It was 40 years ago that Seve Ballesteros, who passed away in 2011, became the first European golfer to win the Masters. Indeed, to that point only one non-American had been victorious at Augusta – South Africa’s Gary Player, in 1961, 1974 and 1978, on the last of those occasions his triumph being secured with Ballesteros as his final-round playing partner.
This past Saturday, the CNN programme Living Golf broadcast a half-hour documentary to mark Seve’s achievement. It will be shown on other dates ahead of the belated beginning of the 2020 Masters next month. The contributors to the programme were José Maria Olazábal, Jon Rahm, Ben Crenshaw, Bernard Gallacher, Sam Torrance and Billy Foster, one of the several caddies Seve got through – plus yours truly, although please don’t allow my participation to deter you from watching it.
The thing I learned from the programme which I had no clue about before was that Rahm’s family had no connection with golf until his father went to watch the Ryder Cup at Valderrama in 1997, when Seve was the non-playing captain in Spain. If that hadn’t happened, likely Rahm would not now be ranked the second-best golfer in the world.
The story of the 1980 Masters was quite extraordinary. Clichés are clichés for a reason – they keep on happening – and perhaps the one most associated with Augusta National is that ‘the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday’. If that were totally true it would make one question why they bothered frigging about with the previous 63 holes but certainly in 1980 it looked like the Masters was over by the time the leader stepped on to the 10th tee on Sunday. Ballesteros had opened up with rounds of 66-69-68 to lead by seven shots after 54 holes and halfway through the final round he led by 10. This was over. And then it wasn’t.
Seve three-putted the 10th for a bogey. He hit his tee shot at the 12th into Rae’s Creek and made double-bogey. He then hit into the water on the 13th and took a bogey six. While he had just dropped four shots in around 40 minutes, Jack Newton had made three consecutive birdies. Seve’s apparently impregnable lead was down to three and he still had five holes to play. Fortunately, the drama ended there. He eventually won by four.
The European successes at Augusta since Seve won his second (and somehow only other) green jacket in 1983 have been Bernhard Langer in 1985 and 1993; Sandy Lyle in 1988; Nick Faldo in 1989, 1990 and 1996; Ian Woosnam in 1991 and Olazábal in 1994 and 1999. That latter title made it 11 European victories in 20 years. It was a heady, halcyon era. Since then, it’s pretty much been back to famine, although Danny Willett (2017) and Sergio Garcia (2018) have comparatively recently recalled memories of our continent’s glory golfing days in Georgia.
Jon Rahm will turn 26 on the Tuesday of Masters week. Becoming the fourth Spaniard to win the tournament would be one heck of a birthday present. As well as a fitting memorial for Seve’s anniversary.
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