The first to show
the way were the Madrid-born Miguel brothers, Angel and Sebastian. Angel, the
elder, had his playing career abbreviated by stomach ulcers caused by the
inferior diet of his early life. But before he was forced into semi-retirement,
he won three tournaments in Britain between 1964 and 1966, the first Spaniard
ever to accomplish this feat. Angel's greatest achievement, though, was winning
low pro in the 1958 World Cup in Mexico City.
Miguel, Sebastian, was Angel's partner on the Spanish team that placed second
in Mexico City, and in 1963 Sebastian and Ramon Sota, an uncle of the
Ballesteros brothers, were World Cup runners-up to Arnold Palmer and Jack
Nicklaus in Paris. Sota and Angel Miguel were also second to Gary Player and
Harold Henning of South Africa in Madrid in 1965.
Between them, the
Miguels won five Spanish Opens from 1954 to 1967, and Sota, who was to succeed
them as the leading Spaniard, won the title in 1963. The "Bull of
Santander," as Sota was known, also won eight open championships in Europe
between 1963 and 1971 and took the Brazilian Open in 1965.
Sota and the
Miguel brothers formed the backbone of Spanish professional golf during its
humble beginnings and were succeeded in time by Gallardo and Madrid-born
Valentin Barrios. But the Spaniards were still regarded as poor relations by
the British players and, more sinisterly, the lesser-known Spaniards were
branded by one prominent British Ryder Cup player as "a bunch of cheats,
experts with the leather mashie [improving the lie with footwear in the rough]
and carrying golf balls, all with the same number, to push down the trouser leg
through the hole in the pocket when the five minutes allowed to search for a
lost ball were nearly up, and no ball had been found."
A British PGA
field official admitted that when he assumed his job he was warned to watch for
such shenanigans from "the continentals." To this day Europeans,
particularly from the same country, are never paired together in British and
continental tournaments if it can be avoided.
But the same
British official also said, "I have found no evidence of cheating by the
Spaniards in several seasons. Of course, there are occasions when translation
of the rules of golf into several different languages causes problems with
their interpretation. I have found that some of the foreign newcomers are not
too familiar with rules in any language. But the Spanish are the best of the
lot, most amenable to discipline and unfailingly polite. They get nothing but
credit from me for their magnificent achievements. I wish we had a few more
like them—willing to get off their backsides and work."
But why the sudden
upsurge in playing standards in a basically backward golfing nation? The
American influence has been of paramount, if indirect, importance. Of more than
40 new golf courses built and opened in Spain in the past decade—13 more are
under construction—the vast majority have been designed and constructed along
American lines. Heavily watered, lush greens encourage golfers to attack the
hole, and the present generation of Spanish professionals is bold and fearless.
Years of hanging around the dirt yards of caddie shacks enabled them to perfect
their chipping ability, and they developed nerve by gambling their meager wages
against each other.
Eight years ago
Johnny de Vicuna, the autocratic president of the Spanish Golf Federation and
PGA, enlisted the help of renowned British teaching professional John Jacobs
for three weeks a year to coach a class that embraced the whole complement of
Spanish professionals. Jacobs concentrated only on giving them all a good grip,
a proper setup and a simple swing, which they in turn could pass on to their
pupils and the caddies at their clubs. And so a uniform teaching and playing
method was evolved. The results speak for themselves, and in the last three
years Jacobs has limited his visits to Spain to a single week.
recently, "Every year there are many new young faces, all solemnly eager to
learn and work. Of course, young Ballesteros is easily the most gifted of the
current crop of winners. He has a good swing now, but a little while back he
had obviously modeled himself too much on Nicklaus. Like Jack, his swing was
too upright, too much up and under with the shoulders, which, as I have told
Jack, causes him at times to rock and block. I shall tell the class this year
that they would do better to copy Tom Watson, who concentrates on getting his
body out of the way and swinging with the arms. Antonio Garrido and Salvador
Balbuena do this very well. Although Manuel Pinero is not so naturally gifted,
he compensates with an absolutely superb short game, and he is striving to
improve all the time. My most fervent hope is that one day I shall get all the
British tournament professionals together for similar sessions."
Down the Spanish
scale, the caddies are schooled and encouraged to play in the early mornings
and late on summer evenings, oftentimes with clubs lent them by members. They
progress through a number of local and regional tournaments until they each
hand in three scorecards of four over par or better. Then, after passing an
examination in the rules of golf, they are allowed to play in national
tournaments, where a percentage of the prize money between 10% and 20%—is
allocated to these aspirantes. After four years, they can take a further
examination to gain cards as assistant professionals. Once they are considered
ready for international competition, the federation and the Ministry of Sport
combine to sponsor them abroad.