Seve – Part 3: The Open Championship


Seve. [Photo:]


Seve Ballesteros’ consistent rise through the late 1970s saw him become one of the most recognisable forces in the golfing world.


By the halfway mark of the 1979 calendar year, Seve had racked up fifteen worldwide wins, including nine victories on the European Tour and one breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour.


The next step for Seve to stamp himself as one of the top players in the world was to claim a Major Championship title.


In terms of Major Championship performances in his early career, Seve had been most consistent in The Open Championship. From first four starts in the event, he had notched a tied-second result and two other top-20 finishes, with his magical short game seeming to work best in British conditions.


In late July, The Open Championship returned to Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club in Lancashire, in the north-west of England, presenting Seve with another chance to breakthrough for his first major. This time though, Seve was better prepared after a stellar few years on the European Tour and a number of international wins under his belt.


The Open is often considered golf’s toughest and truest test, due to the typically harsh conditions on some very tough links courses.


But what made The Open even tougher for Seve in 1979 was the talented competition he faced in a field stacked with champion golfers.


Tom Watson had already won four times on the PGA Tour in the 1979 season and Hale Irwin was fresh off his US Open win less than six weeks earlier. Fuzzy Zoeller had claimed victory at Augusta a few months prior and Ben Crenshaw had also added to his victory tally earlier in the season.


Then there was Lee Trevino, who had won the Canadian Open less than a month before the British Open, his 24th win on the PGA Tour.


And who could forget the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus.


Nicklaus to this point had racked up 68 PGA Tour wins and 15 Major Championship wins, arguably the greatest golfer of all time at that point. Not only that, but he was also the reigning Open Champion after a two-stroke victory at St Andrews in 1978.


It was a great era in world golf and would be a huge challenge for the rising Spaniard.


After three rounds at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, Seve sat just two strokes behind leader Hale Irwin.


The highlight for Seve was a blistering 65 on the second day, which put him right in the thick of the action. The round was capped by a remarkable finishing stretch that saw four birdies in the last five holes at Royal Lytham, widely considered one of the toughest closing stretches in golf.



The finishing stretch was symbolic of Seve’s game, risking it all with no fear of the consequences and his short game flourished in the tough conditions.


Seve’s final round was summed up by his wild 16th hole adventure, just three holes away from glory. Seve sprayed his tee-shot way offline, settling near some cars in a makeshift carpark on an adjacent fairway. After being allowed relief, Seve hit a wedge onto the green and sank the putt for the unlikeliest of birdies.


From there, Seve was able to hold on to win his first Major Championship and held aloft the Claret Jug.



His playing partner, American Hale Irwin dubbed Seve the ‘Carpark Champion.’ Irwin’s bitterness in defeat led to an intense rivalry between the two, which sparked Seve’s future passion for the Ryder Cup and disdain for all things American.


Seve’s tournament was a very accurate representation of his normal game style. He only managed to hit nine fairways in total for the whole week, but got up-and-down 14 out of 15 times from the greenside bunkers.


At the closing ceremony, Seve stated: “I play good from the rough – I have plenty of practice.”


Seve went on to win The Open Championship in 1984 at St Andrews, and then again in 1988 at Royal Lytham once more.


In 1984, Seve again came from two shots behind entering the final day to record a two-stroke win over Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson. He was not in the final group on Sunday and was not certain of victory until Watson failed to hole his second shot on the eighteenth hole.


In 1988, back at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Seve once more fought back from a two-stroke deficit going into the final day to record another two-shot victory. Another dazzling 65, this time in the final round, was enough to defeat Nick Price and claim his third and final British Open title.


The final day of play was summed up by a stretch of holes from the 6th to the 11th. Nick Price entered this stretch one shot clear of Seve and went four-under through this group of holes, making an eagle and 2 birdies.


Yet he ended this stretch one shot behind Seve, who made an eagle and four birdies to go six-under through these six holes. Seve sealed the win with a 9-iron to three inches on the 16th hole and an amazing chip to six inches on the last.


Speaking on Seve’s final round, Nick Price said “It was a thrill to play to this standard. When you are beaten by somebody, especially the way he played, you bow out gracefully.”


These British Open titles encapsulated everything that made Seve so loved around the golfing world.


He failed to hit many fairways or put the ball in the right spot throughout any of his three championships. But he showed incredible resilience and persistence mixed with that magical short game, and found ways to shoot tournament winning scores.


The 1979 Open Championship was the first Major Championship victory of Seve’s career, and helped cement his status as a powerhouse in the golfing world. The following two Open Championship wins proved why this tournament was Seve’s favourite, producing a number of consistent performances alongside these wins.




To read more about Seve by Connor Schmidtke click HERE 


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  1. Grand memories. The 1988 final round at Royal Lytham was Seve at his finest. I remember staying up to watch it live and have seen it again recently on YouTube. One of the few times I barraged against Seve, as Nick Price was a nice guy and perennial underdog. One of the finest long iron players ever. They were like two gunslingers. If Price put his second shot to 12 feet from the pin, Seve put his 6 feet. Sublime.

  2. Daryl Schramm says

    I have just started reading this series. Great articles and links. Watching the ’88 final day was an eye opener as I tend to only follow the current play.
    How far would Seve drive the ball with his swing that seemed to give everything with current technology?
    I noticed on the vision twice he walked in front a competitor whose shot/putt was played but was well before ball laid to rest.
    What was with the ball pickup and mark then replace straight away from up to six inches from the hole?
    Loved the highlights. Pure golf.

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