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History of The Open

The Story of 1979


How De Vicenzo's guidance helped Seve secure glory

Seve Ballesteros with the Claret Jug in 1979

Words of wisdom from the Champion Golfer of 1967 proved key to Seve Ballesteros’ first victory at The Open, which was achieved in thrilling fashion at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1979.

Ballesteros showcased his famed powers of recovery to a remarkable extent over Lytham’s closing stretch in The 108th Open, playing the final seven holes in one under par despite being wayward off each and every tee from the 12th onwards.

Seve’s driver had got him into trouble throughout the week, yet he persisted in using his longest club wherever possible as the pressure rose on the final day.

As a succession of drives found trouble, including that famous shot into a temporary car park at the 16th, it may have seemed a foolish strategy.

However, a pre-Championship conversation with Roberto de Vicenzo, who had lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale 12 years earlier, convinced Ballesteros he was right to remain bold – an approach that ultimately paid off handsomely.

Writing in his official autobiography, Seve explained how De Vicenzo had provided him with sage guidance.

“Perhaps his most influential piece of advice was to insist I should hit the ball a long way with the driver: ‘When you’re teeing off, hit it hard, because the farther you hit the ball, the fewer problems you’ll have in the rough – you’ll be closer to the green.’

“On the surface this didn’t seem particularly insightful,” Ballesteros continued, “but its wisdom derived from the fact Roberto had seen what was the best strategy for me.”

Roberto de Vicenzo at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1969

Roberto de Vicenzo at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1969, a decade before Seve's triumph

Although he was still only 22, Seve – a teenage runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 1976 - had already shown he boasted rare levels of creativity, skill and audacity.

As a result, even if he did miss off the tee, he was arguably more capable than anyone of rescuing the situation, particularly if he was within 100 yards of the green.

De Vicenzo’s theory therefore made perfect sense to the Spaniard, who would go on to say: “I kept to Roberto’s advice, so my apparently haphazard game at Lytham flowed from a perfectly planned strategy.”

Ballesteros’ extraordinary birdie on the 16th – where he received a free drop from under a car and duly pitched to around 20 feet before holing out for birdie – represented the undoubted highlight of his thrilling charge to victory.

Yet there were several other magnificent escapes over the closing holes, as he finished with a one-under aggregate to beat Ben Crenshaw and Jack Nicklaus by three.

Ballesteros got up and down at the par-3 12th after fanning his tee shot right, then holed a putt from off the green at the next for an unlikely birdie that he celebrated by charging towards the hole with his fists raised.

He was unable to avoid a bogey at the 14th, but another potential crisis was successfully averted on the 15th, where he drove way left, only to save par through a flamboyant stroke from the rough and a glorious chip that left a tap-in.

After the drama at 16, Ballesteros almost holed out from a greenside bunker at the penultimate hole before showing immense nerve to confidently roll in the resulting 10-footer.

And there was still time for more Ballesteros magic at the 18th. On this occasion his drive was pulled a considerable distance to the left, but he nevertheless made it to the fringe of the green with his second and then produced a wonderful putt from long range to secure yet another unconventional par.

Seve Ballesteros celebrates winning The Open in 1979

Ballesteros celebrates after sealing his first Open triumph

Few Open Championships have been won in such adventurous fashion and victory justified Seve’s faith in the strategy recommended by De Vicenzo.

Ballesteros had become the first Open winner from mainland Europe since Arnaud Massy in 1907 and, thrillingly, he was only just getting started.

This article is part of a series of content celebrating Seve Ballesteros' life and career, 10 years on from his passing. Click here to read more feature content on Seve.

More on Seve Ballesteros at The Open