Let’s be clear, it probably isn’t going to be a blockbuster. And it certainly won’t win any Oscars. Which is no shame. Golf at the cinema has never come close to achieving either status. However, “Seve: The Movie” does present wonderfully well the life and times of the Spanish farm boy who was perhaps the most naturally gifted golfer of the 20th century.
Now on limited release in the United States—click here to see a trailer—the timing of this endearing mix of dramatic re-creations and archival footage is appropriate. It is all but impossible to think of Augusta National without conjuring up images of the charismatic two-time Masters champion, who celebrated his birthday (April 9) during tournament week.
Within the niche market the movie is aimed at, golf geeks in particular will thrill to nostalgic replays at an array of unforgettable shots struck by the dashing Spaniard as the film combines narrative and documentary footage. They are nearly all there, described disarmingly but profoundly by the man himself: “You feel it inside, then you do it.”
Indeed, not to love the instinctive and artistic way Seve Ballesteros played betrays a serious shortage of golfing soul. From the audacious chip-shot between the greenside bunkers on the final hole of the 1976 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, through the infamous (and unfairly labeled) “car park” shot at Royal Lytham in 1979, the iconic celebration on the Old Course’s 18th green in 1984 and the exquisite chip he lipped out on Royal Lytham’s 18th in 1988, the full range of Ballesteros’ peerless virtuosity is on display. Also worth more than one rewind is the man on his knees under a bush with a 3-wood, fashioning a deliberately snap-hooked shot that few would imagine let alone try. As a suitably awed Tiger Woods says: “I couldn’t pull off the shots I saw Seve hit. But I watched him pull them off again and again and again.”
For all that, underlying the narrative is a melancholy sadness brought on by the disorienting reality of Ballesteros’ premature death in 2011 at only 54. Especially poignant are the unguarded appreciations offered in real time by authoritative peers. As Ballesteros hits a 3-wood from a difficult downhill lie onto the fifth green at St. Andrews during that 1984 Open Championship, playing partner Lee Trevino is heard in the background: “Touch of class, baby. Touch of class.”
There is also a clearly heartfelt tribute from Gary Player, who won the 1978 Masters with a final-round 64 playing alongside Ballesteros and was, almost as the winning putt disappeared into the cup, greeted by a huge bear hug from the Spaniard. As spontaneous and genuine recognitions of excellence in a fellow competitor go, it was world class.
The most moving moment of the nearly two-hour movie, however, comes when the camera runs on moments after countryman José Maria Olazábal has presented an award to his long-time Ryder Cup partner during the 2009 BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony. While the show continues in far-off London, the already stricken Ballesteros breaks down. “You’re the best we’ve ever had,” whispers Olazábal as they embrace.
The non-archival segments of the movie, most relating to Ballesteros’ early life in the small fishing village of Pedrena, all are charmingly watchable if at times slightly hokey (for example, the family farm is amusingly clean). But the young José Luis Gutiérrez does a more than passable job of a) strongly resembling Seve; b) swinging the club like a real golfer; and c) recreating the distinctive mannerisms of the man who was a rogue, a rascal, an inspiration and, as Tiger knowingly points out, “a genius.”
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of Golf World.