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Teen-Ager Ballesteros Takes Aim At The Masters

A 19-year old coming off a second-place finish in the 1976 British Open, Seve Ballesteros has big expectations as he prepares to play in his first Masters

Teen-Ager Ballesteros Takes Aim At The Masters (April 1977)

Dave Anderson's profile of Seve Ballesteros, as he prepared to play in his first Masters in 1977, originally appeared in the April 1977 issue of Golf Digest.

April 1977

Learn first to pronounce his name properly. Severiano Ballesteros. It's not that difficult. Think of castanets clicking. Sev-uh-ree-AWN-oh BAL-uh-STAIR-ohs. But if his first name is too elusive, just make it Seve. That's "Sevvy" as in heavy -and this young Spaniard is going to leave a heavy impression on golf.

The first few imprints appeared last year -- a tie with Jack Nicklaus for second place behind Johnny Miller in the British Open, a team victory with Mahuel Pinero for Spain in the World Cup. And he won't be 20 years old until April 9, the third-round Saturday of the Masters where he plans to celebrate his birthday on his first trip to the Augusta classic.

"That's the tournament I want to win more than any other," he says. "It is more famous than any other."

Only one foreign golfer has won the Masters -- Gary Player in 1961 and 1974. Perhaps significantly, Ballesteros has been called "the next Gary Player," meaning the next commanding foreign golfer on the Uhited States tour, by Fred Corcoran, the World Cup executive director who has seen them all, going back to the Scottish shepherds.

Seve Ballesteros

Ballesteros demonstrates his powerful swing on this iron shot, keeping his left hand and arm firm and staying nicely behind the ball with his upper body through impact.

The kid can play. But that's not surprising. Playing golf is part of his heritage. His uncle, Ramon Sota, is Spain's most successful golfer. His three older brothers are pros. Equally important, the kid can project. He's as tall, dark and handsome as Don Juan, with a smile as broad and dazzling as the Costa del Sol. He has a chance to be the most appealing golfer since Arnold Palmer stopped charging. He is capable of spectacular streaks, not only as Palmer once was, but also at Palmer's expense. Just when Palmer thought he had won the Lancome Trophy tournament in France last fall, the kid exploded for five birdies on the back nine, and won by a stroke.

"I think my sand wedge is very good," Seve says, "but sometimes my putter's good. For nine holes at the Belgian Open, every hole one putt."

Teen-agers putt like that occasionally. They also act their age -- to the gallery's delight. At the British Open last year, Ballesteros rifled a shot out of high grass over a sand dune and onto the green. When the gallery roared, he raised his arms, shrugged and smiled. Instant love. Another time at Royal Birkdale he impaled Pat Ward-Thomas with a pointed index finger when the archbishop of British golf writers inadvertently moved as the Spaniard was about to putt. "No move," the kid scolded, "when anybody putting."

He defends his driving accuracy against those who remember his wristy tee shots into Royal Birkdale's thickets.

"They say I hit the ball left and right but I don't think so. When I go into bunker everybody go click-click," he says, pretending to focus a camera. "But when I'm in middle of the fairway nobody sees the ball"

Johnny Miller saw Seve's ball at the British Open -- on and off the fairway. Paired together, he saw Ballesteros shoot a 73 for a two-stroke lead entering the final round.

"He can win it," Miller predicted. "I'm telling you, he takes a cut at the ball, he just rips it. He reminds me of myself when I'm playing well. But today, I let his scrambling act get to me and my own game went out of control. He's a good kid, though. He wears Johnny Miller slacks."

In the final round Miller shot 66 and won by six shots. Ballesteros had 74 with a birdie-birdie-par-par-eagle-birdie finish after Miller soothed him through a round that might have been 80.

"I know Seve is disappointed," Miller said at the time. "But from my own experience I know this will be good for his career. I know because coming in second at the Masters in 1971 was the best thing that ever happened to me. If he had won the British Open at 19 there would have been all sorts of pressures and demands that he couldn't meet. The best thing for his career was to finish strong. This will be a plus for him, not a minus."

Miller's relationship with Ballesteros has a business link. They have the same manager, Ed Barner of Uni-Managers International, a Los Angeles-based firm.

At the 1975 Double Diamond tournament in Scotland, another Barner client, Roberto de Vicenzo, had been paired with Ballesteros in the team event. Later the phone rang in Barner's hotel room there. "I'm going to do you a favor," de Vicenzo said. "I got a kid who's fantastic. Come down and meet him."

Barner was impressed by de Vicenzo's recommendation. At the Lancome Trophy tournament in France the following week, Barner asked another client, Billy Casper, to scout Ballesteros.

"The kid has one of the finast short games I've ever seen," Casper reported. "And he's an animal off the tee."

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