Seve isnâ€™t coming.
But that does not change the magnitude of the gesture, nor the impact.
Itâ€™s one thing to be honored through a dinner, but to be honored at the dinner is the greatest tribute. And thatâ€™s exactly what Phil Mickelson will be doing for Seve Ballesteros at the Champions Dinner Tuesday night at Augusta National.
Mickelson, winner of the 2010 Masters, gets to set the menu for the exclusive meal reserved only for those who have earned the green jacket. Heâ€™s using the opportunity to pay homage to his cancer-stricken mentor and friend.
"I just sent him an e-mail saying that if he were able to come and feeling healthy enough to be able to make this tournament, I would love to have the dinner be something that he would like, like a Spanish dish of paella or whatever he thought would be appropriate; I wanted to kind of honor him," Mickelson said at a press conference for the Masters in February.
Many winners use the dinner as a way to celebrate and share their roots. But itâ€™s also a reminder to those present (and to the field) who currently holds the torch. Last year, 2009 winner Angel Cabrera did an Argentine asado of grilled meats like blood sausage and chorizo. Vijay Singh, who won the Masters in 2000, put on a spread of tom kah soup, panang curry, and rack of lamb with yellow kari sauce for the dinner in 2001.
But Mickelson isn't saying remember me. He's saying remember who won this event more than 30 years ago. Ballesteros made an impression on the young lefty in 1980 when he became the first European to win the Masters and, at the time, the youngest winner at 23 years old. Itâ€™s one of the first things Mickelson thinks of as he drives up Magnolia Lane.
â€śIt reminds me of when I was a kid,â€ť Mickelson said at the press conference. â€śIt reminds me of when I was 10 years old watching Seve Ballesteros win in 1980 and saying to my mom, 'I want to win that tournament. I want to be like that and win this event.'"
Ballesteros would go on to repeat as Masters Champion three years later. His impact on Mickelson is clear within 50 yards of the green. Itâ€™s no coincidence that Leftyâ€™s masterful touch with a wedge mimics the beautiful short game of Ballesteros. The two met early on in Mickelsonâ€™s career. Phil played his first PGA Tour event as a 17-year old high school student. It was at Torrey Pines, and Ballesteros was his partner during the practice round.
Their friendship grew and came to a fitting head at the 1995 Ryder Cup. It was Mickelsonâ€™s first for the U.S. and Ballesterosâ€™ last for the Europeans. Mickelson and Jay Haas defeated Ballesteros and David Gilford on the second day of competition in a four-ball match.
Those memories resonate with Mickelson, and that's why he was shaken so deeply when he learned that Ballesteros was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008. Several surgeries and multiple doses of chemotherapy have helped the 5-time major winner, but his road to recovery is still ongoing.
"Unfortunately I don't think he's going to be able to make it," Mickelson said. "Given some e-mails we've received, I don't think he's planning on attending. So our thoughts and prayers are going to be with him that evening."
And the Masters Club will have the food of Seve's nation on its plates. Mickelson is offering a mixed salad with sherry vinaigrette and olives, seafood paella, and an apple empanada for dessert.
Ballesteros might not be at the Champions Dinner in person, but Mickelsonâ€™s tribute will keep him very present on the minds of his fellow champions.