108th Open - Royal Lytham & St Annes 1979
Ballesteros wins his first Open
Three years after finishing runner-up as dashing 19-year-old at Birkdale, Seve Ballesteros won the first of three Open titles, and of a pair of victories at Royal Lytham & St Annes, in 1979. He defied those who thought he was too wild to win a Major. His big-hitting could be wayward but his magical short game was more than capable of getting him out of his frequent scrapes. His victory was the start of a new era for the game. In the year that continental Europeans joined the Ryder Cup, the Spaniard became the first player from mainland Europe to win The Open since Arnaud Massy in 1907. At 22, Ballesteros was the youngest Champion since Willie Auchterlonie in 1893.
It was the veteran Champion Robert de Vicenzo who advised that the rough at Lytham was less thick the closer to the green you got. Ballesteros had his game plan and, infamously, at the 16th hole in the final round launched a huge drive that found an overflow car park to the right of the fairway. Ballesteros got a free drop, pitched onto the green and holed a 20-foot putt for a birdie. The strategy was successful – he won by three strokes from Jack Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw, who had a double bogey at the 17th – yet the Spaniard was often dismissed as the “car park” Champion.
His 65 on the second day was extraordinary for a sequence of four birdies in the last five holes, Lytham’s feared finishing stretch. He played the final 36 holes with Hale Irwin, who had just won his second US Open and was one of the straightest hitters in the game. However, the American would wilt alongside the frenzied whirlwind that was Ballesteros, who at the end was mobbed by his three ecstatic brothers on the 18th green.