Now, this is fun. Severiano Ballesteros hits it crooked, goes and finds it under a turtle, then smacks it under a bridge, over some trees and through a second-story window, sending the golf ball to its rightful place, which is, of course, three inches from the hole. Ballesteros does this magic act twice an hour. If Houdini had a 300-yard drive, he might have been Ballesteros.
When Ed Sneed seemed the certain winner of the Master after three rounds last year, America yawned at his study in perfection and went outdoors to pitch horseshoes. As wonderful a golfer as Sneed is, a meticulous workman who putts beautifully, and as nice a fellow as he is, a bright college man whose friends love him for his quiet wit -- well, there's no easy way to say this: the Ed Sneeds give pro bowling better TV ratings than golf gets.
A word of advice here. Cancel the Sunday picnic. Tell the mother-in-law you'll see her crocuses next weekend. Put in a supply of frozen pizzas for dinner, because until the Masters ends on television Sunday you have a chance to see the beginnings of the kind of golf story that made Arnold Palmer a true American hero.
What Palmer did, Ballesteros does. If Jack Nicklaus is the best golfer ever, metronomic in his precision, Palmer was the most fun, for he came at a golf course with one thing in mind: he wanted to shoot an 18 if he could, but if some holes required two shots, well, he'd just have to hit the second shot into the cup. So from under old refrigerators in the rough, from out of the back seat of cars passing by the course, Palmer whaled away at the evil white pellet, convinced that by the might of his effort he could knock the thing in from the bank vault at the Chase Manhattan if he had to.
Through 54 holes of this Masters, Ballesteros has made only 26 pars -- which means that more than half the time he accomplisned something out of the ordinary, be it a bogey, eagle, birdie. With the putter in hand, the kid can knock them in from here to Hawaii. When he picks up the driver, that's when the fun begins, because he sometimes hits the ball dead solid sideways.
"Fairway, fairway, fairway," Ballesteros said the other day, "is boring boring, boring."
A tournament champion on four continents before he was 21, Ballesteros won the British Open last year. The most important shot of that tournament was a wedge hit from the parking lot along the 16th fairway, a shot that produced a birdie when it seemed more likely he would get run over by a frightened Bentley. Now 23, having celebrated his birthday here Wednesday, Ballesteros already has the stuff of immortals.
Not that the American pros are ready to admit it. The kid from Spain is a darkly handsome conquistador with shoulders a matador would love to put in a suit of lights. Ballesteros transmits awesome power through his clubs with hands large enough to hold 11 golf balls in each. In his every sure movement, his every purposeful stride, his every beguiling smile dazzling in a nut-brown face under gleaming black hair -- anyone with eyes to see knows Severiano Ballesteros has the right stuff to transfix man and woman alike with his magic act.
Americans have no eyes.
Jack Newton thinks so, anyway. Newton is an Australian who is in third place here, eight shots behind his fellow alien, Ballesteros. Now in his fifth season on the American tour, Newton says he sees jealousy and resentment of the kid from Spain.
"They're saying things like they think Seve is lucky," Newton said, biting off the words. "They think he was lucky to win the Greensboro Open (in 1978 ), lucky to win the British Open, lucky to be doing so well here.
'The guy's been 'lucky' too often. Seve is for real. The guy's a superstar. The American press is the same. They have been too severe on him."
The current issue of Golf Magazine carries an article in which several American pros discuss the obvious (to them) weaknesses of the Ballesteros method. They say he drives wildly, he cannot play the tough courses with rough, the U.S. Open-type courses. As all mediocre putters do, they take shots at Ballesteros as if his magic putting was a sin against nature or, at least, a transgression against the purity of the golf swing.
Perhaps the American pros believe that piffwaddle. Perhaps, too, they are miffed that after his British Open victory, Ballesteros chose to pass up the PGA tournament just as he has chosen to pass up an invitation to become a full-time PGA member without going through the qualifying school that all others must face.
Whatever it is, Seve Ballesteros doesn't like it. He doesn't like the mood of the American touring pros.
"They don't talk much," he said simply, a shy kid who measures his distance from home in how many hours it takes to fly to his father's house ("I am 15 hours from my father"). "They're really concentrating on their games. Sometimes, they don't talk. It's a little bit funny.
"In Europe, we have a fiesta every week. Everybody is happy. Here it is big money . . ."
A disarming smile.
". . . And money is money. It is more hard over here. More tension."
The Spanish have a word for Ballesteros. Destino . The purpose for which a man is born. The nap of a man's life. As surely as a Ballesteros putt finds the cup, so too will Seve find his fate. "He had a love of golf you could almost touch," said his brother, Manuel. "Without a club in his hand he was a man with no legs. It was a part of him. Without it he did not exist."
"Let me tell you something," Seve Ballesteros said after he won the British Open." In my destino there are many wins to come."
One comes Sunday.