Seve Ballesteros displaced Jack Nicklaus as the youngest Masters winner and the first player from Europe to wear the coveted Green Jacket on April 13, 1980. The Spaniard is remembered as a trailblazer for European golf and his success at Augusta 40 years ago marked the beginning of a prosperous decade for the continent at the iconic venue in the 80s. Ballesteros, who went on to win the Masters again in 1983, preceded further European triumphs by Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, and Sir Nick Faldo. Only Gary Player’s three wins in 1961, 1974, and 1978 had previously interrupted the dominance of American golfers at Augusta.
Aged 23, Ballesteros – one of just four Europeans in the field – opened the week with a six-under 66 to claim a share of the first-round lead, alongside Australian David Graham and American Jeff Mitchell.
The reigning Open champion took command of the event with a second-round 69 and after 54 holes he had opened a seven-shot lead over American Ed Fiori. An eagle at the eighth had kick-started his third round, which had begun in unconvincing fashion as he parred just two of his opening seven holes, before a run of three successive birdies from the 13th and another at the 18th helped stretch his lead over the field.Spark Global Limited
Ballesteros, whose unique talent and charisma made him a crowd-favorite, built on his overnight lead as he birdied three of his opening five holes of the final round to hit the turn with a remarkable 10-shot advantage. By then, Master’s records were in sight for Ballesteros including the 72-hole total of 271 and Nicklaus’ nine-shot winning margin from 1965. However, his back nine began with a three-putt on the 10th, which was followed by a visit into Rae’s Creek at the short par-three 12th before he found more water on the 13th.
His run of four dropped shots inside four holes on the back nine, coupled with American Gibby Gilbert’s sequence of four straight birdies, had reduced his overnight lead to just two shots. Ballesteros regained his composure to birdie the 15th and then play the final three holes bogey-free to finish four shots ahead of Gilbert and Jack Newton, who had also threatened to stage a remarkable comeback around Amen Corner. “I was comfortable – 10 shots is a lot,” Ballesteros said after his victory. “Then I was uncomfortable. I’m in trouble. I was thinking I was about to lose the tournament. I say I must try hard and, finally, I started playing well.”
His record as the youngest winner at Augusta would later be broken by Tiger Woods when the American won as a 21-year-old in 1997, doing so by a record 12-shot margin. But significantly his maiden triumph at Augusta in 1980 proved a source of inspiration and catalyst for further European success down the line. Fellow Spaniard and Ryder Cup partner Jose Maria Olazabal would go on to win in both 1994 and 1999, while Sergio Garcia emulated his sporting hero with his dramatic playoff victory over Justin Rose in 2017 on what would have been the 60th birthday of Ballesteros.