As a young teenager, my favorite golfers were Fred Couples and Seve Ballesteros. I tried to copy Freddie’s fluid swing and persona, but I wanted Seve’s flair and daring style. Last year, when news of Seve’s passing hit me, I suddenly recalled all of those moments as a junior at Douglaston Golf Course, trying to find ways out of the trees and bunkers and onto the greens so that I could amaze my father and whomever I was playing with. When Mickey Mantle passed away, I remembered all of those images of grown men crying in the stands of Yankee Stadium, and around the country for that matter, during a moment of silence. Suddenly, I empathized with all of those fathers and grandfathers who tried to copy ‘the Mick’s’ running gait and powerful swing as kids.
In 1988, my dad took me to see the final round of the Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club. We were sitting there behind the 14th green on a par 3 (forgive me if the course facts are incorrect), and I could see Seve on the tee box in his green shirt and black pants. His tee shot landed about 20-25 feet from the hole, and everyone started clapping for Seve. By this time, Seve was already one of the best and most popular players in the world, and had won this tournament in 1983. So as he approached the green, the applause and encouragement grew louder.
Seve didn’t read the putt, he stalked it, circling the green with a lone white golf ball laying prone next to a marker, like a panther circling his prey for the kill. The ball hadn’t rolled halfway to the hole when Seve raised the putter in the air, the daring Spanish swashbuckler raising his sword in triumph. When that ball rolled one last time and plopped into the cup, Seve had already turned away, heading to the next tee, putter still raised in one hand, and the other hand pointing out straight forward, as if to say: “GAME ON.” Seve won a 4-man playoff that day, and as he walked back to the clubhouse surrounded by security guards, I and my father were standing there in the middle of the fairway as thousands of people were running back to see the closing awards ceremony. Suddenly, from behind me a hand gently pushed me aside so that someone could pass by. It was one of those security guards, and suddenly I was standing four feet from my hero. As he strode by, he looked up and saw me, the only kid in the area. He smiled and winked, and then he was gone.
Junior golfers need heroes to inspire him or her. Whether it is in the backyard or the golf course, let them, ENCOURAGE them, to use their imaginations and pretend that they are their golf heroes, and play shots, copy swings, sink putts to win the 2024 U.S. Open. This is one of the best ways to inspire juniors and develop a love for this game. It is also the best way to instill lasting memories of time spent with you. For these memories of Seve are not just about him, but also about cherished moments spent with my father.