The trouble with trying to determine a Mount Rushmore of anything is finding a mountain large enough for all the heads you need to sculpt.
Gutzon Borglum and son Lincoln, the sculptors, determined Mount Rushmore, the famous national memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota, was just the right size to honor four presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt – and no more.
Hindsight being 20/20, of course, the Borglums needed a bigger mountain just as Quint needed a bigger boat when he tried to bite off more than “Jaws” would eventually chew.
Years from now, historians will argue the Borglums’ foursome could have easily been an eightsome. But the lava flows that formed Mount Rushmore cooled a long, long, long, long time ago and left no future room for an additional head count.
I’ve always felt a Mount Rushmore of anything had one big stipulation – it was limited to four.
No expansion for you!
And, golf nuts, you get no relief from that boulder Tiger Woods had spectators move years ago.
Yep, trying to come up with Mount Rushmore’s Fore!-some won’t be easy, but if you give me a mulligan or two or three, I’ll give it my best shots.
The first two busts on my Mount Rushmore are easy – Jack Nicklaus and Woods. They won 18 and 14 professional majors, respectively. No question that Nicklaus is the greatest golfer of all time. He’s the greatest athlete I’ve ever covered – period. Meanwhile, the 41-year-old Woods has withdrawn once again from the Masters, and the question is now not whether he’ll ever pass the Golden Bear but rather if he’ll ever play again.
My last two spots are a little more difficult to fill. For one of them, my inclination is to go with the late Arnold Palmer, who won seven major titles, including four Masters, and whose good looks and go-for-broke playing style made the game popular among the masses not only here in the United States but around the world. He was our “King.”
The final spot? I’m left a bag full of players with some very impressive resumes. It’s your basic 13-for-1 playoff, which if played out on a golf course would probably take you hours to conclude.
Among the unlucky 13 are Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur to play the game, the winner of the 1930 calendar Grand Slam – the British Amateur, the British Open, the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in that order – and the founder of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters, and Walter Hagen, who won 11 majors, five of them PGA Championships when they were conducted at match play, but not a Masters. And what about Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Gary Player, all of whom won the four professional majors as did Nicklaus and Woods, who once had all four in his possession but did not win them in succession as Jones did.
My choice for No. 4 is not among them. Keeping in mind, of course, that I’ve been rowing upstream without paddles for years and that my straight-jacket size is a 44 Long, you’ll probably want to fit me with a good couch and have Dr. Frasier Crane taking notes as Ivor Robson announces my selection:
“On the tee from Spain … Severiano Ballesteros.”
Yes, Seve Ballesteros, who chased golf balls with his brothers on a beach in his beloved village of Pedreña, near the Bay of Biscay in northern Spain. He used a 3-iron given to him by his brother Manuel.
His mother’s brother Ramon Sota was a European professional golfer of note who played in the 1965 Masters won by Nicklaus. Seve’s older brothers Vicente and Baldomero often caddied for him after he turned professional at age 16.
Seve was 19 when he shared or led the first three rounds of the 1976 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale before finishing second with Nicklaus behind champion Johnny Miller.
In 1979, Seve won the first of his three Open championships at Royal Lytham & St Annes by three strokes over Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw, famously making birdie from a “car park” at No. 16. “I play good from the rough – I have plenty of practice,” joked the golfer known as “The Matador” for the way he toyed with a golf course and the way he handled the media, which he often felt didn’t give him the respect he deserved.
No one had more imagination after his golf ball found some interesting and unique places to settle than Seve, who would play shots left-handed or off his knees through openings maybe just a little bigger than the Slazenger he was hitting. It didn’t matter if Seve pulled the shot off or not but it did matter to him if the media was overly critical of his decision-making. “You guys make bogeys, too,” he once told his print, radio and TV critics.
Ballesteros was the youngest to win the Open title since Willie Auchterlonie in 1893, and the following spring he became the youngest to win at Augusta National – at age 23 and four days. He led from start to finish and won by four strokes with his 13-under 275 total and became the first European to win the green jacket.
Seve would go on to win two more Opens – in 1984 at St. Andrews “the happiest moment of my whole sporting life” and in 1988 again at Royal Lytham and St Annes – and there was another Masters title in 1983 when his closing 69 left him at 8-under 280 and four strokes ahead of Crenshaw and Tom Kite.
During that decade of the 1980s, there was none better on the grounds at Augusta National – Ballesteros had seven Top-10 finishes – and in the press room than “The Matador.”
Though we never got to know each other personally, I sensed that Seve found me to be a kindred spirit. In 1988 after he opened with 73, I asked Seve how he four-putted the par-3 16th hole from 35 feet. Anyone else, perhaps, might have received a glassy stare, but Seve knew I wanted him to have some fun with the answer, which he did.
“I hit the first putt three feet past, missed hole, missed hole again and then I make it,” he said. The pressroom erupted with laughter and soon, too, so did Seve. His reply has since been edited to “Well, I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.”
So I wasn’t afraid to ask Seve anything. Following his pre-tournament interview in 1989, I inquired if he had tried the meal of haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) prepared for the Champions Dinner at the request of defender Sandy Lyle of Scotland, who also showed up wearing a Tartan kilt beneath his green jacket.
“It was good – it was free,” Seve joked of the haggis, which is ground-up sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, salt and stock that is then encased in a sheep’s stomach and boiled. “What I really tried to find out was what he (Lyle) had underneath (his kilt).”
Ballesteros, who would win 91 times around the world, soon became European golf’s standard bearer in the biennial Ryder Cup Matches with the United States. In eight Ryder Cups as a player, Ballesteros earned 22.5 points in 37 matches, including 12 points in 15 matches with fellow countryman Jose Maria Olazabal. Europe won the Ryder Cup four times when he was a player and another time when he was captain of the team in 1997 when the matches were held at Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande, Spain.
Following his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, Seve’s playing career went into steep decline because of various health issues. In late 2008, he had brain surgery for a malignant brain tumor. Despite its removal and many rounds of chemotherapy, he died on May 6, 2011 with his family at his bedside in his native Pedreña.
“The way Arnie brought golf to the masses, Seve brought it to us,” Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy told Golf Digest’s Tom Callahan for the April 2017 issue. “Seve was our Arnie.”
Two Kings, a Bear and a Tiger – My Golf Mount Rushmore.