Golf: American pie drives Ballesteros: Spanish magician lifted by English crowd in quest for points to qualify him for US Open

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN Seve Ballesteros suggested that the United States Golf Association should put himself ahead of Arnold Palmer on the list of invitees for the US Open next month he may as well have said that Walt Disney should lay a cheddar-baited trap for Mickey Mouse. For the first time in his life, or almost the first time (you can never tell with this man), Ballesteros went on bended knee to the USGA to get an invitation.

The top 15 from the European Order of Merit last season have been invited but Seve was not among them and the only way he can qualify is by finishing in the top two on the money list at the conclusion of the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth at the end of this month. Ballesteros received a fax from the USGA 'saying in other words I'd better play well in the next three weeks. I think I have to win'.

Ballesteros, who has not won a tournament since 1992, is confident of doing so before June and he gave testimony to that conviction when he scored 70 to stand at the top of the leaderboard at five under par at the half-way stage of the Benson and Hedges International Open. He leads by one stroke from the Scotsman, Gary Orr, and by two from the Irishman, Paul McGinley. However, should Ballesteros not make sufficient progress by the end of May he may still go to Pittsburgh and attempt to get in via the pre- qualifying process.

'I have never had to qualify in my career,' he said. 'I don't even know what it means.' This is not quite true. In 1974, when he had just turned 17 and was making his first appearance outside Spain, he attempted to qualify for the Portuguese Open. At Estoril he scored 89, 56 of the strokes coming on the back nine, and finished dead last. 'Don't worry,' his sponsor said. 'You're still the best player in the world.' The man, a doctor, was a good judge, although at the time Ballesteros fixed him with a look that suggested he should go to the nearest waiting room.

For some strange reason, Ballesteros said that he feels fairly comfortable at St Mellion, although he has played here only once before. 'On most of the Nicklaus courses I play well,' he said. 'They're thinking courses. He makes you think more and concentrate harder. I like it. He's a good designer, although not as good as me.' The smile is back.

There are several reasons for this. He spent two hard sweaty months in Phoenix at the beginning of the year trying to sort out his back problem and at the same time found, in Mac O'Grady, a coach he admired and trusted. 'In golf terms we speak the same language,' Ballesteros said. Another factor is the support from the crowd. 'It's fantastic whenever I come to England,' he said. 'The crowd lifts me. They give me the motivation to continue.'

Orr, a former barman and garage mechanic from Helensburgh, also shot 70 and that included a bogey six at the second. He had four birdies, but not one at the 18th, where he had a long wait to play his third shot, a chip from just off the green. A duck and 10 ducklings waddled across his line en route to the pond to the left of the green. When Orr played his shot he hit it to within a foot to save his par.

McGinley said he thought the weather made the going four shots easier, but others were not of the same opinion. Eamonn Darcy retired after nine holes with a bad back and Tony Johnstone pulled out with bruised ribs. St Mellion has this effect, especially when you are massively over par. The cut was made at five over and there were only 10 players below par.

McGinley, who has been in pole position to win this season in Spain but got 'too cute', played with Ballesteros in Majorca. 'He was just playing badly,' McGinley said. 'It's great to see him back. The game needs him. When he gets in front he's a hard man to beat.' McGinley is starstruck. At the age of 12 he watched Ballesteros play a shot to the 16th green at Royal Dublin. 'It went about 340 yards,' McGinley said. At the time Ballesteros was in his Barnum mode, hitting that particular shot off his knees. McGinley, according to Ballesteros, was dreaming. When the Spaniard is on his knees, as he is to the USGA, he hits it about 210 yards.

BENSON AND HEDGES INTERNATIONAL (St Mellion, Cornwall): Leading second round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 139 S Ballesteros (Sp) 69 70; 140 G Orr 70 70; 141 P McGinley 72 69; 142 H Clark 70 72, P Price 69 73, S Ames (Tri) 70 72; 143 J Rivero (Sp) 70 73, S Torrance 75 68, A Murray 74 69, C Montgomerie 73 70; 144 J Spence 75 69, A Sherborne 74 70, L Westwood 72 72, N Faldo 75 69, W Westner (SA) 70 74, J Lomas 74 70; 145 R Karlsson (Swe) 73 72, P Fowler (Aus) 71 74, J Van de Velde (Fr) 71 74, S Struver (Ger) 72 73, M Roe 73 72, R Chapman 71 74, M James 72 73, P- U Johansson (Swe) 75 70, P Fulke (Swe) 74 71, P Eales 73 72, J Hobday (SA) 73 72, M Mackenzie 73 72, P Curry 76 69; 146 M McLean 72 74, M Clayton (Aus) 74 72, G Hjertstedt (Swe) 76 70, F Nobilo (NZ) 75 71, B Gallacher 72 74, P Mayo 72 74, R Allenby (Aus) 74 72, D Clarke 73 73.

* denotes amateur

(Photograph omitted)