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'My father told me many times to play as naturally as you can'

IT WAS one of those infuriating days at the Amateur Championship when Mother Nature teased and tormented and everyone ended up twiddling their thumbs into calloused stumps.

Javier Ballesteros says his strongest aspect is his short game. Picture: David Cannon/Getty Images
Javier Ballesteros says his strongest aspect is his short game. Picture: David Cannon/Getty Images

Royal Portrush and nearby Portstewart, the co-hosts for the strokeplay qualifying stages of the unpaid game's flagship event, were both shrouded in fog. The pesky stuff rolled in and rolled out. The players went out and were called back in. With 288 increasingly flustered competitors, it was more like a bewildering golfing version of the Hokey Cokey.

There was, quite literally, not a lot to see. On a thinly-populated driving range at Portstewart, Javier Ballesteros, the son of the late, great Seve, battered away at a bucket of balls. Through the enveloping mist, it remained an instantly recognisable, alluringly familiar vision and one which evoked cherished images ofa glorious past.

"When I saw Javier, I saw Seve," were the words of another celebrated Spaniard, Jose Maria Olazabal, when he partnered the eldest son of European golf's most swashbuckling talisman during a round in the build up to January's Dubai Desert Classic. The small gathering of curious locals who observed Master Ballesteros quietly working his way through the bag yesterday would certainly have echoed Olazabal's sentiments. The stance, that flashing smile; Javier is his faither's son all right.

On the course, he has been known to visit those various points of the compass and the uncharted territory that his dad used to explore in carefree abandon during his captivating pomp.

The miraculous recovery from the apparently impenetrable wreckage of the wayward tee-shot is in the 23-year-old's genes although he couldn't quite salvage something special from a particularly torrid opening round at Portrush on Monday. "I wasn't practising well in the days before to be honest and it didn't really surprise me that I didn't play very well either," sighed Ballesteros, as he reflected on a turbulent 81. "You know this game: sometimes you play well; sometimes you don't."

A law student at university in Madrid, Ballesteros is making his first tentative steps on the international amateur circuit and harbours ambitions of a professional career. "I hope my future is in golf," he said. Wherever he goes, the spirit of his father lives on.

Last month he made his debut in the Lytham Trophy over the storied Lancashire links where Seve captured two of his three Open Championship titles. "I got a very good reception at Lytham, because of my dad; the people were very nice," added the youngster.

Following in the footsteps of a sporting icon is never easy but, for the softly spoken Javier, there is no overwhelming burden of expectation. His father's flamboyant sense of adventure, his magnetic charisma and his unwavering passion endeared him to millions. In return, he was showered with an adulation and an affection that continues to stir the emotions of those who hold golf dearly. Next week, the film Seve, a docu-drama focusing on his formative years, will be released in cinemas.

"Is it difficult for me to play with the attention? No," reflected Javier. "I do get a lot of attention but more so over here in Britain than at home. It is just nice for me to see how much people loved my father. People may expect more things from me. I don't know what expectations they have of me but I never get nervous or anything like that. I just play golf, enjoy it and try my best.

"Probably the best advice my father gave me was simple. He told me many, many times to just play as naturally as you can. He never put any pressure on me, he just always told me that things go well if you work hard and practise."

Given the groan-inducing length of the delay yesterday there was plenty of time to put in the graft. "The best part of my game is the short game," said this chip off the old block with a smile. "We would always go to the bunker and around the green and hit many balls. I'm not quite as good as dad was just yet."

Ballesteros did get out on the Portstewart links for a spell but play was eventually halted for the day at tea-time as the fog, like a silent assassin, continued to wreak havoc on proceedings; or the lack of them. At Portrush, meanwhile, there was a delay of more than eight hours and, while the players were back in position to resume on three different occasions, they were swiftly hauled off again.

The hard-pressed officials must have felt like flinging themselves off the Giant's Causeway in despair as the logistical hassles mounted.

"We have room for manoeuvre with the matchplay stage and can hopefully make up for lost ground but the priority just now is to get everyone through 36 holes," said Euan Mordaunt, the championship director. "We have been in touch with the Met Office and they said the fog is to keep coming."

The Amateur Championship may need to pull off a miraculous, Seve-style recovery to catch up at this rate.

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