Faldo, Norman and Price eliminated similar downswing moves through extended work with instructors. Ballesteros, in contrast, has always had trouble staying with one teacher. His longest such association was with Mac O'Grady, from the mid-'80s until 1994. But since the two fell out after last year's Masters, Ballesteros has once again been on his own. By nature both impatient and distrustful of mechanics, Ballesteros is also suggestible, a blend that has led him to work sporadically and without continuity with many instructors. That has been a recipe for confusion: Listen to many, borrow liberally, but closely follow no one.
"Patience is not my strongest point," he says. "I'm very much for getting things quickly." Adds Joe Collet, who was Ballesteros's manager for 15 years, "If Seve has one defect, it is that he overweights the short-term solution. He always wants a panacea, a quick fix. That has hurt him with building his game."
Ballesteros is attempting to return to the natural action he developed as a boy hitting rocks with a three-iron on the beaches of Pedrena. It means he will be trying to swing the way he did when he was playing his best, in the early '80s, using a longer, more upright backswing in the hope of recapturing a natural groove. "The game used to be very simple for me," says Ballesteros. "After a round I would never worry about the game, never think about it. Lately, all I do is think about the game. I need to go back to what is natural and stop worrying." That comes as heartening news to those who have an understanding of Ballesteros's style of play.
"Seve looks like he has lost the freedom in his swing and gotten caught up in trying to put himself in positions," says Crenshaw. "He can't forget that his feel, his instinct, is his gift. For him to play the way he can play, he has to trust that gift."
"It's going to take time," Ballesteros said recently while practicing. "The important thing is to start playing the game again. If I do that, I will win trophies. I'm going to fight for it." And if he loses the fight? "You know, there are worse things in life than just playing bad golf," he said. "This is nothing. Nothing. We all suffer one way or another, but other people suffer more than this. I have had a wonderful career. I want it to continue."
With that, he returned to a two-hour session on the range during which he hit no iron longer than a six. Periodically he would ask his caddie, Martin Gray, if his backswing was "bigger, higher," but mostly he was silent. When his friend and fellow player Eduardo Romero stopped to watch, Ballesteros hit several good shots to Romero's approving nods. Without looking up, Ballesteros only said, "Poco a poco."
Little by little is a long road, but it is one that Ballesteros may have finally accepted. If his path is right, few doubt he has the resolve to return to the highest levels of the game. "When it comes to competition, Seve burns like a nuclear reactor," says O'Grady. "But he became unhappy because he started letting winning majors mean everything. He got so disappointed that he stopped loving the game. He has to turn that reactor loose on the process of becoming a great golfer again. If he does, there's no doubt he can play as well as Norman. In fact, in a street fight, I'd take Seve."
Gary McCord is more concise. "Seve has too much heart to be finished," he says. "You can't kill that heart. He'll be back." It probably won't be this week. He's training his sights on the British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. The last two times the championship was held there, Ballesteros won.
Several years ago, while in the throes of another slump, Ballesteros was asked the secret of golf. "To forget," he said. If he emerges triumphant from this slide, perhaps it will be because he learned that the secret isn't to forget, but to remember.