While he was undoubtedly missed at today's par-3 contest at Augusta, Seve Ballesteros sees his upcoming return to golf as a positive milestone in his battle with a near-fatal brain tumor.
The two-time Masters champion and three-time British Open title holder is planning to compete in the Champions Classic, the four-hole prelude to July‘s British Open Championship at St Andrews.
The Open conducted a similar exhibition at St Andrews in 2000, but this year‘s event promises to be a tribute to one of golf’s fallen heroes. The Spanish golfing legend was diagnosed in 2008 and his recovery has been a roller coaster ride ever since.
Four operations and four bouts with chemotherapy later, Seve believes he may be fit enough for at least a token appearance.
Ballesteros, 52, will join fellow Open champions Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Nick Faldo—and 24 others—in celebration of the Open’s 150th anniversary.
"It would be absolutely fantastic if Seve could make it,” said David Hill, the Royal and Ancient Golf Association’s director of championships. “He would be made very welcome by everyone at St Andrews and, of course, by the R&A.”
Ballesteros’s charismatic personality and his swashbuckling style enabled him to become Europe’s answer to the iconic charm of the '60s' Arnold Palmer and today’s Tiger Woods.
The Spaniard’s gambling mantra was even reminiscent of Palmer’s. In their primes, playing safe was never on the menu. Both were often in trouble. Both had the imagination and short games to recover. And both had the infectious smile to attract large galleries and huge television audiences.
Tom Watson, a brilliant player and spokesman in his own right, probably summed it up best:
“He hit it, found it, and hit it again. He used his talent and magic to win. That’s how he played the game."
Ballesteros won his five Majors during the period from 1979 to 1988. His first echo occurred in 1976 when he finished second in the Open as a 19-year-old. He later captured the hearts of American golf fans by winning the Masters in 1980 and again in 1983.
Perhaps his brightest moment came at the 1984 British Open, also played at St Andrews. His winning putt, and following exuberant celebration, has been a staple of highlight reels ever since.
Asked not long ago about his future plans, Ballesteros wasn’t promising a return to competitive golf:
“I’ll be there to compete,” Ballesteros said. “And in one way, to tell all the British fans I was, and I am, grateful for what they always showed me when I played the Open.”
Who knows what modern medicine can do for Ballesteros? As we watch Tiger’s return to the game during this week’s Masters, let’s hope Seve’s return to St. Andrews is more than a ceremonial one. — Joel Greer
Note: Tiger Woods has committed to join Seve and 26 other British Open winners in the Champions Challenge, the Associated Press reported May 26. Kel Nagle, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Price and Johnny Miller will not compete. The best-ball format will feature seven four-man teams.