Not many golfers have fascinated me, none like Ballesteros. One Thursday afternoon during a Buick Classic sometime in the late 80s, I was hanging in the card room of the Westchester Country Club trying to see if I could put together a story for Golf Illustrated when he walked in.

At the time, he wasn't very popular on the PGA Tour -- I didn't see him talking to many American golfers -- though back then at least, tour golfers weren't very backslappy, period. Better yet, few American golf writers were interested in him, so I didn't have to fight a crowd as he stood in the lounge, talking to one of the old Times beat guys.
His physical presence stopped you. He stood straight, a compact six foot, but with big shoulders and a chest that he seemed to have built up to hold up his dark, handsome visage. More from fear than discretion, I politely asked the question behind the little feature I was working on, and he warmed to it right away -- it felt like he was letting me bask in his magnificence. But he had a personable quality that diluted his vanity. He was a blazing egoist, but not blinded by his own glory. He was fully invested in the real world. If you could get past the barbed wire of arrogance on his face, underneath was a brilliant intelligence: Peter Jacobsen used to would make fun of that Montelbanian accent but it was startling how good his English was -- he was could drop some far-out idiom on you, something he must have seen on a late movie in a hotel room at 3 in the morning.
I had asked him about emotions, a subject he warmed to immediately, and in three or four sentences gave me everything I needed, and so convincingly I was practically dizzy -- not to mention he'd made my day.
After that, I doubt he recognized me but he always was pleasant every time I approached him. I remember watching him some years later at the practice range at Hartford with Mac O'Grady, looking frustrated while O'Grady tweaked his swing in front of fifty fascinated onlookers -- a truly odd couple, the zany malcontent with the misunderstood genius, a weird Rat Pack golf comedy team: "Ladies and Gentlemen, Beaman's Bums!" As usual he wore his heart not just on his sleeve, but, broken, on his face as well, as he made one three-wood swing after another. He looked unhappy and despairing as Mac, wearing orange-tinted aviators and circling him like a giant Zen fly, touched him lightly on the shoulder and elbow, buzzing in his ear to his pupil's patent annoyance.
Surely one reason he's been thought of as the Arnold Palmer of European golf is the similar effect both had on the locals in Britain. An American had won eight of the nine previous British Opens before he grabbed his first in 1979: if a warlike character eventually came to the Ryder Cup, maybe it was the arrival on British shores of a savior for Continental golf that started it. Ballesteros could ride the love of a crowd like very few others, and every European golfer since then knows how much they owe him.
Which leads to the conclusion that it should be as plain on the nose on your face -- though it hasn't been to many American Ryder Cup captains -- that at some point in his career, Seve recognized something in a European spirit that could unite and galvanize the continent. This, coupled with his understanding of our vulnerabilities, was his ace in the hole, and as his athletic prowess began to fade, he played it like a clever lawyer, beating up on the self-righteous D.A. time and again. It makes you wonder if we can blame Deane Beaman for pissing him off in the first place.
He awakened the U.S. not just to European golf, but to Europe itself. Only now that he's passed do we realize what a glorious impact he had not just on golf, but in his phenomenal, larger-than-not-just-golf-but-life-itself way, on the world at large. The formation of the European Union might owe as much to him as to anyone else -- everything about the EU, for better or worse, suggests that the triumph of a bootstrap-pulling young Spaniard in a snooty British game helped inspire the business elite and bureaucratic higherups to pull together and beat the Yanks at their own numbers game. Unfortunately, at this point, maybe it's best for us to think of the dream of a united Europe it as a footnote to but a footnote to his brilliant career and life.
We will miss you, Seve.