Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The players arrived at Sawgrass on Tuesday for the richest tournament in golf to be greeted by a Spanish flag flying at half mast. On Thursday they will contest the Players’ Championship wearing black ribbons.
The late Seve Ballesteros did not care for these parts much, but he would have been pleased with the effort made by the PGA Tour in his honour.
Sawgrass, a great landscaped monument to grandiose American golf, fairly represents the anti-Seve tradition. In other words, there is nothing about this place that occurs naturally.
A golf course that is barely a tee shot from the Florida seaboard embraces none of the features offered by its geography.
That is a little like the great architects of Scottish golf ignoring the unique coastal contours of St Andrews or Carnoustie in favour of farmland. Perhaps it is not televisual enough.
Ballesteros never won here. One who has, Phil Mickelson, spoke with reverence about the Spaniard, who makes his final journey in Pedreña today (Wednesday).
How fitting that the anecdote Mickelson rolled out referred to the innovative brilliance of Ballesteros with a three-iron, the only club owned by the infant genius hitting balls on the beach along the Bay of Biscay.
“The first time we played [together], we played at Torrey Pines, and the 11th hole is a par-three there and the pin was back right and he would take a three-iron that was normally a five or six-iron shot and carve a three-iron, a big 30 to 50-yard rounded slice that would land in the middle of the green and then side spin over to the hole.
“It just opened my eyes how many different ways you can get to some of these pins. The fact that you couldn’t go right at the hole and stop it, he found a different way to come in sideways and get the ball close,” Mickelson said.

“I loved watching that because it showed me that it’s possible that you can do it, that it doesn’t have to be this robotic way of fairways, middle of the green and so forth. You can get to some of these pins that are challenging and make it fun.”

The appreciation was mutual. Ballesteros named his dog Phil in tribute, following Mickelson’s Masters victory last year. The pair shared a clothing sponsor, which afforded Mickelson off course time with Ballesteros that he now regards as precious.

“We did some photo shoots together, and between shots we would talk and hit some shots and have a little contest and be creative out of the bunker, around trees and so forth. I enjoyed that time with him because I saw his artistry. It was neat to see and to be able to have a relationship with him.”

The European Tour, represented at today’s funeral by chief executive George O’Grady, plus a host of senior players, including Colin Montgomerie and José-Maria Olazábal, are considering how they might recognise Ballesteros permanently.

A Twitter campaign by the players is already under way to have the Harry Vardon image on the European Tour logo replaced with a signature silhouette of Ballesteros celebrating his Open victory at St Andrews in 1984.

Chubby Chandler, head of the ISM sport management company responsible for Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, is to propose to the Tour that the players wear navy blue sweaters, the preferred choice of Ballesteros on ‘glory Sundays’, on the opening day of the flagship BMW Championship at Wentworth this month.

“I think that would be the perfect tribute. And it would be easy to accomplish,” Chandler said.



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