News & ToursJuly 15, 2008

Birkdale Memories II: Seve Goes Disco Dancing

Royal Birkdale has a rich history in the British Open, and we've captured much of it in the pages of Golf Digest and Golf World. Here's a look back at some favorite anecdotes culled from the pages of our magazines.

Seve Ballesteros recalled his memorable week in 1976 at Birkdale with Golf Digest/Golf World European tour correspondent John Huggan in a September 2000 Golf Digest Interview, recalling that after taking a lead through 54 holes he went out to a disco the night before the final round. A segment from that Q&A:

Huggan: "You were still a teenager when you finished second to Johnny Miller at that Open. What do you remember about that?"

Ballesteros:"I caddied for my brother Manuel in the qualifying at Hillside. He played with Doug Sanders. But my brother did not make it. I did not have a caddie, but Dave Musgrove found me someone. The guy was a policeman. He had not idea about the game--in fact, I didn't have much idea myself--and I spoke no English. A good combination!

"I shot 69 in the first round. I was enjoying myself. I knew it was the Open, but I had no idea it was that important. In the second round, I shot 69 again. Then I was playing with Johnny Miller in the third round.

"The night before the last round--I was leading--I wasn't worried about the next day. I was only 19, remember. I thought I could win. I was convinced. Anyway, I went out to a disco with my brother. We were dancing there until maybe midnight. Then we went back to our bed-and-breakfast place. As we were walking back, I could see that my brother was a little worried. He was obviously thinking, 'My God, my brother could win the British Open; this is unbelievable!' "

Huggan: "Let's get this straight: You were staying in a B&B, you didn't speak English, you had a caddie who didn't know anything about golf, you'd been out to a disco the night before, and this was how you went into the last round of the Open?"

Ballesteros: "That's right! [Laughs.] And I was going out with Johnny Miller, who was the best player in the world at that time."

Huggan: "And you really thought you were going to win?"

Ballesteros: "I was convinced! On the first hole I made a 10-foot putt for par, and Miller made a bogey. I looked at him, and he seemed worried. With all his experience and all his talent, he knew that this guy has no idea what's going on--he was thinking, 'He might play unbelievable and win the tournament.'

"After leading by three shots, I disappeared from the leader board, but I was still enjoying myself. Even after all that, I wasn't down or upset. I was not worried about anything. And I made a couple of birdies and an eagle.

"Coming to the 17th green, all of a sudden Johnny Miller started talking to me in Spanish. I didn't know he could. For two days we hadn't spoken a word. But once he knew he was going to win, all of a sudden he was speaking Spanish!

"He said, 'It is very important that you play well on the next two holes. If you do, you can beat Mr. Nicklaus,' who was in with whatever score he had. He said, 'You can finish second.'

"I was thinking, 'S---, this guy speaks Spanish perfectly!' That was very interesting. It was just competition, I guess. Anyway, I finished eagle-birdie and was second [Ballesteros shot 74 to Miller's 66 and tied for second with Nicklaus]. I was very happy.

"In his speech afterward, Johnny said it was the best thing for me to finish second. I thought he was mad--stupid! But not long after, I understood. He was 100 percent right. It would have been too soon. If I had become a superstar that early, it might have been too much for me. If I had signed a lot of big contracts and gotten so much attention, I wouldn't have had the career I have had."

--Mike O'Malley

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