Javier Ballesteros opens up on his first-ever visit to St Andrews as memories of dad Seve flood back

Hardly a soul was there to see it, which was a pity. Just after 9am on a decent autumn morning in St Andrews, Javier Ballesteros stepped onto the hallowed turf of the Old Course and walked over to a special spot on the 18th green.

Javier Ballesteros during a practice round on the Old Course at St Andrews ahead of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Picture: David Cannon/Getty Images.

Incredibly paying his first visit to the Home of Golf, the 31-year-old was finally able to feel as though he was reliving one of golf’s most memorable moments, created, of course, by his dad, Seve.

Providing the logo that Javier now wears proudly on his clothing and also a wristband, a smiling Seve, standing on the exact same spot in 1984, punched the air in delight several times after holing a putt to become Open champion.

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The Spaniard, of course, had claimed the Claret Jug for the first time in 1979 at Royal Lytham and won the game’s oldest major again at the Lancashire venue in 1988, but the middle of his wins in the event is one of golf’s iconic moments.

“It was truly special,” said Javier as he talked exclusively to The Scotsman during a practice round for this week’s 20th Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. “This is my first time in St Andrews. It’s really incredible that I have never been here before. But there’s always a first time for everything and it’s really special.

“Yeah, there is probably not a more special place in the world for me than here. For me and obviously for my dad, The Open is the greatest tournament in the world. I think links courses are the best courses in the world and especially this one here at St Andrews.

“The UK public are amazing when it comes to golf and he always said it was the best moment of his career. It must have been so special for him. Winning The Open at St Andrews on the last putt was perfect.”

Why has it taken him until now to make it to the town synonymous with his father? “I don’t really have an explanation,” he admitted, shrugging his shoulders. “I’ve been to other Open venues with my dad. I caddied for him at Hoylake in 2006. I’ve been to Royal Troon, to Lytham, where I have played and that was obviously special as that’s where he won his first Open.

Javier Ballesteros and Scotsman golf correspondent Martin Dempster chat on the Old Course. Picture: David Cannon/Getty Images.

“Every time I go to a course where he has played or made great shots is special, but I would say St Andrews is a little bit more. I mean, it’s the Home of Golf.”

Grateful to Alfred Dunhill and, in particular, the event’s driving force, Johann Rupert, for the opportunity, Javier’s appearance in the $5.5 million event, which also takes place at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, is coinciding with a celebratory VIP screening of a new film, Seve - Artist, Fighter, Legend, at the New Picture House Cinema in St Andrews on Wednesday night.

“We think in the family that finally a great film or documentary has been made about my dad,” said Javier, who is being accompanied this week by his mum, Carmen, and has his sister, also Carmen, caddying for him in the biggest event so far in his professional career.

“He truly deserves it and I really encourage people to watch it because I really think it is spectacular. We are very thankful to the R&A for coming up with the idea and David White, the guy who has done the documentary.

Javier Ballesteros and sister Carmen, who is caddying for him this week. Picture: David Cannon/Getty Images.

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“We watched it together as a family. We think it is great and we are really happy about it. It was a little bit tough. I was crying from the first minute, but it was really fantastic. We didn’t know what to expect because we left him to do it, but he did a fantastic job.”

Ballesteros was chatting in between shots on the Old Course and flew his approach over the back of the second green. “I got confused. It was 134 plus 20 so 154 and I was thinking of 164,” he said, flashing the same smile that, in addition to his golfing genius, made Seve such a popular figure with galleries around the world.

“It’s really nice,” admitted Javier of the warmth that continues to be shown towards his dad, who died just over 10 years ago at the age of 54 from complications of a cancerous brain tumour.

Javier Ballesteros shelters under a Seve umbrella on the Old Course. Picture: David Cannon/Getty Images.

“Every time you hear players talk about the influence of my dad on the European Tour makes the family really proud. I think when he got on the scene of world golf, most of the big events were played in America and all of the players were from over there.

“I think my dad changed that a little bit and obviously in ‘79, when Continental European players were allowed to play in the Ryder Cup, that was a big change and made the Ryder Cup more interesting.”

Referring to Europe losing the 43rd edition at Whistling Straits on Sunday, he added with a definite glint in his eyes: “I looked yesterday and, with this win, the US are still losing 7-9 since ‘79.”

Seven years into his own professional career, Javier is still trying to make headway on the third-tier Alps Tour. “I haven’t had any success and my career hasn’t been good so far,” he said in a tone of disappointment.

“But I’m a very hard worker because I saw it at home. I remember when I was 10 years old or something like that, before going to school I used to wake up with my dad at 6am to go to the gym. Probably my dad’s career was over, but he was still working very hard to try and get back.

“I have never tried to be my dad because I think you have to be yourself and he was unique. I mean, I think it would be pretty wrong for me to try to be him. It’s very easy to think you want to be like Seve or Tiger, but you can’t be them. They are unique and special. I’m still working hard and we’ll see.”

Success or no success, Javier is doing his dad proud as a fine human being and that pride is reciprocated by the image literally close to his heart this week.

“I don’t think there is a better logo in golf, that’s for sure and I’ve got it almost everywhere,” he said with another huge smile. “Here on my wristband, here on my chest. It is very nice.”

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