Saturday, May 7, 2011

Seve Ballesteros: Career highlights

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Seve Ballesteros was one of the best, and most popular, players in golf during his career. The swashbuckling Spaniard was known for his creative game, and his ability to get himself out of trouble.

He was golf's Cirque du Soleil, according to fellow competitor and Ryder Cup teammate Nick Faldo.

"I think the Cirque du Soleil is the greatest show I've ever seen," Faldo said. "It's passion, artistry, skill, it's drama. That was Seve.

Ballesteros' career highlights:

•91 professional victories, including five major titles, nine PGA Tour wins and 50 European Tour victories.

•Six-time winner of the European Tour Order of Merit (1976, 1977, 1978, 1986, 1988, 1991).

•Three-time European Tour player of the year (1986, 1988, 1991).

•Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999.

•Inspiration to Spanish golfers (including Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia) and Spanish athletes in general. "What he did in sport is unbelievable," says world No. 1 in tennis Rafael Nadal.

Major championships

Masters: Two-time winner, 1980 and 1983. Ballesteros was among the players in contention when Jack Nicklaus won in 1986 at age 46.

British Open: Three-time winner, 1979, 1984, 1988. In 1976, at age 19, Ballesteros finished second at Royal Birkdale, his first big showing on the world golf scene.

U.S. Open: Best finish, third, 1987.

PGA Championship: Best finish, fifth, 1984.

Ryder Cup

After lobbying to have the Ryder Cup expanded to include continental Europe in 1979, Ballesteros helped Europe beat the United States in 1985 to begin two decades of dominance. He also captained Europe to victory in 1997 at Valderrama, Spain.

•Ballesteros had a 20-12-5 record in eight Ryder Cup appearances and was one of the players who helped break the U.S. dominance.

The swashbuckler

The most memorable thing for many fellow competitors and golf observers was Ballesteros' short-game magic, and his uncanny ability to be at his best when the situation was the worst.

•Among his most memorable was the sand wedge he hit from a parking lot in his first Open win in 1979 that earned him the title as the "Car Park Champion." On the par-4 16th, Ballesteros deliberately drove into the parking lot, got a free drop, hit a sand wedge to 18 feet and made the pivotal birdie putt. The win made him the youngest winner of the tournament in the 20th century, and the first golfer from continental Europe to win a major since Frenchman Arnaud Massy won the Open in 1907.

What they said

• "Seve was my idol," Sergio Garcia said. "He was golf, he meant so much to Spain, to the Ryder Cup, to golf everywhere. He inspired a nation, a continent, golfers around the world. He was a fighter. It's just sad."

• Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson dedicated this year's Champions dinner to Ballesteros with a Spanish-themed menu that featured salad with sherry vinaigrette, seafood paella, prime beef tenderloin with Manchego cheese and smoked paprika demi-glace, and Spanish apple pie.

"He certainly had an impact on the game, but to me the greatest thing about Seve is his flair and his charisma," Mickelson said. "Because of the way he played the game of golf, you were drawn to him. You wanted to go watch him play. He had charisma and he kind of had so many shots that it was fun to watch him play."

Davis Love III, who teamed with Tom Kite in 1993 to face Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal in the first three matches he ever played in the Ryder Cup, said Ballesteros was an icon in the game.

"He was someone I looked up to and I copied his swing. Everybody wanted to be as exciting and as fun and as flashy as Seve. Everyone wanted to be aggressive and as flamboyant as Seve. Everyone wanted that style," Love said. "It's sad. It makes you realize some that no matter how great a player you are, your time will come eventually.

"He definitely had (aura). There were so few guys that had that. Jack (Nicklaus) was intimidating, Arnie (Palmer) had that different kind of feel to him, and (Greg) Norman had it. And certainly Seve had it. He was a different kind of player, a different kind of person. Seve was always geniune, always had a smile on his face. He definitely enjoyed his life."

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