Seve Ballesteros: Remembering a golfing great and even better father

 Seve Ballesteros: Remembering a golfing great and even better father

Every day I wish my dad was still here and we could do things together, like practice and enjoy life.

He won five majors, helped Europe to five Ryder Cups and has a record 50 victories on the European Tour, but I can tell you he was a much better dad than he was a golfer, so he was pretty good!

I can’t remember the exact age when I knew who my dad was in the world of golf, he was just my dad to me, but I always say I wish I could have seen his victories live – I wish I could have been at St Andrews when he won the Open Championship in 1984 or at Royal Lytham in 1988.

I played the Lytham Trophy on the same course about eight years ago and it was truly special to be there. I saw where he made that chip on 18 in 1988 and the car park shot on the 16th in 1979, that was definitely special.

I was only five when my dad last won on the European Tour, at the Spanish Open in 1995, so I really never got to see him win.

The best I saw was when I caddied for him at the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool at Hoylake. That was another level, to see the love of the fans, it was just fantastic.

Dad had a special connection with the fans, there is a video at Wentworth on the 17th hole when he is about to hit a shot, he just stops and goes back to a couple and says ‘I know you are nervous, but I am too’ – that clip is very special. Players were much more spontaneous then and he enjoyed that interaction.

I am very proud and happy with how all the fans around the world show their love to me and to my family now, it is always very nice to see clips on social media of him winning tournaments and some happy moments for him.

A few times people have even written to me and said: “This is my son, his name is Seve, after your dad.” Or some other people say ‘my wife didn’t allow me to name my son Seve, but my cat or my dog is Seve’, so it’s always very nice and it makes me feel very proud.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my mum about some people who followed my dad in every tournament in England and they became friends of the family. We are still in touch now.

Seve Ballesteros with son Javier
Javier Ballesteros as a young child with father Seve and his mother Carmen

At Hoylake I was 15, nearly 16, and my dad wasn’t practising anymore because of his back. I told him that he could play at The Open, because he had won it three times, and I would be very happy if I could caddie for him. He said ‘OK, I am not practising but I will do it for you’. I felt pretty special, he played it just for me and it was fantastic.

On Thursday, when we got to the first tee, all the applause of the people, it gave me goosebumps. I remember we played with Ian Poulter and Shaun Micheel. They were both very nice to me and I really enjoyed those two days. I think my dad missed the cut by five or something like that, but he played better than that and believed he should have made it.

I have got brilliant memories. The second day, on the fifth or the sixth hole, he pulled out a five wood on the tee and hit a very bad shot to the left, he laid up to about 15 metres before the green and the fairway was very thin because it hadn’t rained.

There was 10 metres and then a pot bunker. I was talking to my dad, I don’t know exactly the words, but basically I told him ‘we are not going to put this very close to the hole’. When I think about it now, that’s a pretty bad caddie!

His reply was like ‘OK, OK, don’t worry…’ and he just put it to one or two feet from the flag. I said ‘OK, never underestimate your dad!’.

I was so amazed about everything that probably some memories got lost, but it was just fantastic, the best memories of my life – it doesn’t matter if I play good golf in my career, that will be my best memories on a golf course, for sure. It was perfect.

The Open was always special to him but winning at St Andrews, the home of golf, was even more special. I think that is the best moment in his career – the logo I have on my shirt now is that celebration. I have watched it back many times.

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When I was about 10 or 11 I used to wake up every morning and go to my parents’ bedroom to talk and we used to talk about his major wins and tournaments.

Many times he used to tell me he should have won at least four Masters – in ’86 he put it in the water at 15, in ’87 he lost a play-off and in ’89 he also put it in the water on 16.

Especially 1986, that really hurt him because his dad had passed away a few months before and he really did want to win for him and he couldn’t. He was very unhappy about that.

Augusta National was a very special place to him and his game was perfect for that golf course – the fairways are pretty wide and you really have to be good around the greens and a good putter. I think it really suited my dad’s game and that’s probably why in the 1980s he played well there almost every year.

I know in ’81 and ’84 he missed both cuts after winning the year before, but as well as his Green Jackets in 1980 and 1983, he made five top-five finishes during that time.

