Doing justice to the legend of Seve Ballesteros

For the best part of 30 years, golf has been a big part of my life and one of my great heroes passed away this morning. The Spanish golfing legend Seve Ballesteros was only 54 when he finally lost his battle with brain cancer, a fight he described as the biggest of one of many in his life. Loved by millions of adoring fans around the world, he was a charismatic player in the mould of Arnold Palmer and spearheaded the growth of European professional golf in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

BBC radio ran a feature on the great man today and asked golf correspondent Iain Carter to split his summation into 2 parts – the tournament record…and then the man. The record is impressive: 5 major championships, over 80 tournament victories worldwide and of course his spectacular performances in the Ryder Cup. Moving on to the man himself, Carter used the terms commonly associated with Seve – charismatic, swashbuckling, genius, bold, passionate, handsome, determined and stubbornly single-minded.

But it struck me that neither his stellar record nor those descriptive terms did the Ballesteros legend justice. On their own they failed to explain why people so adored and revered him, even those Americans he so desperately wanted to beat in his many Ryder Cup battles.

As ever, it was the stories that summed up the essence of the man. It seems everyone has a story about Seve, but just two will do for now.

I recall when he led the European Ryder Cup team when the contest was held in his home country for the first time in 1997.  The beautiful Valderrama course in Southern Spain played host to this most eagerly awaited battle with the USA, and the Spaniard was at his most determined, even as a non-playing captain.  His presence was felt everywhere and it was clearly difficult for Seve to contain himself as a non-combatant. During a practice round he watched Darren Clarke attempt a bunker shot. The Irishman messed it up, leaving the ball in the sandy pit. Seve shook his head, grabbed Clarke’s club, pushed him aside muttering, “No, no…like this.” He proceeded to play the most exquisite shot to within inches of the hole.

The second story I heard for the first time today. Being rather passionate and single-minded, Seve was something of a nightmare to caddy for. He went through bag carriers like babies go through nappies, but Yorkshireman Billy Foster managed to last 5 years while the Spaniard was in his prime.  During a European Tour event the magician from Pedrena was charging down the home stretch, with birdies at the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th. Now in the lead, Ballesteros was ready to attack the tricky final hole, but Foster advised caution.  The Spaniard ignored him and thrashed a 3-wood with all his might, ending up behind the wall of a villa!

He was in an impossible position – restricted backswing, trees everywhere, a tiny gap through which to thread the ball, 150 yards to carry over a wall and a swimming pool. Again, his caddy advised caution, “Just play out sideways,” he begged, almost down on his knees. His boss was not for turning, “You sonofabitch, this is Seve…watch this!” He went on to play the most outrageous shot which sailed over all the trouble and landed just short of the green. And to cap it all, he chipped in for a birdie three!

My point is this Seve tribute really only worked when the facts were married with the stories. The facts alone don’t paint the picture of his charismatic personality. They don’t explain why he accumulated so many adoring fans around the world. Those 2 anecdotes capture the essence of the man and it’s a lesson we can learn when we’re putting across our OWN message. The factual overview of our business won’t capture any hearts. It’s the stories that convey the character of our business and its people and THAT is what makes the buyer feel good about choosing US as opposed to one of our competitors.

Adios Seve – you’ll be sorely missed but the memories linger on.

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