Ballesteros wins his first Open
Three years after his second place tie with Jack Nicklaus as a fresh-faced 19-year-old at Royal Birkdale, Seve Ballesteros made the breakthrough into the realms of Open champions, leaving Nicklaus three shots in his wake with a roller-coaster final round at Lytham in 1979.
He became the first European to win the championship since Frenchman Arnaud Massy took the title at Royal Liverpool in 1907 and his victory confirmed the emergence of a wealth of European talent.
It was later that same year that, for the first time, players from Europe joined those from Great Britain and Ireland in the Ryder Cup team to face America.
Ironically, the young Ballesteros was unfairly labelled the “car park champion” after a bout of wayward driving in the Lytham championship. During the final round he used his driver nine times and hit only one fairway.
The pivotal moment came when he fired his ball into a temporary car park to the right of the 16th fairway. After a free drop he hit a fine recovery to the edge of the green and calmly rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt. The derogatory label was unjust, but the Seve legend was born. His cavalier attitude and magical short game has enlivened a career embracing 70 world-wide victories, including three Open and two Masters titles.
As Ballesteros compiled rounds of 73-65-75-70 for a 283 aggregate at Lytham in 1979, the biggest loser was Hale Irwin, fresh from his second US Open victory. He opened with two immaculate rounds of 68 and was two ahead of Ballesteros as they were paired in the final group on the last day. But he appeared mesmerised by the 22-year-old Spaniard’s unorthodox progress and slumped to a 78 and sixth place.