When he won in 1980 he got a call from Muhammad Ali – we still have a recording of the conversation at home. I’m sure he told me all of the famous people he met, but I remember he played golf a few times with basketball star Michael Jordan – he was one of the best athletes in history so that was special for my dad and I will say probably also for Michael Jordan!

Seve Ballesteros became the first European to win the Masters in 1980 and, at age 23, was the youngest player to claim a Green Jacket at the time
Seve Ballesteros became the first European to win the Masters in 1980 and, at age 23, was the youngest player to claim a Green Jacket at the time

Bringing the Ryder Cup to Spain in 1997 was very special for him and I have seen many clips of when he was captain at Valderrama – I think it was Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood who said he just wanted to be everywhere and play the shot for everyone. He was like crazy, going to every place.

I believe he was very happy to be captain but he probably felt he could, maybe not still play, but he really wanted to play and help and be everywhere. In the end they won, so he was very happy about that.

Before him, continental Europe couldn’t play in the Ryder Cup and he was the one that probably changed that. He really wanted to beat the Americans all the time and he was very proud of what he did in the Ryder Cup.

In 2012 at Medinah, the year after he died, I remember I was at my mum’s home watching it and we really got emotional. It was a miracle what Europe did and it was special when Jose Maria Olazabal looked up to the sky after Martin Kaymer holed that winning putt, and when Justin Rose pointed to my dad’s logo on his sleeve.

I was thankful to Olazabal and we were happy the logo of my dad was on the whole European team. We also have one of the bags from that year at home and it is a special gift.

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Many times people say to me you look like your dad or your swing looks similar to your dad’s, and I always say the same thing: I am not my dad and I am not trying to be him because he was unique, it doesn’t put any pressure on me because I just try to be myself and I know who I am and who my dad was.

He was very strict with us about our schoolwork when we were kids, it was obviously different times, but he always told us to study and to be smart in everything we did. He was happy for us if we played golf or other sports, he just told us to do sport because it is healthy and good.

My dad liked boxing and was a huge fan of football and a very big fan of cycling. In July we always used to watch the Tour de France, and he was always competitive at everything in his life – he sometimes let us win when we played golf or other sports, but normally he tried to beat us.

He used to be my golf coach and it was a difficult relationship! I learned a lot from him, especially in the short game, but we had days… well, there were one or two times that he left the range. That kind of relationship, you know, father and son.

The advice that sticks with me probably sounds very obvious, but he said the most important thing is work, work and work. He always said you can have a lot of talent and a lot of everything, but if you don’t work you are probably not getting anywhere.

Everybody has told me he used to work hard throughout his career and almost every day he used to say ‘work, work and work’. I can remember going to him and saying I was hitting my irons or my driver bad, and he would say ‘OK, go to work – it will probably get better if you work’. I really believe in that, there is no other way.

I have still got some video clips at home from when dad was practising and I was watching him when I was very young, it’s very nice to be able to see them.

Javier Ballesteros caddies for dad Seve at the 2006 Open
Javier Ballesteros caddies for dad Seve at the 2006 Open

We mainly played together at our home course in Pedrena but we also played the father and son challenge, like Charlie Woods did with Tiger, in the Bahamas at the Ocean Club and in Orlando at ChampionsGate.

Many times in Pedrena he would go into the woods or I would go behind a tree and think ‘I’ll just chip it out to the fairway’. He would say ‘No, no! You can do it this way or that way’ and there was a shot.

Obviously, there are times that you just have to chip out and it doesn’t matter if you are Seve Ballesteros or Tiger Woods, but the difficult thing is to see the shot. To shape it and play it is also difficult, but if you can’t see it then you can’t do it – he had something special to see those shots and he had the ability to make them happen.

I live in Madrid now but I go to Pedrena as much as I can, for me it is the best place in the world. I feel special when I go to dad’s home – which I still think it’s not my home, it is his home.

The house is completely the same as when he was with us and I love going there. We are just one more family in the village, the same as any other there, probably because they all watched him grow up and become a superstar. I really feel special every time I am there.

Javier Ballesteros was speaking to BBC Sport’s Alex Bysouth.

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