When Seve Ballesteros won his first major title in the 1979 Open at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s, he was just 22-years-old.
If Jordan Spieth can hold on to his 54-hole lead at Royal Birkdale on Sunday he will become the youngest winner since Seve (38 years later!), but at 23-years-old won’t surpass his record.
His maiden major victory came three year's after he finished second in 1976 in his second ever Open, where he had led going in to the final round. . . but how he and eventual winner Miller prepared for that final day is world's apart from what we imagine Spieth or Kuchar were doing last night.
Read John Huggan's interview below...
In 1976, 19 year old Seve Ballesteros finished runner-up to Johnny Miller at the Open at Birkdale. Years later, he gave an interview to John Huggan about the experience. This is the first time it has ever been published.
John Huggan: You were still a teenager when you finished second to Johnny Miller in the 1976 British Open at Birkdale. What do you remember about that?
Seve Ballesteros: I caddied for my brother Manuel in the qualifying at Hillside. He played with Doug Sanders. But my brother did not make it. I did not have a caddie, but Dave Musgrove found me someone. The guy was a policeman. He had no idea about the game of golf – in fact, I didn’t have much idea myself at the time – and I spoke no English. A good combination!
JH: You got off to a great start, though.
SB: I shot 69 in the first round. I was enjoying myself. I knew it was the Open, but I had no idea it was that important. In the second round, I shot 69 again. Then I was playing with Johnny Miller in the third round. The night before the last round – I was leading – I wasn’t worried about the next day.
I was only 19, remember. I thought I could win. I was convinced. Anyway, I went out to a disco with my brother. We were dancing there until maybe midnight. Then we went back to our bed-and-breakfast place. As we were walking back, I could see that my brother was a little worried. He was obviously thinking, “My God, my brother could win the British Open – this is unbelievable!”
JH: Let’s get this straight: You were staying in a B&B, you didn’t speak English, you had a caddie who didn’t know anything about golf and you’d been out to a disco the night before. This was how you went into the last round of the Open?
SB: That’s right! [Laughs.] And I was going out with Johnny Miller, who was the best player in the world at that time.
JH: And you really thought you were going to win?
SB: I was convinced! On the rst hole, I made a 10-foot putt for par and Miller made a bogey. I looked at him, and he seemed worried. With all his experience and all his talent, he knew that this guy has no idea what is going on and he may play unbelievable and win the tournament.
After leading by three, I disappeared from the leaderboard, but I was still enjoying myself. Even after all that, I wasn’t down or upset. I was not worried about anything. And I made a couple of birdies and an eagle.
Coming to the 17th green, all of a sudden Johnny Miller started talking to me in Spanish. I didn’t know he could. For two days, we hadn’t spoken a word. But once he knew he was going to win, all of a sudden, he was speaking Spanish to me!
JH: What did Miller say to you?
SB: He said, “It is very important that you play well on the next two holes. If you do, you can beat Mr Nicklaus,” who was in with whatever score he had. He said, “You can finish second.”
I was thinking, “Shit, this guy speaks Spanish perfectly!” That was very interesting. It was just competition, I guess. Anyway, I finished eagle-birdie and was second [Ballesteros shot 74 to Miller’s 66, finishing tied for second with Nicklaus, six strokes back]. I was very happy.
In his speech afterward, Johnny said it was the best thing for me to finish second. I thought he was mad – stupid! But not long after, I understood. He was 100 per cent right. It would have been too soon. If I had become a superstar that early, it might have been too much for me. If I had signed a lot of big contracts and gotten so much attention, I wouldn’t have had the career I have had.