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Seve Ballesteros: Spain's ultimate matador

Story highlights

  • New film 'Seve' charts the career of Spain's legendary golfer Severiano Ballesteros
  • Ballesteros won over 90 tournaments including five major championships
  • Spaniard was famous for his charismatic, flamboyant style on the course
  • Movie uses archive footage mixed with dramatizations of his childhood

He was Spain's ultimate matador and golf's greatest escape artist.

There was seemingly no situation Severiano Ballesteros couldn't extricate himself from, whether his golf ball was rooted behind a tree, in a stream, buried in a hedge or deep in the car park.

And the Spaniard did it all with such infectious brio that his career in the sport genuinely redefined it.

Now, 25 years after Ballesteros secured the first of his five major titles at the British Open, and three years after his death, a film entitled "Seve" charts the career of golf's most charismatic star.

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Taking its cue from a similar sporting opus "Senna," about the life of Brazil's Formula One star, it is produced by Stephen Evans, whose credits include "The Madness of King George"

    While a large portion of the film is made up of stirring archive footage, a thread of dramatized reconstructions chart the story of Ballesteros' formative years as a teenager.

    From a poor farming family, Ballesteros taught himself the game by hitting pebbles on the beach in his home town of Padrena after tying the discarded head of a three iron onto a stick.

    "I think he was certainly the most charismatic of his or any other generation, certainly the first one to stir the young ladies hearts when they were watching," Evans told CNN.

    "But unless you understand Ballesteros' background, you won't understand Ballesteros.

    "Seve had this poor background, he had a good time with his loving parents and was the spoiled little boy in the family, but while there was always food on the table there was no money.

    "He was up against it and you can see that in his personality as he developed. He had this aspect that everyone loved because he had charisma, style, intelligence.

    "And because of learning the game in this famous way -- playing the game for two years with one club -- he'd got to know how to improvise.

    "I think everyone would agree he's one of the game's greatest ever improvisers."

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    Ballesteros was the son of a shepherd determined to gatecrash the exclusive world of golf, and his rags to riches story was ripe for adaption on the big screen.

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    Often he would scale the walls of the exclusive Royal Padrena Golf Club near his home just to hit a few shots in the fading light of day, or under a full moon.

    It was this round-the-clock dedication to golf that indirectly led to his expulsion from school, when snoozing in class as a 12-year-old resulted in a confrontation with one of his teachers.

    By the time Ballesteros hit 13 whispers of his potential prompted a winner-takes-all contest against the region's under-25 champion with a purse of 50,000 pesetas at stake.

    That contest provides one of the centerpieces of the film, but having decided on a cinematic strand to recreate Ballesteros' childhood, Evans now needed someone who could play a young Seve.

    Enter Jose Luis Gutierrez, who not only bears an uncanny resemblance to Ballesteros at that age, but is also a very accomplished golfer from Cantabria, on Spain's northern coast.

    The 16-year-old had, by his own admission, only filled the role of an extra in school plays previously, but was persuaded to audition by the secretary of his golf club due to his resemblance to Seve.

    "I said to her 'Are you kidding?' How am I going to be Seve because I have never been an actor,' Gutierrez explained to CNN.

    "I went to just have fun, after a month I had a golf tournament and I received a phone call that said 'We want you to play the role of Seve.' I remember I started screaming."

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    But was the prospect of playing one of Spain's favorite sporting sons daunting?

    "I thought it was going to be difficult in the way he was such a unique player who showed such great effort, hard work and will power," Gutierrez said.

    "But also, it was easy in the way that he has always been my idol, the master that I always tried to be like."

    Learning all facets of the game with such a primitive tool afforded Ballesteros seemingly miraculous powers of recovery. He'd often hit few fairways during his round but still come in under par.

    Perhaps his most famous escape was en route to his first major win in 1979, at the British Open in Lytham, after which he became dubbed the "car park champion."

    Smashing his drive into a car park off the 16th fairway, a clutch of vehicles had to be moved before Ballesteros took a drop, chipped onto the green and made a birdie, going on to win the Claret Jug by three shots.

    It was the signpost for a career that would be rife with invention and magnetism, as well as the odd ill tempered rant, that injected new vigor into a hitherto conservative sport.

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    Ballesteros became the first European to win the Masters in 1980, adding another green jacket in 1983, and won The British Open twice more after Lytham, in 1984 and 1988.

    Add over 90 career titles into the mix, eight Ryder Cup appearances for Europe as a player and one as captain, and Seve's mantel as a founding father of the modern day European Tour was secured.

    And all of those riches can be traced back to thousands of hours of practice on the beach in Padrena with a makeshift club.

    "I think this is probably the key of his magic because if he could do everything with just a 3 iron I can't imagine how good he could have done with all the clubs," Gutierrez added.

    "I had to practice because it is not the same playing with the irons of today -- they are really small. With a driver especially the difference is really big."

    After retiring in 2007 Ballesteros suffered a brain tumor in 2008 and finally succumbed to cancer in 2011 aged 54.

    "It's relatively recent that Seve died but I think this is the right time for the film -- we still have perspective on him," Evans explained.

    "Seve does seem to cross over, this is the big thing. Whether I'm proven right or wrong we'll see in the next few months but people who don't play golf have heard of Seve."

    And in this age of better access to facilities and media trained stars, does Evans ever think golf will see his like again?

    "I don't think we're going to have another Ballesteros -- he is a one off," he said.

    "None of today's golfers seem to come from poverty -- everyone can join a golf club. No-one is going to have this walking nightmare to get going.

    "Dear old Tiger (Woods) had a psychiatrist when he was four or five; Seve developed his wit by his own wit if you like."

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