Golf365 Challenge Tour Blog: A golfer named Ballesteros

Golf365’s Dave Bowers is writing a series of blogs focusing on what goes into hosting and competing in a Challenge Tour event. Here is his latest offering…

There’s no need to ask anybody to point out Seve Ballesteros’ son, Javier, in the throng of people in the clubhouse at Golf International Pont Royal, ahead of the Hopps Open de Provence pro-am competition.

There’s a definite family resemblance; the hair is similar and there’s a sparkle in his eye, too. But one feels, like his father, there’s a steely determination behind the sparkle.

Javier has just been presented with a painting, commissioned by the golf club, which shows his father in a design meeting for the course here at Golf International Pont Royal, in Provence – the only Ballesteros design in France.

His father, of course, belongs to that exclusive group of people whose individual skills lifted them above their contemporaries to a level that allows them to be recognised only by their first name: Seve; Jack; Tiger; John, Paul, George and Ringo; Eric and Ernie …

Indeed, so beloved was Seve among golfing fans – particularly in Europe, where his influence helped elevate the Ryder Cup to the event we know today – that, in his absence, the love seems to be passed on to Javier. Everybody wants time with him, including yours truly.

The 28-year-old has never scaled the heights his father did, but that would have been too much for any mere mortal. He is, however, still a decent golfer and his presence here in the Challenge Tour event has just added to the anticipation around these parts.

As the lowest-ranked golfer in tomorrow’s field, it’s somewhat incongruous that he’s the main attraction today … but hey, he’s Javier Ballesteros. And if you’re expecting this to be an expose of how arrogant and aloof he might be owing to his golfing lineage, you’re going to be disappointed. He’s a very affable and approachable young man.

He was only too happy to pose for photographs and handled the requests for interviews with charm and enthusiasm – even if the journalists concerned (me included) all asked the same questions.

He stood patiently while the great and the good from the Tour, host club Pont Royal and the various sponsors addressed the press conference and, when it came to his turn, he spoke in fluent, accented English, and said how proud he was to be invited to play at the only course in France designed by his father.

He just wants to go out and enjoy himself, he explained with a smile, when asked if it was his aim to make the weekend. The romantic in me wants him to win, but, more realistically, a moral victory would be simply walking down 18 on Sunday.

Much to the delight of club officials at Pont Royal, he said he enjoyed playing the course – he’s been here since Monday and has played twice before the pro-am; but nobody was really expecting him to criticise the design …

And better and more knowledgeable golfers than I reckon there’ll be few complaints from the pros when the Hopps Open de Provence starts for real tomorrow. For many of them the par fours seem
to be driver, wedge in, birdie opportunity. If your putter’s not on fire, you won’t be podium-bound.

It will make for an interesting spectacle, not least on a couple of the par-threes and the eighth, where the pros are looking to cut off the dogleg completely by firing across a chasm. Looks great when it happens, but hackers like me are left to stifle a smile if, and when, the occasional ball is duffed.

Pont Royal offers some wonderful Provencal vistas on the way round and although short by the standards of modern courses – it dates from 1992 – it’s a perfectly, enjoyable challenge, for any visiting golfer staying at either of the on-site hotels or in the Pierre et Vacances residences on the domaine.

Quite a few of the members here have been with the club for 15 or more years, and they were out in force today, many of them sporting the rather natty Hopps Open de Provence-branded apparel they have been gifted after volunteering to act as a marshal in the event.

Each fourball today appeared to have at least one blue and orange shirt within it and, over the next four days, they will become a familiar sight.

What’s also become a familiar sight this season on the Challenge Tour, is the presence of Dane Joachim B Hansen at the top of the rankings. He looked determined and in ‘the groove’ today, but
the other three members of his fourball enjoyed his company, which suggests he’s also relaxed and ready to extend his lead.

I also witnessed the hugely impressive ball striking of Portuguese hopeful Pedro Figueiredo – currently 15 in the ranking – who rattled in seven birdies as his team won the morning event. He’s confident, relaxed and in a good place mentally – if I was a betting man, I might go each way on him.

The conditions here will test these guys though. For four days the temperature is expected to hit 30 degrees; they will be expected to hit the pool afterwards. That temperature may favour those of a more Mediterranean heritage, familiar with such conditions. So maybe, just maybe, the romantic in me may get his wish.

Dave Bowers

Dave’s previous blogs:

Even preparation is a Royal Challenge
All roads are leading to Pont Royal