At the end of Magnolia Lane, limousines circle a large, bright yellow flower bed in the shape of its famous logo to drop off the Masters guests at the door of the Augusta National Golf Club.
In his traditional green jacket, a member is always there to welcome past winners and honorary members who have just the obligation to dress in this way once inside. The “Working Press” badge allowing it, I often attended this continuous ballet, dreaming that Seve Ballesteros would necessarily come out of one of these cars to play the second round of the Masters on April 9, his birthday. But sixty-four years later, of course, his name no longer appears on the starting lists, nor on the board hung at the entrance of the clubhouse indicating the members present.
In May, it will be ten years since he joined the celestial pantheon of the greatest. Please forgive the familiarity that I allow myself to evoke the Seve’s memory, a friendship established over time, meetings, successes, failures, interviews, shared meals, especially in the years following his exit from competitive golf after a short missed passage in the seniors’ ranks. So were our conversations whenever he was in Crans-Montana, which he particularly liked to be since 1975 when playing then winning the Swiss Open three times, or to achieve an impossible legendary sandwedge from behind a high wall, a feat like so many signed at Royal Lytham, Palm Beach at the 1983 Ryder Cup 1983 or facing Faldo in the Hennessy Cup 1978.
This is what the gestures repeated a thousand times were used for when practicing in the midle of the night on the beach at Pedreña, his lifelong village in Cantabria north-west Spain. Shots of all kinds learned with a 3-iron dabbling somewhere in his father’s employer club where he was not allowed to play, which he did not deprive himself of at night.
Seve will rely on that self-culture to review the course of the Golf Club Crans s/Sierre commissioned by President Gaston Barras. He will take all his time, giving me some opportunities to share (parimoniously) his ideas, discuss his greens on an upturned plate that would infuriate Montgomerie. St. Andrews was also necessarily in his visiting book. Between two officialities, during one of his visits, a dinner was organized by the UBS bank and Miguel Bétrisey, Seve’s part time caddie when he was a kid. It was on the top floor of the Old Course Hotel. Assuring the entertainment of the event, after plunging the room into the dark at dessert, I suddenly made him appear in a single sportlight within the Latin-Hispanic guests. “Que sorpresa!” Riot in the room, before taking him the day after in a cart to share few balls with the same guests of the Old Course, later offering this group a very special clinic, hosting later an award ceremony all smiles.
A more personal memory, this pro-am where, when I got to play an approach shot 100 yards from hole No 10, flag hidden behind a mound, he disembarked from a cart without warning, telling me in a tone like if I were Monty: “Muy fecil, Felipe! Get the ball in the hole. Take your sand wedge and do it! ». Immediately said, immediately done and jackpot! And this pervasive laugh of the “maestro” … A few months later, we were still talking about it at a dinner with friends at the Baur-au-Lac in Zurich, invited by Jaermann-Ssbi, a watch brand that was to produce a collection of chronometers with steel cases forged from a series of its victorious irons. It was also to be my last encounter with an agreeable Ballesteros, still in form, trying to forget his recalcitrant back as always, just before the nasty episode of early October 2008 when he lost consciousness upon landing at Madrid Barajas airport.
We later learned the worst news, with this big malignant brain tumor, realizing that life would probably no longer give him presents. This did not prevent him from continuing to interfere in the evolution of golf, pointing the finger at the mischief, applauding the success of his “compadres” Jiménez, Garcia, until May 7, 2011 when he could only let go at 54, caught in the grip of multiple trepanations, chemotherapy, and unproductive days too exhausting, enraged for a guy of his caliber , never in defeatism.
In this week of April, Seve is still missing as much for his family, friends and the world of golf. Today, we would have a much better time if he were here to follow the young guard of Spieth, McIlroy, Perez, Fleetwood and, of course, his talented compatriot Jon Rahm. Well positioned on his cloud, he naturally does not lose a crumb, between two challenges thrown at Payne Stewart, Arnie Palmer, Ben Hogan …
Every year since 2011, the Masters and Augusta still pay a beautiful tribute to Seve Ballesteros, with unfortunately less emotion, being the champion of a time that the under-20s don’t have a clue of. As far as I’m concerned, his golf, his genius, his smile are lights not at all ready to pass out. PPH