'Men wanted to be him, women wanted to be with him'
by Dean Wingrove
The year was 1993. I was coaching Roger Chapman at the Benson & Hedges International Open at St Mellion, a Nicklaus-designed course and not for the fainthearted.
The sponsor supplied the players with accommodation and there were about 20 lodges on the grounds of the property. You had to have passes to get in and out. I was staying with Roger in one of the lodges.
In the middle of them was a small clubhouse for the players to relax. They would serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each night all the players would gather for a bite to eat. I was standing in the queue with Mrs Wingrove and I was looking down towards the floor when I noticed a pair of shiny black leather shoes, slate grey slacks with creases that you could cut your hands on, a navy blue shirt and a double ply matching cashmere Boss sweater, topped off with an incredible aftershave that I have never smelt before or since.
Not that I was standing too close but he turned around and noticed my wife and I standing behind him and, with his beautiful Spanish accent, he said: “Good evening.”
My return was the same but before I could say his name he took my wife’s hand, raised it to his lips, looked her in the eyes and said: “I’m Seve.” It was a good job I was standing by her side because I swear her knees went. We had a short conversation, he got his food and sat down with Jose Maria Olazabal.
My wife looked at me and I’m sure she was thinking ‘I wish can I could have a pass for the evening’ and, to be fair, I couldn’t blame her. He was the most remarkable man, with kind eyes and a great smile. He was golf’s Elvis Presley, the Presley in the 60s!
Men wanted to be like him, women wanted to be with him. He was a golfing artist with the most beautiful swing and, when he was in full flow, he was unbeatable. But he had a massive problem, his back. It used to get so bad at times he couldn’t move.
Our lodge was next to Seve’s. At about 5.45am I woke and walked into the living room. I looked across the lawn and I saw Seve stretching, moving all over the place, standing, bending, and rolling like a ball across the floor. Roger came into the kitchen about 7.30am and I asked if he had seen all this.
Seve was still stretching. “Oh mate, he will be there for hours yet, his back goes out more than he does!” said a sympathetic Chapman. Poor Seve tried to play in the pro-am that year but couldn’t do it.
Roger shot 70-72 on the first two days and on the Friday evening and Saturday morning we found something on the greens.
Roger went out there and holed everything and shot a course record-equalling 65, incredible. And a proud moment for me was in the massive press tent on the Saturday evening when Roger said to the waiting press: “That man at the back is Dean Wingrove, he is helping me this week.”
They all looked round, I should have practised my wave because all I could do was lift my hand up close to my chest with a few quick wrist hinges, it didn’t look good. But I was immensely proud just the same. Roger managed a top-10 finish that week around a really difficult course, windy and more than 7,000 yards long, even Ernie Else shot an 82 on day one.
Another time I can remember working with Roger on the practice ground at Gleneagles, it was pouring down and there were only a few of us there. Seve walked over, stood and watched Roger hit some balls and he said “Hey Roger, you have a beautiful golf swing, good luck this week.”
I could see Roger’s chest puff out a bit! And before Seve walked off he turned and threw me his waterproof hat. “You’ll need it,” he said with a smile before he walked away.
So there was one man with a slightly bigger chest and the other like a silly schoolboy glowing in the rain.
It’s hard to believe now but back then the caddies would be standing out there watching their masters hitting balls at them so if you had 20 players hitting balls you would have 20 caddies out there. Some of them would have a baseball glove. So what would happen was the player would stand there with his clubs and the caddie would walk out to about 60 yards away, then they would start hitting balls, close enough and good enough that the caddie would catch the ball on the fly, clean it with a towel that was in his other hand and drop it in to the practice bag.
After about 15 balls without looking or saying anything the player would tap the dirt off his sand wedge, stand the club by the side of his bag then take out a 9-iron. By this time the caddie would move back to the correct distance and once again catch more than half of them on the fly, some might bounce half a yard short or to the side but, most of the time, full pitch straight into the baseball glove.
In those days the crowds could stand on the practice ground really close to their heroes. Seve was hitting the ball beautifully. He was hitting a 7-iron, smooth as silk, hands hanging low, chin up, wonderful follow-through, just the right amount of turf. The caddie was catching every single one. The only time his caddie would move was when he heard a shout of fore from another player.
One of the punters was brave enough to ask Seve what he was hitting? “A 7-iron,” he replied without being concerned by someone intruding in his practice.
“How far do you hit your 7-iron?”
“I like to hit it about 160.”
“Oh, no different to me then,” came the punter’s reply.
Seve just smiled, that lovely smile, addressed the ball and swung the club exactly the same. The ball shot off the club face and climbed in the air and went up and up and continued up, the caddie watched the ball go straight over his head as if his head was on a hinge and it landed about 30 yards past him. With that the caddiey looked at Seve with a face like thunder, lifting both arms to the sky in protest. Seve said: “He really hates it when I do that.
“Always play within yourself,” he continued.
About Dean Wingrove
Dean is the Director of Golf at Wimbledon Park in south London having become the head professional in 1989. he turned pro at 17 and worked at Royal Wimbledon before moving down the road.
In his time he has coached the likes of Roger Chapman, Gordon Brand Jr and Paul Way on the European Tour and now looks after the golfing needs of none other than Ant and Dec.