Aggressive and exciting, Ballesteros is golf's toreador. Spaniard sets sights on more major titles after third British Open win
Seve Ballesteros, the golfing virtuoso, yearns to win more major championships - but not the same old ones. His goal is to complete the cycle of the four big titles. He has won the British Open three times now and the Masters twice. He aims to add the US Open and the PGA Championship.
He will play the PGA in Oklahoma in August, and it will probably be his final US appearance of the year. Ballesteros has hinted he might play 15 tournaments in the United States in 1989 and become a full-time member of the American tour. He lost his playing privileges in America in 1985 after he failed to play the required 15 events.
The PGA Tour is thriving, but it misses Ballesteros, the most exciting player in the world. Seve's play radiates the daring and flair of a champion bullfighter in his native Spain.
Every shot is an adventure. He concocts shots other top players never even consider, and brings them off more often than otherwise.
His victory in the rain-delayed British Open at Royal Lytham a week ago was the latest grand example.
Seve, battling Nick Price for the championship, missed the green on the last hole and found his ball settled down into a poor lie, with the tall grass growing against him. No problem. He summarily pinched the ball out crisply with a sand wedge - and came within mere inches of sinking the 60-foot shot. He won by two strokes on the strength of a closing 65, 6 under par, and a total of 273.
``I felt the pressure but I felt confident,'' he said later. ``I have experimented with hundreds of little shots since I started doing it on the beach with a single club as a small boy. That is my game.''
Drama is also Seve's game. He plays golf the way Olivier plays Shakespeare.
He is tall, dark, handsome, and surpassingly talented, and when his mood is right, there is no more commanding figure in sports. He strides across the course like a conquering general, head high, eyes ablaze, eager to arrive at his next shot.
When he won the last previous Open played at Lytham in 1979, he came away with a reputation as a wild driver of the ball. He was called ``the car-park champion,'' because he birdied the 16th hole the last day from a temporary parking lot after getting a free drop from under a car.
The image stuck until last week.
``This time I didn't hit from the parking lot,'' Seve said with a grin that stretched from one end of the old red brick clubhouse to the other.
To be precise, this time he birdied the devilish 16th by knocking a 9-iron shot three inches from the cup.
He missed only three fairways all day in windy conditions. Wild driver?
``I've been working on my swing ever since 1979,'' he says. ``It was too long and too upright to give me enough steadiness before. I was moving too much from side to side, which made me erratic.
``I had to choose between hitting the ball great distances but sometimes in the wrong directions, or making swing changes to drive the ball in play more often. Making changes in mid-career isn't easy, but I've kept working at them and today I feel comfortable with them at last.
``I think I've arrived at a nice combination of distance and direction. Last year my driving average on the European Tour was 270 yards, which is long enough, and I still managed to hit two-thirds of the fairways. A few years ago I couldn't hit half the fairways most rounds.
``I may be 20 yards shorter off the tee now, but I feel I can compete well on any course, anytime. Hitting to the green with a 5-iron from the fairway is much easier than hitting to the green with a 7-iron out of the rough.''
Seve had not won a major for four years until this year's British, but he would appear likely to win several more before he's done. He's only 31, and the back that had bothered him is better since he changed his swing and puts less stress on it.
``The last round at Lytham was the best I've ever played,'' he says. ``It gives me great confidence for the future.''