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Seve Ballesteros was a true hero

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Seve Ballesteros
The tributes have been pouring in for Seve Ballesteros since the great Spaniard went to his eternal reward at the incredibly young and sad age of 54, and rightly so.

Elsewhere on these pages you will see Paul McGinley refer to his fellow Ryder Cup hero as the Elvis of golf, the man who made the biggest difference to the game when he exploded on the world stage as a raw 19-year-old.

McGinley also recalled in an interview with RTE how he first saw Ballesteros in the flesh during the practice round for one of the three Irish Opens he won during an endless love affair with our native land.

Paul was only a kid when he stood on the side of the 16th tee-box at the wonderful Royal Dublin links on the Bull Island and watched in amazement as Seve interacted with the Irish crowd.

He recalled a wag challenging Ballesteros to drive the green -- a mere 284 yards away -- while kneeling on the ground. Seve did indeed get down on his knees, struck the ball perfectly and landed it on said green.

The image never left McGinley, a man who has never lost the common touch that was also so dear to

Ballesteros both in the days when he ruled the world, and in the days when he tried to regain lost glories.
Seve was one of those sportsmen with an aura about him. Only the greats have it.

Only the greats have the ability to light up a room just by walking into it. Only the truly great can hold a room’s attention in an instance.

I wasn’t lucky enough to see Seve play in the flesh in his prime, but I was lucky enough to see him play golf on a number of occasions and it was always a pleasure.

It was also a real delight to see him command attention when he captained the European team at the trophy named in his honor when the bi-annual event was staged in Druids Glen many years ago.

In 2002, Ballesteros was the playing captain of a continental side that lost to Britain and Ireland, if memory serves me right, that week in Wicklow, but arrogance was never a companion as he walked the fairways and controlled the press conference room.

He had time for everyone and everyone found time to watch him in action on either side of the ropes on a very special weekend for all involved.

Two Seve stories have always engaged me, and both were mentioned in dispatches this week.

The first concerned his appearance in the pro-am when the Murphy’s Irish Open was staged at the same

Druids Glen course several years before the Seve Trophy went there.

The Spaniard was paired with a sponsor and his wife. The wife, to be fair, wasn’t a great player.

She did her best and Seve was as patient as the day was long as they made their way around the testing Wicklow track.

Eventually he decided to intervene when the wife attempted to hack the ball out of the rough with a five wood, some 200 yards from the hole.

Politely interfering, Seve suggested she use a nine iron from grass so thick that she was never going to get the ball out with a wood.

“But I can only hit a nine iron 100 yards and the green is 200 yards away,” argued the woman.

“Then hit nine iron -- twice,” countered Seve. The woman did as he suggested.

The other Seve story was told to me by his brother Manuel during one of his frequent visits to play in the Irish Seniors Open.

It was Manuel who presented Seve with an old three iron when he was just a boy, the three iron that launched his love affair with the game he would eventually rule.

Time, like death, caught up with Seve, and there came a point in his forties when the Major winner could no longer compete with the world’s best golfers, some of them half his age.

Like all truly outstanding sportsmen Seve found it difficult to cope with anything less than perfection, and that inability to compete really haunted him.

The day a group of Irish journalists shared a beer with Manuel after the pro-am at the seniors, we had to ask him about his brother’s failure at the time to cope with bad golf.

“Seve is like a man who owns a Rolls Royce,” revealed the brother who started it all.

“A Rolls Royce is always a Rolls Royce, even when it is 50 years old and the engine won’t go anymore. It looks like a Rolls Royce but it won’t drive like a Rolls Royce.

“Seve thinks he is still a Rolls Royce even though the engine is old and seized. He wants to play like a Rolls Royce but he can’t.”

The Seniors Tour in Europe and the Champions Tour in America were always seen as the answer to Seve’s frustrations with his failure to reproduce the Rolls Royce days.

Surrounded by fellow players over 50, he was tipped to dominate the Golden Oldies tours on both sides of the Atlantic before fate intervened and the brain tumor that eventually killed him brought about a premature end to his golfing career.

He was too young to die when he passed away on Saturday, and too good a golfer to ever be forgotten.

That’s not a bad epitaph for any sportsman or woman.

Rest in peace Seve -- and God bless.


Sideline Views
HURLING: Those Kilkenny fans worried by their team’s dramatic defeat to Dublin in the recent National League final can rest easy. The great Henry Shefflin made his return to action with his club at the weekend and Martin Comerford is back training with the county team. By the time the sun really starts to shine on the Irish summer, all will be well with the Kilkenny camp again. And they might just regain the All-Ireland title.
SOCCER: In less than three weeks Irish eyes will be on Skopje for the big European Championship qualifier against Macedonia. Damien Duff and Richard Dunne won’t be there, Sean St. Ledger is doubtful, and I’m starting to have bad dreams about this return to the ground where the phase “I Had a Macedonia” was born.
SOCCER: This time next week the footballers of Porto and Braga, both Portuguese teams, will play in the Europa League final in the Aviva Stadium. Since the match is being played by two teams from a bailout country in another bailout country, should the referee come from Greece just to complete the picture? Just a thought.
GOLF: Padraig Harrington was in trouble again at Quail Hollow on Sunday when a spectator accused him of teeing off ahead of the marker, an allegation that could have earned the Dubliner his second disqualification of the year. Have these people nothing better to do with their time?
SOCCER: The FAI announced ticket price reductions for the Aviva Stadium this week and said they will wait to make any decision on Giovanni Trapattoni’s future until after our European Championship fate is decided. Are they suddenly getting sense in Abbotstown?
SOCCER: If you’re religious -- of any persuasion -- please say a prayer for RTE’s soccer correspondent Tony O’Donoghue as he battles cancer. Tony is one of the good guys and a great friend. Liam Hayes by the way is doing well, so those prayers worked. Thanks.
SOCCER: Mick McCarthy’s luck finally changed when his team hammered West Brom 3-1 on Sunday. With Kevin Doyle almost ready to return, they might just stay up. I hope so.


HERO OF THE WEEK
DON’T fall off your stool, but Roy Keane told it like it is this week when he had a go at the plastic Paddys like Jermaine Pennant and Jamie O’Hara who only want to play for Ireland because they can’t get a game with England. He also accused the senior players in the current Irish squad of under-achieving. Maybe he talks sense after all!

IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
NEIL Lennon had a right go at his Celtic players after their defeat at Caledonian Inverness Thistle on Wednesday night of last week and rightly so. It’s no use doing all the hard work for weeks on end, then throwing it all away in the final hurdle. Rangers were there for taking this season; now they could be Scottish champions by the time you read this.

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