Colin Montgomerie knew someone special had entered the room without even seeing who it was.
“Suddenly there was electricity in the room that hadn’t been there before. It was like someone had thrown a switch. I turned around and saw that Seve had entered the room. He’s one of only two people I met that had true charisma. Sean Connery was other.”
Montgomerie was attending a function at a tour event early in his career when he first encountered the charismatic Spaniard. The Scot was lucky enough to have many more encounters with Ballesteros, including playing under him when Seve captained the 1997 European Ryder Cup team to victory at Valderrama. Although there were times during that Ryder Cup when Monty was probably thinking about another word that began with C, and it wasn’t charisma. The Spaniard's desire to win that Ryder Cup, any Ryder Cup, sometimes got in his way.
Seve, who died on the 7th May 2011, has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds in what should have been Masters week since he would have been 63 on April 9th. It’s also 40 years since he made history by becoming the first European to win the green jacket. On this day in 1983, he won his second Masters. He took the title by four shots. Not many expected it to be his last victory at Augusta National. It wouldn’t have been if not for a poor 4-iron to the 15th green in 1986, a shot that allowed Jack Nicklaus to win his sixth Masters and 18th major.
Anyone who came into contact with the maestro knows what Monty is talking about when he talks about charisma. All Seve had to do was flash that movie star smile and most in any room were mesmerised. Has there been a better smile in all of golf? I think not.
The smile that lit up his face on the 18th green at St Andrews after winning the 1984 Open Championship is the key feature in the greatest, most joyful celebration in major championship history.
Seve's smile made him millions. Those movie star good looks, that swash buckling approach to the game, the way he saw shots no one else would have ever seen let alone been able to play, had sponsors falling over themselves to get Seve into their tournaments.
The late Alister Nicol, golf correspondent for the Daily Record, always believed that Seve smile could win friends and influence people. He certainly used it in press conferences to push his own agenda.
“He would flash that smile, tell you that we were all part of the same European family and try to get you on his side,” Nicol once said. “By the end of the press conference you were ready to run through walls for him.”
He made European Tour pros try to run through walls in the Ryder Cup. If not for Seve, the biennial match wouldn’t be what it is today. Seve’s charismatic leadership helped Europe combine around one common cause he held dear: beating Americans.
Seve sat out the 1981 match because of an argument with the European Tour over appearance fees. He returned in 1983 when European captain Tony Jacklin persuaded him to play. Europe narrowly lost that match by one shot, but it proved a turning point in the historic contest. Ken Brown tells the story:
“We were all pretty glum in the dressing room afterwards because we felt we had let a golden opportunity slip away. Everyone except Seve. We were all thinking about what might have been, but he was already looking to the future. He looked around at us and then shouted: ‘Why do you all sit there like that? What is the matter with all of you? This has been a great victory, a great, great victory. This proves we can beat them. We must celebrate.”
Seve was right. By the time they finished celebrating, everyone on the European team felt they could win the match in two years’ time. As Nick Faldo said later:
“That was the spark: Seve in 1983. By 1985 we knew we could do it, we could win the Ryder Cup.”
Europe has been winning ever since thanks to the most charismatic golfer the European Tour has ever seen.
My book, Seve: A Biography of Severiano Ballesteros, can be purchased on Amazon.