The internet is awash with tributes to Seve this morning; reminiscences and condolences are pouring in from all corners of the golfing world. Most of you will be reasnonably familiar with his biography already (in case you’re not, or you just want to remind yourself what a force the Spaniard was in his day, have a quick read of this bullet-point timelime the Irish Times has put together), so linking to obituaries or platitudinous interviews with stunned friends or relatives is of no real purpose.
The best material on Seve’s battle against cancer and his golfing legacy is a little older and, at this stage, hiding in the archives of the major broadcasters and publishers.
The BBC aired an Inside Sport special in late 2009 in which Peter Alliss travelled to Seve’s home to interview him about his health, his motivation and his career. Though the full episode isn’t currently online, this preview gives a sense of the documentary’s tone and substance.
Though laden with heartening proof of Seve’s diligent adherence to therapeutic routine– jogging around the pool, walking on the beach– and his enduring obsession with the game of golf, it bore grim testament to the loneliness and introversion that defined his later years. Watching it is to engage in a disorienting back-and-forth between admiration and pity; the synapses can still flash and connnect the figure on screen with his greatest achievements, but only just. It’s a salutary reminder of the human toll Seve paid in his pursuit of sporting excellence and, as such, a nearly unrivalled portrait of the man himself.
Bill Elliot wrote a wonderful account of his friendship with Seve for The Observer back in 2009. Poignant and entertaining, it wanders freely between the public and private sides of the man, grasping something ineffably essential in the process. This anecdote, for example, is absolutely priceless:
“I could not help remembering years earlier when he came across me while I was playing a round at Crans-sur-Sierre, high on a Swiss Alp. I had hooked my opening tee shot on to the middle of the adjoining 9th fairway, under the low hanging branches of an umbrella pine that bizarrely grows there. For some reason I had a five-iron in my hand as I surveyed this impossible situation and noted the bank of high trees between me and where my ball should be.
Then a familiar figure ducked under the pine. ‘Beel, Beel, quick, give me,’ and Seve took the five-iron off me, gripped the club down the shaft, bent almost double and then smacked my ball away. Up it went, over the trees before halting, hesitating, and turning left to plunge 90 degrees and down towards the 1st green some 180 yards distant. It was a wonderfully improbable blow.
My playing partners could see none of this but from the other side of all those trees the roars of astonished approval hit the air. ‘That was one of the best shots I’ve ever seen,’ said John Paramour, now the European Tour’s chief referee. Several hours later, back in the clubhouse, I admitted that it had been the greatest shot I’d never hit. No one, as it turned out, minded.”
The death of a public figure, particularly one so adored, invites attempts at the grand statement. With regards to Seve, it’s a task for which I feel neither qualified nor worthy; I’m not sure anyone should.