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COMMENTARY : Seve-Deane: Feud Proves to Be a Flop

June 18, 1989|BILL TANTON | The Baltimore Evening Sun

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It gets a little tedious, listening to Seve Ballesteros complain.

Year after year this thing goes on between him and the Professional Golfers' Association, which boils down to Ballesteros vs. Deane Beman, the PGA commissioner.

You go to the Masters, and there's Seve, moaning about the PGA's requirement that foreign players play in 15 tournaments to be members of the tour here.

You come to the Open, and here's the swarthy Spaniard again, moaning.

"Are you on a crusade against Deane Beman?" an Atlanta writer asked Ballesteros at Augusta two years ago.

"Crusade? What is this crusade?" said Seve with a shrug, a technique he uses to perfection, falling back on his broken English when it suits him.

"You ought to know what Crusades are," the Atlanta journalist snapped. "You people started 'em!"

I'm telling you, it can get ugly out here on the golf tour.

This week Ballesteros is back at it, with support from other European players like Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer. They think 12 tournaments in the United States should be enough to qualify them for the PGA Tour.

Ballesteros met with Beman the other day to discuss the situation. Seve walked out in a huff. The next day he was back at Oak Hill, at the U.S. Open, still complaining.

Hey, I like Spanish wines, but not Spanish whines.

The reaction to all this among the PGA Tour players varies dramatically.

Fuzzy Zoeller is a hard-liner.

"It's our tour," said Zoeller, "and they should play by our rules. We're in America. You play by American rules."

But Jack Nicklaus, one of the greatest figures in all of golf, and maybe in all of sports, goes the other way. He's on the side of Ballesteros and the other foreign players.

"It's not very American to rule them out," said Nicklaus. "By doing that, by saying Seve and the others can't come here any time they want, you hurt the spectators. You hurt the sponsors. You hurt the game.

"Where do you draw the line? I think you draw it on who the fellow is and what his record is," Nicklaus said. "If Joe Blow from some country wants to come here and play the tour, you tell him he has to play the required number of events. But if a player like Seve wants to, you let him. He's not going to come here and play 40 tournaments anyway. I don't see why it's such a big issue."

A little background on the 15-tournament requirement:

Five years ago the PGA asked Seve how many events he thought it would be reasonable for him to play. Fifteen? Fine, said Seve.

So Ballesteros did that, one time, and then told the PGA, "Too much."

In truth, 15 tournaments are too many for a foreign player. Nick Faldo points out that with travel time and time to acclimate to new surroundings, the 15 weeks become 22 -- nearly half a year.

The European tour requires its member to play nine tournaments. Jack Nicklaus in his prime never played more than 20 or 22 tournaments a year, which prompted someone to call him "a legend in his spare time."

Like Faldo, Germany's Langer says he has a family now and needs time for that. Spending five or six months a year here is a burden, he says. The guys have a point.

Langer has a solution.

"Maybe it would make sense," Langer said, "to say that a foreign player who has won a major championship (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship) would only have to play 12 tournaments here. That way, you wouldn't have so many players coming here, and those who did would be gate attractions. They would help the tournaments."

Ballesteros, who gave up his PGA Tour membership over this issue in 1986, is not barred from playing here, obviously. He's allowed five PGA tournaments plus the three majors in the United States, eight events in all.

If there were no requirements, Seve might not play in any more than that. In Europe, where the tour now has 38 events, he receives a non-negotiable $125,000 just for showing up at a tournament. His winnings are extra. Sponsors consider Ballesteros' fee a bargain, because his presence gets the event on TV and brings in an extra $250,000.

Langer and Faldo are talking about quitting the PGA if the 15-tourney requirement is not reduced.

"We have not delivered any ultimatums, though," Faldo said.

Anybody who likes golf wants to see Ballesteros in as many PGA events as possible. The man is a great player (he has won more than 70 tournaments, five majors) and he is blessed with all the right intangibles, including handsome looks and a beautiful golf swing.

Some say this could all be worked out if Faldo and Langer met with Beman on their own. When they bring Ballesteros, things sour.

Faldo was asked if he thinks the issue has simply become a personal clash between Seve and Beman.

"That's a tough one," Faldo said. "I hope not."

It's long past time to resolve all this. I'm not sure I can stand more of Ballesteros' persecution complex in 1990.

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