(First published on 11 October, 2005)
Seve Ballesteros has pulled off the impossible hundreds of time in his career. Now he’s determined to create another bit of history and snatch Des Smyth’s record by becoming the oldest winner in the history of the European Tour.
Few believe the Spanish maestro, 48, will ever regain even a glimmer of the form that brought him five majors and 72 tournament victories worldwide. But he remains convinced that he can lift a European Tour trophy once more - even if nobody else does.
He said: “I know people believe it is difficult that I can win again. But as long as I believe myself, I don’t care. Those people are not going to play for me. They are not going to think for me. So it is up to you. If you feel you can do it and you work hard, I think you can do it in the end.”
Ballesteros was at The Heritage at Killenard to compete in the 36-hole Heritage Challenge and help raise over €160,000 for the Cuisle Cancer Support Centre.
After carding a seven over par 79 in gale force conditions on Sunday, Ballesteros called it a day after just 13 holes yesterday to avoid injuring himself ahead of his comeback appearance in the Madrid Open on Thursday.
The swing is not quite as fluid as it once was, but Seve fervently believes he has the talent to win again. His goal is to tee it up in the Masters at Augusta next year and he revealed that while his 23-month absence from competition has been difficult, dreams of glory still fire his imagination.
Smyth became the oldest winner on the European Tour at the age of 48 years and 34 days when he won the 2001 Madeira Island Open. Now Ballesteros believes he can come back from the golfing wilderness and triumph again, more than ten years after his last tournament victory.
He said: “Records are always meant to be beaten - sooner or later. Just look at Bob Beman. His record lasted a long, long time.There is always someone who comes along. When you see someone who has done something that you feel is impossible you say, ‘He did it. I can do it too.’
“Why not? It is like when Des Smyth won in Madeira. He won at the age of 48 , I think. He was the oldest winner. That gives you hope. You think, he is 48 and he can win. I think I can too. Look at Jay Haas in the last Ryder Cup. He was the best player on either side. So why not?”
Ballesteros has achieved the seemingly impossible many times his long career. He is a dreamer at heart but he points out that is only by dreaming big dreams that the seemingly impossible becomes possible.
His achievement of becoming the first European to win the Masters in 1980 illustrates the point perfectly. Before that, no-one honestly believed that a European could triumph at Augusta National.
But Ballesteros did it at the age of 23 to become the youngest winner of the green jacket.
He explained: “Winning again would not be the most important victory of my career. But it will be give a tremendous pleasure. The most important win was the Open in 1979, when I won at Lytham. And also St Andrews in ‘84.
“But there have been many great moments. In 1980 when I was the first European ever to win the Masters. It was a victory that was unrealistic for the Europeans. But that is why I won! I won because I really dreamed about it. In fact, to me it was not a surprise.
“The Masters in 1980 I dreamed about it, I saw myself winning. I saw myself with the green jacket and everything happened exactly the way I dreamt it. But I dreamt awake. Just like watching and sitting in the living room and watching the fireplace. Dreaming. Over and over.
“When I won to me it was not a surprise. In fact, when I left home, one of the members of my home club said to me, ‘When do you leave for the Masters?’ And I said, tomorrow. And he says, ‘You feel you can make the cut’. And I told him, ‘No, I am going there to to win.’
“Maybe he thought I was crazy. So it is good to dream. It is all in the mind. People say that golf is 70 percent in the mind. But I think it is 100 percent in the mind for golf.
“It is the same for you people writing. For eating. For everything. It is 100 percent in the mind. It is the mind. All in the mind. There is no question.”
Ballesteros has not played in an official event since the 2003 Madrid Open, when he missed the cut. An arthritic back has kept him on the sidelines since then. But those glory days have fired his imagination during the long winter nights and while he may not hit the ball as far, his golfing brain is as sharp as ever.
More importantly, he truly believes he can do it again.
He said: “Every day I work on the game and try to be be good in the swing and practice and practice. I have have to be better than I have been the last few years. After all, it is not that difficult. Patience is the name of the game. If you have not got patience you cannot play golf. You need skill, determination, desire and patience.
“What is my dream? To come back and win on the European Tour. And when I dream, I dream when I am awake. Sometimes I am watching television and my mind goes to the golf course.
“You dream you are playing well and you feel happy. You enjoy that special feeling. You see yourself holding the trophy. You get all those feelings that you had in the past. It is good to dream awake, not only when you sleep. You live out of dreams. You want to come back. It doesn’t matter how big the dream is, that keeps you going.
“It is a good challenge also. Life is full of challenges. Every day is a challenge. Is this the biggest challenge I have faced? Yes, it is. But that is good. It is fine. What is life without any challenge? You are dead.”
This week’s Madrid Open appearance is a watershed in the career of Ballesteros. And while he retired from yesterday’s event after 13 holes, he says it was simply a precaution before his return at the Club de Campo on Thursday.
He explained: “As I told Tom Keane, the owner of the Heritage and one of my pro-am partners, I’ve been travelling a lot for the last four days. I am quite tired.
“And the last two days were cold and I get so stiff. I didn’t want to pull a muscle or anything. Madrid will be different weather. More dry. Here there is more humidity. It gets more into your bones.
“How is my back? I don’t want to talk about the back. Today it was tight and I didn’t want to play any more. The more you talk about the back …. I want to talk about positive things.”
Positive memories was what inspire Ballesteros these days. And while he spends much of his time designing golf course, he still wants to be a player.
He added: “I have practised very hard for the last two months. Yesterday I played quite well. Only the last two or three holes the temperature dropped and the whole body became very tight to swing properly.”
Golf needs its heroes and Ballesteros needs golf to survive.
After the pain of his marriage breakdown last year, he needs to get back on the course and prove that he can still compete. Yet, he admits that he is not going to become another Vijay Singh, who became world No 1 at the age of 41.
He joked: “Vijay is very athletic man. He works very hard on his game and he lives it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He is like a shopping centre.
“But to be the best and do it better than anybody else you have to do more than the rest. If somebody practices six hours, you have to practice seven to be better.
“I have been working really hard physically. Can I become a winner again? Yes. It is very realistic. I know it is difficult but it is down to me. I know people believe it is difficult that I can win again. But as long as I believe myself, I don’t care.”
Our heads might say that it is impossible. But in our hearts, the dreamer inside us all knows that if anyone can do it, Seve can.