Seve Ballesteros was the arch magician, the Pied Piper and the Elvis Presley of golf for Ireland’s golfing stars.
But while the maestro learnt a trick or two from old pal Eamonn Darcy (he admired Eamonn’s top class chipping and pitching action), the Wicklow man and Drogheda’s Des Smyth recall the Spaniard’s incredible competitive spirit above all.
Darcy, who Ballesteros conceded holed the winner putt for Europe in the 1987 Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village, remembers how he taught Seve a coin trick when they first met back back in the early ‘70s.
“I first met him in a hotel during an Italian Open and I was showing him a coin trick,” Darcy recalled on Saturday. “I can tell you that he didn’t like to lose.
“I would put a coin into his hand and I would have a coin in my hand. And would say, ‘I just want you to close your hand before I can take the coin out and put the one I have into your hand.’ There is just a knack to it.
“He was going mad that he couldn’t get it. But he eventually got me in the end. He copped on. And then he started doing it to me. He was the ultimate competitor.”
Darcy added: “The world of golf is a sadder place without Seve Ballesteros. He was one of the greatest golfers ever to set foot on this planet. He never backed off. You never knew what he was going to do. But pressure, he thrived on it.”
Smyth played on the first European Ryder Cup team with Seve in 1979 and recalls a man who lived for the smell of victory.
Smyth said: “If you were going around the putting green with him he would want to beat you. That’s just the way he was.
“The first I heard him was when I played in South Africa in 1975. He must have been 17 at the time and I remember Tienie Britz coming in and he sat down in shock and said, ‘I have just played with a young kid from Spain and he is just unbelievable.’
“And I said, how do you make that out. So he described a par four of 420 yards that was a hard dog leg right to left. It was a three wood and a six iron and Seve went over the top of these high trees and hit it on the front of the green.
“It just wasn’t possible but this was the way he played and he continued to play like that. He was an amazing player.
“He lit up European golf the way Arnold Palmer did in America and the way Tiger did in world golf in recent years. He was the pied piper, whenever he was in the field the people came out of the woods to watch.”
Paul McGinley became close to Ballesteros in his final years through his participation in the Royal Trophy and the Seve Trophy.
McGinley said: “He never grasped the love people had for him. He knew he was popular but he never knew how popular he was.
“I used to kid him that he reminded me so much of Elvis Presley. Elvis brought rock ‘n roll to the masses and Seve did the same for golf.
“There was something very charismatic about him that I never felt from anyone else including jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.”
“I went as a boy to watch a practice round for the Irish Open at Royal Dublin. There might have been only 20 or 30 people around the tee at the par four 16th at the time and, with typical Irish humour, somebody challenged him to try to drive the green on his knees. The hole was about 280 yards and he did it.”
What struck McGinley most was how humble Ballesteros became in his final years.
McGinley said: “His humility was quite incredible for a guy who was suffering with a terminal illness from the minute it was diagnosed.
“He knew the clock was ticking on his life but he was unbelievably humble and appreciative of his friends, his family, what he achieved in the game. I think he died a happy man.”
Padraig Harrington believes the European Tour should consider replacing their Harry Vardon logo with a silhouette of Seve as a mark of respect for a player who put European golf on the map.
He said: “There have been a lot of great people who have done the work behind the scenes, but there’s nobody who has as much of a connection to the European Tour as Seve Ballesteros. So maybe I should start a campaign.
“He won five majors, but there’s no doubt he set the standard. He inspired the players of today.”
The spirit of Seve’s incredible Ryder Cup partnership with Jose Maria Olazabal was rekindled by Ulster pair Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell at Celtic Manor last year.
And McDowell was deeply saddened to learn of the great Spanish maestro’s demise in the early hours of Saturday morning , telling his Twitter followers: “He meant a lot to the golf world. He was a genius.”
The Spaniard won the last of his five majors in 1988, the year before McIlroy was born.
But the Holywood star still got a taste of the Spaniard’s passion for the Ryder Cup when he spoke to the team over a speakerphone at Celtic Manor.
McIlroy recalled: “You could still feel his passion and his verve, not just for the Ryder Cup but for golf. It was a very special phone call.
“Seve is and always will be what is great about the game of golf. A true legend in every way. An inspiration for so many people.”
Bangor’s David Feherty experienced Seve’s Ryder Cup magic when he made his lone appearance in the European team at Kiawah Island in 1991.
Feherty said: “No player but Seve had the ability to make my hair stand on end, simply by watching him play. He made a particular point of coming to the newcomers in the side and deliberately made himself feel small in our company so as to strengthen the bond between us.”
Recalling Seve’s famous mood changes, Feherty added: “He could change the weather with his face. But he could smile and it was like the sun was shining. His smile was a beautiful thing.”