Sport on TV: Seve's story shows strides golf has taken – in wrong direction
When Seve Ballesteros dinked a tricky shot along the ground between the bunkers during The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1976, "golf had a new entertainer". So said Gary Lineker in Seve: The Legend (BBC1, Sunday), adding that the Spaniard combined "sport and showbusiness". So Seve was the new rock 'n' roll of golf – or at least the new chip 'n' run – and his premature death in May adds to the impression. The sport whose only claim to craziness was lurid trouserwear could boast flair of a different kind.
Jimmy Tarbuck put him up there with Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and George Best. The comedian was grateful for the tips Seve had passed on, though the great man might have wondered why he was playing with the likes of Tarby and Bruce Forsyth when he could have been mingling with Frankie and the King.
It was left to Peter Alliss, the king of curmudgeon, to break the spell cast by golf's magician. "He could be crotchety," the commentator said, after claiming that watching Seve was like rushing to catch the latest Clint Eastwood film – presumably along the lines of "Go ahead, putt, make my day". When Seve thrashed his way spectacularly out of the woods, he always felt lucky.
His caddy Billy Foster may have been closer to the pin when he told Seve before an incredibly difficult shot out of the trees in Switzerland: "I know you're Seve Ballesteros but you're not Paul Daniels." One wonders if Seve's love of English culture stretched to an appreciation of Daniels, McGee et al, but needless to say he nailed the shot. Forget the little magician, this was more Harry Putter (or is that Dirty Harry Putter?).
Comparisons, of course, are odious and Seve's greatness surely lay in how different he was from everyone else. Think of Tiger Woods' hothouse boyhood or the pictures of Rory McIlroy swinging away merrily on TV at the age of nine. Here we are told that in his first competitive round as a child, Seve was 51 over par after nine holes. We see the adult Seve still digging little holes in the beach and planting tree branches in them for flags, and we hear that he used to drive his parents to distraction as he chipped the ball back and forth over their farmhouse deep into the night.
He grew up in a different world from the cocoon inhabited by the modern golfer. And while the likes of Woods fall off their pedestals as victims of the high life, Seve's standing with his adoring public remained undiminished. He could always find a way out of the woods.
* There were a couple of surprises last week. In Four Rooms (Channel 4, Tuesday) someone tried to flog a bottle of George Best's bespoke wine. The dealers weren't too impressed, but the remarkable thing was that the bottle wasn't empty. A woman also tried to sell the memorabilia from her time as a Playboy bunny, which would have gone well with a Best claret. Full of body and all that.
On Top Gear (BBC1, Sunday) it was no surprise to see Sebastian Vettel record the fastest time as the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car. But of greater value was the look on Jeremy Clarkson's face when Vettel told him he watched Top Gear at home, with dubbed German coming out of Clarkson's mouth. As the dealers in the Four Rooms will know, some things are priceless.
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