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Seve Ballesteros: Watching His Greatest Round at the 1988 British Open

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Seve Ballesteros: Watching His Greatest Round at the 1988 British Open
David Cannon/Getty Images

One of the neat things about Bleacher Report is being able to write about special moments in sports when you were simply a fan, buying a ticket and seeing a memorable performer. 

Golf has always been my recreational sport since working my way through school at Pelham Country Club just outside of New York City. 

When I had a chance to go to England in 1983, I brought my clubs and played two rounds at Saint Andrews in Scotland and one at Ballybunion on the west coast of Ireland.

The sad news today of the passing of Seve Ballesteros brought me back to another trip to England in 1988.  I received a scholarship from the English-Speaking Union to attend a conference at Oxford for a week. 

When it was over, I rented a small car and decided to drive north towards Wales and see that part of the UK.  It happened to be the week of the British Open Golf Championship and I listened on the car radio to a broadcast of the tournament which was being delayed by rain. 

As I was passing lots of sheep grazing in the Welsh countryside, it was announced that rain delays would force the final round to be moved to Monday.  A moment of realization came over me, the tournament was being played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in the north of England not far from where I was driving. 

My map told me this should just be a three or four hour drive from the west coast of Wales and north past Liverpool.

David Cannon/Getty Images
Nick Price, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo at '88 Open

After a day of seeing lots of sheep, a few castles, and the very cold-looking Irish Sea, I headed to the coastal town of Lytham in time for the final round being played on Monday July 18, 1988.

They said about 15,000 fans were at the course that day, less than half of the large gallery that typically attends British Open rounds, so it was not hard to buy a ticket which had a 11 Pound face amount.

The town composed of mostly neat looking brick houses circled the course which had a stately looking clubhouse, the type American courses will model their clubhouses after.  Along the 18th fairway on both sides were massive galleries almost like a stadium.

Walking around the tournament I looked for the American players and watched Tom Watson hit a tee shot and Freddy Couples a fairway shot from the rough.  The British gallery was different from what I was used to, they did not vocalize much, just applauded. 

When I yelled out "Good shot" after a Watson shot and was the only one who did, I clearly stood out as an American.  Also playing that day were Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Bob Tway, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Craig Stadler among others.  It seems there were more American stars back then. 

Leading the tournament going into the final round was Nick Price of Zimbabwe, who had a two stroke lead over Nick Faldo of England and Severiano Ballesteros with Sandy Lyle three back. Larry Nelson, Don Pooley, and Andy Bean the Americans among the golfers six back. 

David Cannon/Getty Images
Ballesteros at 18th Tee of Royal Lytham in '88 Open

For Ballesteros, this was a return to the scene of his first British Open victory in 1979 when he hit a ball into a parking lot off the 16th tee, received a drop, from where he hit his wedge onto the green and sunk the birdie putt to take control of the tournament. 

Seve had won at St. Andrews in 1984, and won twice at the Masters in '80 and '83, but had suffered disappointments at Augusta in '86 and '87. He had won the month before right in the New York area at the Westchester Classic, perhaps building back confidence.

While I was taking in the atmosphere and watching the Americans in the field, the tournament had settled into a two man match between Ballesteros and Nick Price. 

Seve was playing some of the best golf of his career, going six under par over a stretch of six holes so that the two golfers went tied for the lead going into the 357 yard 16th hole. 

From the middle of the fairway, Ballesteros hit a 9 iron which hit the flagstick and dropped just behind the hole providing a tap in birdie.  Meanwhile, Price hit his approach shot within eight feet of the flag but two-putted. 

Having followed the top American of the day, Freddy Couples, to the 18th, I waited with the big crowd for the arrival of the last three some of Price, Ballesteros and Faldo.  It is one of those rare moments in sports when you look around and realize the cameras are televising what you are seeing and experiencing to millions around the world.

I had a spot about halfway down the 18th on the left side facing the green.  It was neat to see the three play down the fairway with the stands and galleries full. 

David Cannon/Getty Images
The 18th at Royal Lytham July 18, 1988

After the golfers had played their approach shots into the green, the golf fans were allowed to follow the rope up towards the green so I was probably less than 40 yards from the green. 

Seve was faced with a 60-foot chip to make par holding only a one-stroke lead over Price.  He hit one of the best shots of his career, a chip stopping just four inches from the hole.  After Price three-putted for a bogey, the 31-year-old Spaniard tapped in for a two-shot victory. 

By shooting a course-record 65, a third "Open Championship" was his.  I saw Seve raise his arms in the air in triumphant.  Later he was presented on the green with the "Claret jug" which he gave a kiss.  His winnings for the event were $136,000. 

Gordon White Jr. in The New York Times, described the day, "In a magnificent duel, with Nick Price, Seve Ballesteros shot one of the finest rounds of his career today to win the British Open for the third time." Seve was quoted by AP, 'A round like that comes along only once in every 25 years, every 50 years.  Now I will remember this.'" 

For Seve, that would be the last of golf's majors that he would win.  His career would continue to be notable for his outstanding play in Ryder Cup matches and as captain of the European team which defeated the Americans at Valderrama in 1997. 

Injuries shortened his career and all in the golf world prayed that he would overcome the cancer diagnosed in 2008.

David Cannon/Getty Images
At Open Championship in 1988

A number of years ago, I was at a meeting in Monterrey, and went over to the Pebble Beach course.  Walking around the golf shop area we passed an art gallery.  A print on display immediately caught my eye. 

It was a British Open scene, a golfer with his hands in the air.  In the background was the stately clubhouse of Royal Lytham and to the right the huge British Open style stands.   

Amazingly the famous golf artist Arthur Weaver had chosen almost the same angle to depict the scene as the one I had watched from. Later I purchased the print called, Ballesteros Triumphants at the 18th which hangs in my office. 

The opportunity to watch a top performer at one of their great moments in a huge setting leaves a lifelong impression.   What a privilege it was to watch Seve Ballesteros at one of his greatest moments winning the '88 British Open. 

Seve certainly had flair, he could perform on big stages, was an unceasing competitor, and always a gentleman.  

Ken Kraetzer covers Iona Basketball and West Point football for WVOX radio in New Rochelle, N.Y.  He has presented the McLeod Award, in honor of a golfing friend to the winners of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference golf championship for 26 years.  On the edge of the permanent trophy a number of special names are honored, one is Seve Ballesteros.  Ken can be reached on kgk914@aol.com  

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