It was typical Ballesteros; deprecating, refusing to take his troubles or himself unduly seriously. Even though he wasn’t hoisting trophies anymore, he didn’t lose his basic appetite for the game.
“It’s not just winning, it’s the pleasure of hitting the shots that you want,” he said. “To play this game and have pleasure.”
He could cry bitterly over a loss, yet he often summoned humor in the midst of calamity, and some of his funniest remarks came from it.
After brutally hacking out of Rae’s Creek at the Masters one year, he remarked laughingly, “Next time I’m going to kill that creek.” Then there was his notorious four-putt at Augusta, which he summed up with “I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.” Asked to elaborate he said, “The first putt I hit was pretty good. The second putt I hit wasn’t bad. The third putt . . . didn’t go in.” In reply to a question about how to play St. Andrews, he said: “You have to hit it in the right place. Which is left.”
The tributes to Ballesteros this week have ranged from a wreath sent by the queen of Spain, to a bronze sculpture, to the suggestion that the European Tour logo be changed to an image of Ballesteros. None exactly does justice to him, because they can’t capture the antic, hungry, emotive, hard-charging liveliness of him.
My favorite description of Ballesteros came from another talent who is gone but still with us: Jim Murray, who wrote of him: “He goes after a golf course like a lion at a zebra. He doesn’t reason with it.”
Ballesteros’s life ended where it began: in the Cantabrian hamlet of Pedrena, along the rock-edged, turquoise shores of the Bay of Santander, where he was raised.
“The funeral rites will be as simple as those for any neighbor from the village,” his brother Baldomero said. “Seve is a country boy. We thought it was best.”
It’s a simpler and somewhat rougher part of Spain’s coast, not as traveled as the southern Mediterranean, but ancient and splendidly beautiful even so, wild with energy, and suggestive of just what an epic act of self-fashioning his career was. His essence, surely, is there.