Playing like Seve Ballesteros
Senoras y Senores, muchas gracias,’ he said to the Birkdale crowd in 1976 announcing himself to the golfing world after finishing runner-up in the Open to Johnny Miller at the tender age of 19.
If you happen to have a quiet half hour to spare, treat yourself by going onto YouTube and watch the highlights of that Open nearly 40 years ago and, in particular, watch the shot the young Seve played on 18 to make a birdie and tie for 2nd with Jack Nicklaus. An audacious chip and run between two bunkers signalled the arrival of a genius. A shot being played by an artist fascinated by the opportunity of playing a particular shot in a way that few others would have seen. A genius who sadly left us far to soon but whose life and lasting legacy has now been brought to the silver screen in a full-length feature film called simply ‘Seve’.
I was very fortunate to meet the great man and the word ‘aura’ is simply not strong enough to portray the presence he had.
Ballesteros was often described as an ‘artist’ on the course, as he had an amazing ability to summon a shot from nothing.
For me, it is clear that good golf and becoming the best player you can be is a mixture of art and science. The real skill, I believe, is to be able to maintain the balance to make progress.
The arrival of club technology, video playback, launch monitors and the like, have certainly been advances but not at the expense of the ‘art’ of golf – being able to go out and create shots on a particular hole, at a particular unique moment in time, with the conditions confronting you.
Over the years, I have worked with many players who have become so bogged down with technique and technical information, they have lost the ability to improvise and create golf shots. I once saw Seve give a bunker clinic whereby he demonstrated these wonderful high floating shots from the sand with a 3 iron (give that a try and see how you get on!).
With limited resources, he found a way to make the ball go high, go low, left and right with just a single club As we all know, Ballesteros learnt to play golf on the beach at Pedrena with only a 3 iron. He didn’t have a full set of irons and woods to begin with but he did have perhaps the most valuable of all golfing tools – his imagination. With limited resources, he found a way to make the ball go high, go low, left and right with just a single club.
He explored and created an environment of fun and learning I often see lacking these days in our information-obsessed world. I am not saying for one minute you need to ditch all of your clubs and look for the nearest beach to practice on, but I would say this is the summer and it is time to play the game on a golf course, as often as you possibly can.
Treat yourself to nine holes on an evening, using only three clubs and a putter. You will be surprised firstly at how much fun it can be but also when you are forced to call on your imagination, you can actually produce quality shots by changing ball position, length of swing, angle of attack and so on.
Have some fun trying out different shots and expand your range of options by exploring what the club can do to the ball. Leave the scientist in the lab for a while and let the artist loose; stop trying to be perfect. Find a way of getting the ball into the hole in the manner that Seve did so magnificently. Allow yourself to make some mistakes as you open up the learning channels in your brain.
Perhaps make a commitment to play with what you have for a while. See what you can do with your current swing rather than always trying to change something.
You can do this knowing there will come a time in the winter when it will be perfect to embrace technology and make technical adjustments.
Don’t make the mistake of letting another summer slip by in the search for swing perfection at the expense of playing golf.