With a swashbuckling style that has captivated golf fans everywhere, Seve Ballesteros has spent his career showing the world that the U.S. golf bully can be had. Some of the Spaniard's most compelling moments have come in the homeland of those he measures his game against—two Masters championships, for example, and a leading role on the European team that beat the U.S. in the Ryder Cup last fall. Indeed, where golf is concerned, Ballesteros and America are good for each other.
No wonder then that the gallery around the 18th green at the Riviera Country Club seemed so let down and disoriented on Friday when Ballesteros ended a rare two-week stay on the PGA Tour by missing the cut at the Los Angeles Open, which was won by Chip Beck with a 72-hole total of 267,17 under par. The victory, Beck's first in 10 years on the Tour, was worth $135,000.
A week earlier, at San Diego, Ballesteros had finished 18th. That means the man acknowledged to be the most exciting golfer in the world, who has played in a mere 14 U.S. tournaments since the end of 1985, will make only six more appearances in the U.S. this year.
"As far as just watching him hit shots, everybody out here misses Seve," said Jay Haas, who shot 65-68 playing head-to-head with Ballesteros at Riviera, and finished tied for sixth. "I know I get jacked up when I get a chance to play with him."
So did the Riviera galleries, even as Ballesteros labored. "He has an aura and charisma about him that's so powerful," said former Chicago Cub Ernie Banks, Ballesteros's partner in the pro-am. "I never played in the World Series, but playing with Seve made me feel like I had. We've got to get him out here more often."
It won't happen, at least not this year. Under a PGA Tour regulation that went into effect in 1984, a member of a foreign tour must compete in at least 15 events a year to gain full Tour status. Ballesteros, who is a member of the European Tour, met the standard in 1984 but became convinced that such a heavy U.S. schedule, combined with commitments in Europe and Japan that bring rich appearance fees, was leading to burnout. The next year he played in only nine events, leading commissioner Deane Beman to suspend him for 1986.
Last year Ballesteros received five sponsor's exemptions for Tour events and invitations to the three majors in the U.S. Although he earned an impressive $305,058 (32nd on the money list) in those eight tournaments, Ballesteros failed to win in the U.S. He lost a Masters playoff with Greg Norman and eventual winner Larry Mize, lost a playoff to J.C. Snead at the Westchester Classic, tied for second at Doral, finished third in the U.S. Open and had the lead in the final round of the PGA before slipping to 10th place.
"It was almost a great year," says Ballesteros. "But I missed three or four important putts that changed everything." Would they have had a better chance of going in if he had had more preparation in the U.S.? "I hope not," he says.
Ballesteros says he would be willing to play in 12 Tour events. But the rule was already changed once to accommodate him, and the Tour's policy board is reluctant to modify it again. "You can't put one player above the game," says Gary McCord, a CBS broadcaster and part-time pro who was on the policy board that set the 15-tournament minimum. "Even though the Tour needs the magnetism Seve brings so bad that it's unbelievable, we can't devalue the privilege of playing for $32 million by changing a good rule."
Others, notably Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, believe Ballesteros should be allowed to play whenever sponsors want him. "I mean," says Nicklaus, "have you ever heard of Seve hurting a tournament?"