The first time I saw Seve in the flesh was at Wentworth on a rain-sodden day in 1982. I was 11 years old and a recent convert to golf. Mud squelched underfoot and puddles formed across the manicured acres of the Burma Road, but I could not take my eyes off the feline figure who prowled and scowled and illuminated the gloom with his beautiful swing and dazzling smile.
Seve was up against Sandy Lyle, a home favourite, in the final of the Suntory World Matchplay Championship and yet most people in the crowd were pulling for the Spaniard. “I always found it a very special experience playing in the British Isles,” Seve explained in his autobiography a quarter of a century later. From his first round at Royal St George’s in 1975, he said he had “felt loved and appreciated by the British press and public. They treated me well as soon as they got to know me.” At Wentworth, it was the same. Seve triumphed on the 37th hole, retaining his title and winning the heart of one impressionable boy in the crowd.
Within a year I was hooked, staying up late to watch the climax of the Ryder Cup at PGA National in Florida on television. Seve was Europe’s driving force, having been talked into playing by team captain Tony Jacklin and then by his three brothers. I have distinct memories: Jack Nicklaus kissing Lanny Wadkins’ divot, Bernard Gallacher making a mess of the 17th to lose out to Tom Watson and hand victory to the Americans, and Seve in the opening singles match, stepping into a fairway bunker, taking out his Tony Penna 3-wood and launching an Exocet that moved some 50 yards in the air before finding the green. No footage seems to have survived of the shot – one that Nicklaus described as “the greatest shot I ever saw” – so I will just have to make do with the memory, whether invented or not.
An explosion of joy
There are no doubts whatsoever about the next moment that confirmed Seve’s place in my affections. In the summer of 1984, we had just got home from a family holiday. Piling into the house, I turned on the TV to see the sunbaked Old Course and Seve pulling on his famous navy-blue sweater.
After Seve secured par at the Road Hole, it was down to just him and Tom Watson, winner of five of the last nine Opens. A 3-wood off the tee on 18 left a sand wedge in. I still love watching that shot – a study in total commitment, dust flying up from the ancient turf. And then, of course, the birdie putt, which hung on the lip before toppling in, prompting an explosion of joy that tore through the record crowds. Seve described it as “the happiest moment of my entire sporting life”. His celebration still makes my skin tingle 37 years on.
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