Severiano Ballesteros Sota is the greatest European golfer of all time.
Born in Pedrena, Cantabria–a fishing village on the Bay of Biscay in northern Spain–on April 9, 1957, he was the youngest of five boys, one of whom died in childhood and the other four of whom became professional golfers. He began playing golf at eight years old, playing along the beach near his home and at nine started caddying at the Real Pedrena course adjacent to the dairy farm on which the family lived. At age 10 he played in the caddies’ championship and shot 51 for nine holes. The next year he shot 42 and finished second and the next year he fired a 79 shot over 18 holes to win. He estimated that between the ages of 12 and 18 he hit over 1,000 practice balls a day into a hanging backcloth in the family barn. He left school when he was 14 to concentrate on golf and three years later qualified for the Portuguese Open. That same year, he finished fifth in the Italian Open. Ballesteros turned professional in March of 1974 and the 16-year-old promptly won the Spanish Young Pro tournament. He successfully defended his title the following year.
In 1976, he burst onto the international scene with a second place finish in the Open Championship as a nineteen year old, tying Jack Nicklaus and ending up six shots behind the winner, Johnny Miller. He went on to win the Dutch Open that year in route to earning that season’s European Order of Merit [money title], a title he would win the next two years and a total of six times over the course of his career. The Spaniard won his first major championship in 1979 at Royal Lytham & St Annes with a three shot victory over Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw to claim the Open Championship. He closed with a final round 70 despite hitting his tee shot into a car park on the 16th hole and still made birdie. He won the Masters the following year, becoming the first European winner and youngest player to ever win the Green Jacket [passed by Tiger Woods in 1997] at age 23. He won the Masters again in 1983 and had his best year the following season, winning the Open Championship in July and PGA in August to claim his fourth major at the age of 27. He described the putt he holed on the 18th green at St. Andrews to win the Claret Jug in 1984 as “the happiest moment of my whole sporting life”. Seve finished third in the U.S. Open in 1987–the highest finish of his career in that event and the only major he never won–before going on to capture his fifth and final major title in the 1988 Open Championship. Torrential rains postponed the final round to Monday that year and Ballesteros played what he later called “perhaps the best round of my entire career” to shoot 65 and beat Nick Price by two shots.
Seve Ballesteros followed his win at the Open Championship in July of 1988 with a five stroke victory at the Scandinavian Enterprise Open two weeks later, the first of the 14 tourneys he won following that final major. He was a fixture on the European Ryder Cup team and one of its all-time greatest players, scoring 22 ½ points in 37 matches and leading to Europe to victories in 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1995. He partnered with fellow countryman Jose Maria Olazabal to form the most successful pairing in the history of the Ryder Cup, winning 11 times with two halved matches in 15 pairs matches. He captained the winning Ryder Cup team at the matches played at Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande, Spain in 1997 in what was the first Ryder Cup ever held in continental Europe. It was the pinnacle of Ballesteros’ Ryder Cup career. He retired in 2007 with the most European Tour wins of all time , nine PGA Tour wins, five major championships [including three Opens] and 91 professional victories worldwide. He was instrumental in introducing the Seve Trophy in 2000, a team competition similar to the Ryder Cup pitting a team from Great Britain/Ireland against one from continental Europe. The event is played in years when there is no Ryder Cup competition scheduled. Ballesteros was a three-time Player of the Year on the European Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999.
Mr. Ballesteros died of complications from brain cancer on May 7, 2011 at age 54. He led the Official World Golf Rankings for 61 weeks between April of 1986 and September of 1989 and was ranked by Golf Digest as the 16th best player of all time in a poll taken in 2000. The airport in Cantabria was renamed to Seve Ballesteros-Santander Airport in April of this year.