In 1984 I convinced my mother that we should drive six hours to watch Seve Ballesteros(below) hit golf balls for 30 minutes. It was the final practice day for the U.S. Open, and after appearing at a junior clinic in Catskill, N.Y., I told Mom that instead of heading home to Saratoga Springs, we should continue south to Winged Foot because I had to see my hero hit balls. A few hours later I pulled my Dodge Omni with 120,000 miles on it onto the grounds and talked my way into a parking lot beside the driving range.
There he was. I stood at the rope line soaking in all I could before a thunderstorm chased everyone away. I was struck by the easy way he stood over a golf ball—I was later told that his right arm was an inch longer than his left so he was born to look in perfect balance—but more so by the aura, the graceful flare, that came off him. He never hit the same shot twice that afternoon, and other players frequently stopped to watch the artist work. He inspired me for that entire summer, and I went on to be low amateur at the U.S. Women's Open. He changed the way I looked at practice and the challenge of playing shots.
Later on he influenced my Solheim Cup career with his passion, energy, leadership and fight. I cashed in frequent flier miles and hotel points to go to the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill—yes, to root for the Americans but also to follow Seve in what I thought might be his finale. His fire and passion were still there even if his skills had begun to deteriorate. When news of his passing came last Saturday, I shed a few tears. Some sad but also a few thankful ones, for Seve and also for my mom.
Dottie Pepper is a 17-year LPGA veteran and an analyst for NBC.