Like Senna in the rain, Seve in the rough had a kind of dual genius. There was the extraordinary ability to see and do things that none of his competitors could match – Alliss on the mic, “He can’t get down in two from there can he? Uh… uh… uh (as the ball soars out of the jungle). He can you know, he can (as the ball lands and rolls stone dead). Well, would you believe that?”. As if that genius wasn’t enough, Seve also had a face that could go from Buster Keatonish melancholy to a smile are bright as the Spanish sun in blink of an eye. Just as golf was about to go corporate, Seve wrote the book on charisma pre-David Leabeater’s swing reconstructions, pre-course management as the route to victory and pre-Nike. The camera loved Seve and Seve loved it in return.
In 1988, my father was almost unable to move, such was the pain from his angina. Booked into Walton hospital for an angioplasty, I went home to see him and do the nothingish things one does when one’s father is due an operation. With a taxi booked to arrive at 8.30am on the Thursday morning, we had a phone call at 8.15am postponing the op for want of theatre staff. My dad and I settled down to watch the Open – in our house, if sport was on the telly, you watched it. Seve, fist-pumpingly, heartstoppingly, beautifully (for, like Muhammad Ali and Bobby Moore, he was a physically beautiful human being) won coming from behind as usual. My dad and I talked while we watched and since then, I’ve always associated Seve with some my father’s ideas about sport and life – that winners were defined by something intangible, that greats deliver when the pressure is on, that the BBC were peerless in their coverage of sport and that to be European could be as much a part of one’s identity as to be British (though, naturally, apart from Germany, he didn’t much like Europe when he was actually there).
Seve’s decline as a golfing force started just at the time that he ought to have been in his prime, but none of that really matters (though it mattered to him, as he raged, raged against the dying of the light). To those of us fortunate enough to have seen his best work, he’ll always be hitting one out of the car-park, wearing two hats (when asked why, he said, “Why not?”), doing cheesy ads in a voice that never quite got to grips with English (“Hu know me – dees gize do” on a beach with a load of scallyish kids for American Express), sticking it to the Yanks at the hideous Good Ol’ Boys’ Augusta National of a generation ago, demanding and demanding and demanding of his Ryder Cup colleagues whether playing or not, conducting masterclasses for Jose-Maria Olazabal in what it took to be a great golfer and a great person besides. And, for me, reminding me of my father, long gone now and my youth, also gone. For a kid who went looking for lost balls to sell and carried the bag for a few pesetas in order to pay for the right to play golf at 5.00am in the morning in the hope of being as good as big brother, Manuel, he did all right, didn’t he?