 39.”

That’s the same age Nick Faldo will turn on Thursday when this tournament begins and it is two years younger than Greg Norman.

“I am 17 years older,” Ballesteros said when asked how his game differed now from when he first won the Open in 1979. Then, again looking for inspiration, he said: “I have more experience and I am better off the tee.”

There is almost no reason to think that Seve Ballesteros can win this British Open. He has missed four cuts in 10 tournaments this year, finished no higher than 12th and is 109th on the European money list.

There is almost no reason to think that Ballesteros can win this British Open - except that he is Seve.

And because he thinks he can win.

Tags: profile