'A pilgrimage I had to make' - Ivan Morris

Ivan Morris

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Ivan Morris

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Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris

Some go to Mecca; some go to Croagh Patrick; some go to the Sistine Chapel, some prefer to hike all the way across Northern Spain to San Diego di Compostela.

My wife and I went to Pedrena, a small, picturesque fishing village and dormer location for 1500-souls, 18 kilometres from Santander by road but only a short boat ride of just less than 2 kilometres across the bay from the thriving port city of Santander.

Pedrena was Seve Ballesteros's home village and it is where he grew up and lived throughout out his life.

The golden, sandy beach stretches for miles and there were 'dozens' of people walking on it (wherever they came from I don't know because it is unlikely they were residents of Pedrena)

Ever since Seve Ballesteros passed away in 2011, at the relatively young age of 54 after a very public and brutal fight with brain cancer, we both had felt the urge to make this trip in order to pay our respects to a golfer who caught our imaginations like no other.

Seve was incredibly handsome with a mischievous smile that lit up the fairways of the world.

But he was no saint - notably so in the eyes of the officers and members of the ultra-private, Real Pedrena Golf Club, when as a young boy and a neighbouring, small farmer's son, he annoyed them intensely by hunting in the bushes for lost golf balls and sneaking onto the golf course at night to play a few holes.

It wasn't until Seve became a major champion and a world beater that he was accepted. This ambivalence towards him is still sadly obvious today because a horrible statue that comes nowhere near doing the man justice is located on a small patch of publicly-owned ground on the driveway outside the gates of Real Pedrena Golf Club; not inside them as it should be.

Inside the clubhouse, a large and sparsely-furnished, ‘Seve Room’ features an unimaginative pictorial memorial. All hard to believe because Spaniards are so artistically flamboyant and talented.

The tree-lined, golf course looked very hilly, challenging and well-conditioned. The boat trip across the bay from Santander was emotional because one knew that Seve had made that same trip often. Nor were we the only ones making the same journey for the same reason on the day.

The Spanish Royal Family has a Palace on the other side of Santander Bay for centuries.

Little did they know that right under their regal noses, one of the eternal, kings of world golf would be a poor, farmer's son, who taught himself to play on his own imaginary course on the magnificent beach; hitting the abandoned golf balls he had found with a rusty 3-iron, given to him by his brother.

There, Seve built a golf game that would win him five majors and gain him worldwide popularity and fame.

Ballesteros won five majors in a nine years spell between 1979 and 1988, his last one in when he was only 31-years of age - just when most golfers are reaching their peak. In truth, it was a short career but one that made an indelible impact on the history and folklore of the game.

Many of Pedrena's residents live in well-appointed, expensive-looking and beautifully-landscaped homes that are stacked spectacularly on terraces above Santander Bay.

Seve's is three-stories of tasteful, red stucco and dark wood but it doesn't particularly stand out.

Built on a promontory high above the golf course (close to the highest spot in Pedrena) and overlooking the beach, it is only a few hundred yards from the converted farmhouse where he was born.

A weathered bronze, of the famous silhouette of Seve, shaking his fist in triumph in a never-to-be-forgotten reaction to sinking the winning putt in the 1984 Open Championship at St. Andrews is mounted on the front door.

Ballesteros refers to it as El Momento, "the greatest moment of my career" which took place when he was only 27-years old. It was his fourth major and he won only one more time (the 1988 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's) largely because of a debilitating back injury that blighted his career.

Even back then in the pre-Pro V-1 days the ability to hit the ball a long way was crucial. Seve's shot making ability and his 'genius short game' not to mention his self-confidence and mental strength, ultra-fierce competitiveness and keen ‘golfing mind’ were undermined by his 'bad back' which cost him so much distance off the tee from circa 1986 on.

What made Seve Ballesteros so special was his ability to connect with fans who adored him and the spectators he mesmerised when one of his wild tee shots flew over their heads only to be immediately followed by the improvisation of a Houdini-like recovery. At first gradually, and then very quickly, his lower back deteriorated. He lost the length and accuracy in his long game. While his wedge play and putting remained superb, his weak long game prevented him from contending.

As much as any great golfer who ever lived, his career has a strange and unfulfilled nature. Nevertheless, Seve and his 'El Momento' will never be forgotten and I am glad I made my pilgrimage.

Words of the Wise:

“Peter Alliss said I hit miracle shots. I never thought that. Miracles don't happen very often; I was hitting those shots all the time” - Seve Ballesteros