Last month one of my best friends in golf passed away after undergoing something over two years of treatment for cancer. Sergio Gomez was the manager of José Maria Olazábal from the day he turned professional in 1985 (they had been friends long before then) until the day Sergio died, aged 75.
I cannot count how many glasses of wine and tapas meals we shared in the beautiful city of San Sebastian, where he lived. One time in the 1990s we had arranged a breakfast meeting before I was to be driven to Bilbao Airport for my flight home. After we had chatted for about half-an-hour, I was starving. “Is there any chance of anything to eat?” I asked. “Of course,” he replied. We walked out of his office for about two minutes and into a tapas bar. Breakfast was cheese, ham and rioja. Like I said, I wasn’t driving. The last time I saw him we had dinner at Rekondo, his favourite restaurant in San Sebastian where the hake is always spectacular.
I wrote a biography of Seve Ballesteros in 2006. I sent Sergio the draft manuscript, partly to see if he thought my portrayal was accurate and fair in his opinion and partly because “there are four anecdotes in there – you will know which ones they are – that you have told me in confidence and while I want to use them in the book if you say I cannot then they come out”. The only thing he picked me up on was that I had wrongly called Seve’s uncle Roman Sota rather than Ramon Sota.
As you would have figured from that story, his English was excellent, both spoken and when it came to reading. But now and again he would be off a little. I remember at the Dubai Desert Classic in January 2009 we were exchanging some tour-related gossip (possibly about Monty’s recent appointment as the Ryder Cup captain for 2010?) when he said about something that “it left me completely in the black”. After about 20 seconds discussing this we realised he meant “in the dark”. I guess the translation from Spanish allowed for the ambiguity. That November, he and José Maria arranged and paid for me to be part of their group when his boss was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in Florida. It was a hugely generous gesture.
There was never much doubt who was the better golfer of the two; Sergio was never going to win two Masters. But his game was by no means abject. Once he flew from Las Vegas with a party that included Butch Harmon (at the time Olazábal’s coach) to play at Cypress Point. Harmon said laughingly: “I’m not going to give you any tips today. No offence, but I’ve seen your swing and I don’t want you ever to be able to say you’ve had a lesson off Butch Harmon.” Later that day, hitting last on the gorgeous par-three 15th, with the other three balls on the green, Sergio found the target as well. He made two; they all made four.
Sergio was Spanish, of course, but thinking of him finally it is a Portuguese word that comes to mind: saudade, which in this context roughly translates as the sorrow one feels at the realisation that you will never see that person again.
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