Andy Farrell: Exit leading men but Ken and Seve show goes on

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The Independent Online

Be it Lord's or Wentworth, there is a poignancy about when the time is right for a sportsman to depart the scene. Nasser Hussain was able to sail off into retirement after last week's memorable Test-winning century. For Seve Ballesteros it is very different.

As the stars of the European Tour gathered for the Volvo PGA Championship, the sad news came from Pedreña that Ballesteros's back was so crippled by arthritis that he may never play again. Of course, he has been battling an ailing body for some time. His last victory, his 50th on the European Tour and the 87th of his career, came nine years ago at the Spanish Open when he was aged only 38, young by modern careers.

He has missed the last two PGAs, and when he went to America earlier this year he returned to Spain in agony. That he might not be seen on a golf course again is shocking news. As Colin Montgomerie said: "Some people are so comfortable with a club in their hands, it looks odd when they aren't holding one. Seve is one of those people."

Ernie Els, the current No 1 on the money list, said: "Seve is the Arnold Palmer of the European Tour. All of the charisma and the excitement that you wanted to see, that was Seve. He was always the guy I wanted to watch."

"Ernie is quite right," said Ken Schofield, the Tour's executive director. "For those of us of a certain generation there can be no higher tribute than to say Seve was our Arnold Palmer. That Arnold has been able to play into his 70s and Seve may not be able to is very sad.

"All our hopes are that it is not true he may never play again. At least he should be able to play with freedom from pain and to get the enjoyment from the game that he gave to the public who watched him for so many years."

Ironically, this is Schofield's last PGA as the man at the helm. On 1 January next year, at the age of 58, he will hand over the reins to his admirable deputy, George O'Grady, after 30 years that have seen extraordinary growth. The tributes have poured in and on Tuesday Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the US PGA Tour, flew in for one night to present Schofield with a portrait by the American artist Walt Spitzmiller.

Schofield, after becoming Scotland's youngest bank manager and then joining the fledgling European Tour under John Jacobs as a press and public relations assistant, succeeded Jacobs in 1975. From prize money of less than £500,000, the Tour is now worth a staggering £85m.

Schofield's achievements include increasing places for European golfers in the US major championships and, by joining forces with southern hemisphere tours in co-sanctioned events, offering a year-round alternative to the US circuit. "Determination" and "passion" aptly describe both the Scottish administrator and the Spanish genius.

They had their differences over the years but when it is put to Schofield that they were the men, on and off the course, who created the modern European Tour, he says modestly: "I will sit here and talk about Seve and the other players all day. Our job was to give them events to compete in."

It was in the sizzling summer of 1976, when Schofield got his first company car, a vehicle prone to overheating, that the tantalising talent of Ballesteros first came to the fore - his amazing chip-and-run between a pair of bunkers enabled him to finish second to Johnny Miller in the Open at Royal Birkdale as a 19-year-old. Two years later, a run of six events saw Seve win three times and finish runner-up three times, once in a play-off to Nick Faldo and twice by a single stroke. "We knew then that, like Jack Nicklaus before him and Tiger Woods more recently, Seve would always be the man to beat," said Schofield.

Three Open triumphs and two Masters green jackets followed, as well as three winning Ryder Cup appearances and another as captain. Wentworth saw him at his best as he won five World Match Play titles, the Martini in 1980 and the PGA in 1991, when a magical five-iron defeated Montgomerie at the first extra hole.

It was in the World Match Play in 1984 that Seve beat Palmer in the first round, after holing another remarkable running chip from under the trees at the 18th to keep the game alive. Ten years later, Els was in awe as he saw Ballesteros make seven twos against him, although the South African still went on to complete the first of his five World Match Play triumphs.

Ballesteros hopes to step up his course design work and his BBC commentaries, while Schofield will stay on as a consultant for the European Tour "as long as the guys want me". Despite a passion for cricket - visiting Schofield's office at Wentworth could well mean meeting the Bedser twins, his great friends - he is unlikely to be interested when Tim Lamb's job at the ECB becomes vacant. "Golf is my life," said Schofield. So, too, with Seve.