- Alistair Tait
Thank you, Seve Ballesteros
Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Wallace, Bernd Wiesberger, Victor Perez and other Europeans should say a quiet thank you to the late Seve Ballesteros as they drive down Magnolia Lane to play in this week's Masters.
Ballesteros is one major reason so many Europeans now play Augusta National on an annual basis.
We take it for granted Europe's best will play in the majors. It wasn’t always the case. For years the three American major championships were a closed shop to many who didn’t carry an American passport, or who didn’t play the PGA Tour full time. Seve’s Masters victory 40 years ago, and his second three years later, helped change that dynamic.
“When I saw it, Augusta gave me a very familiar feeling. These were my trees, my colour of green, and I said to myself: ‘Seve, one day you will win this tournament.’” Seve told the late, great Dudley Doust.
That 1980 victory, the first by a European, helped pave the way for fellow Europeans Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia to follow in his footsteps and win their own garish green jackets. It also forced the powers that be – at Augusta, the USGA and PGA of America – to look outside the borders of the United States and recognise there was an abundance of talent around the world.
Howard Clark won 11 European Tour titles and played on six European Ryder Cup teams. Could he get a pass to drive down Magnolia Lane? Hardly. He recognised the importance of Seve’s breakthrough win.
“It was a huge victory,” Clark told me when I wrote my biography Seve. “Don’t forget, in those days not many Europeans played in the Masters. Just getting an invite was huge. To put it in perspective, I only ever got to play in one Masters. So to actually play in the tournament gave players huge credibility, but to go there and win was almost unthinkable.”
Clark wasn’t the only European Ryder Cup player who struggled to get a round on Augusta’s perfectly manicured fairways. Ken Brown may have won four times on the European Tour and played in five Ryder Cups, but he too only played one Masters. Brown had to go to America to do so. He won the 1987 Southern Open on the PGA Tour to get his one and only Masters invite. He finished T36 in 1988. Brown says Seve’s 1980 win helped open doors for European players.
“All of a sudden players like Lyle, Faldo, Langer, Woosnam and players a tier below like myself, Mark James, Howard Clark, Sam Torrance thought ‘Well, yes, it can be done.’ He carved the pathway. He opened the door to playing in the majors, more so than (Tony) Jacklin because Seve did it while playing full time in Europe. Jacklin went and played full time in America. Seve was the first player to prove that you didn’t have to go to the United States to win majors. He gave the rest of us hope. He prised the American door open and Lyle, Faldo, Langer and Woosnam were only to eager to rush through it.”
Twenty three Europeans are teeing it up this week at course Thomas Boswell christened "The Cathedral in the Pines." There were only four in 1980 when Seve won, and one of them, Peter McEvoy, was an amateur.
Mark James played in that 1980 Masters and missed the cut. The 18-time European Tour winner belongs to the same club as Brown and Clark. It was James’s only Masters appearance.
Had the trio of Brown, Clark and James been playing nowadays they would be playing the Masters on an annual basis. That’s why players of a similar calibre today should pay homage to Europe’s greatest, most charismatic player.
Thank you, Seve Ballesteros.
#JustSaying: “Ballesteros is not only immensely talented, having both length and style, but he is also obviously hungry. Anyone can stumble into one major championship. It takes a rare ability of one kind or another to win two of them. Ballesteros seems destined to take many more majors.” Dan Jenkins after Seve's 1980 victory