Martin Slumbers summed it up pretty well.
Speaking ahead of the premiere of SEVE: Artist. Fighter. Legend. in St Andrews last night, the chief executive of The R&A described Seve Ballesteros as “not the greatest golfer of all time but, in my view, the best”.
It sounds like a contradiction in terms. How can the “greatest” not be the “best” and vice-versa? What Slumbers was getting at is that there is more to a golfer’s legacy than major victories alone. “I’ll leave Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to fight over that one,” he laughed. But the best? The best is measured in a different way. It’s measured by, yes, success but also by an abundance of intangibles that are hard to define but impossible not to feel.
Impact, popularity, enduring affection. Things like that.
No golfer, on this side of the Atlantic at least, has ever been as beloved as Seve. That, in part, explains why The R&A commissioned a new film celebrating the Spaniard’s life and career. Its release coincides with the tenth anniversary of his untimely passing at the age of 54, a brain tumour tragically robbing the world of a true sporting icon but, more significantly, his family of a father, brother and friend.
The film, available to stream for free via Rakuten.tv, explores all aspects of Seve’s life, from his humble beginnings in Pedreña to his major championship successes and revolutionary Ryder Cup moments.
Previously unheard interviews with him are complemented by contributions from a veritable “Who’s Who” of golf. Bernhard Langer, Gary Player, Sir Nick Faldo, Rory McIlroy, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie and even arch-rival Paul Azinger all feature, each giving compelling perspectives into the Seve they knew.
However, it is the interviews with his family that make the most profound impact. Ex-wife Carmen, their three children – Javier, Miguel and Carmenita – as well as Carmen’s sister Ana and one of his brothers, Manuel, all give dignified and proud insights into Seve ‘the man’.
There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments, Seve’s response to Johnny Miller speaking Spanish to him during the final round of the 1976 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale being one of the most memorable, not to mention the way in which Seve was introduced to Margaret Thatcher during a visit to London early in his career.
There are also moments that will leave you stunned, like Paul Azinger effectively admitting to cheating during the 1991 Ryder Cup.
And, of course, there are moments that will bring a lump to your throat. Watching him determinedly battle debilitating back issues with punishing home work-outs are tough to watch when you know the outcome, whilst Bernhard Langer’s moving account of the friendship he always wanted but never quite managed to forge is heartfelt and will have you looking around for the onion-chopping culprit in the room.
With a running time of just over an hour-and-a-half, the film does a superb job of covering all of the key moments in Seve’s life without ever being superficial on the points that matter. It’s also honest. It covers his difficult relationship with some of his brothers and the depressive impact their behaviour had on him several years after the fact.
The filmmakers, David White and Joss Holmes, deserve enormous credit for this, in particular. It would be easy to make a sycophantic, schmaltzy, somewhat selective account of Seve's life, celebrating the man the world thought it knew. Instead, they set out to tell a true, honest story of a humble genius, warts and all. There is no question they succeeded.
Fascinating and poignant, this is essential viewing for any golf fan.