A Letter to Spain
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This is not a golf story.
This is a story about my home.
And I’ve been thinking about home a lot lately.
My wife, Kelley, and I are staying safe and inside our house in Phoenix and I’ve had a lot of time to think lately. I’m sure you have, too. Every day, as the news surrounding the pandemic seems to get worse and worse, my mind goes to memories of my parents, and of me, as a boy.
Here’s the thing, though. I can’t really tell this story unless you understand one very important thing about Spanish people — especially Basque people, which is the part of the country where I’m from.
We are extremely hardheaded.
I know you’ve seen it come through in my golf game. But it’s almost like a way of life. If somebody from my town says they’re going to do something … you better believe they’re gonna do it. That’s just how we are.
When I started to hear about all the COVID-19 cases in Spain a few weeks ago, I called my mom. She works as a midwife near the town of Barrika, in the north. She’s not on the front lines of the battle with the pandemic right now, but she’s close enough to understand what’s happening and to have a better perspective than most. More than that, though, she’s also one of us. She’ll always give it to me straight.
She knew it was serious. And she told me how critical it was that everyone who can stays home.
She said, “We’ll get through this, but everyone has to do their part.”
It sounds simple, right? But every day I see people here in the U.S. out and about, just living their lives like everything is normal and — to be completely honest here — acting incredibly selfishly. That’s not hardheaded, that’s thickheaded. There’s a difference.
That was unacceptable three weeks ago. And now … it makes me furious. Because we, here in America, had all the information in front of us. We saw what was happening around the world and we decided to act in half-measures, with weak enforcement — and now we will pay the price.
The same way Spain is paying now. And it breaks my heart to see what’s happening there.
I’m writing this to Spain, for Spain — but I hope, wherever you are reading this, you can take something from it.
Because the road ahead will be long, and it will be hard, and it will require some proper hardheadedness.
Like I said, that’s a trait we have where I’m from. We all get it eventually. Whether it’s passed down from generation to generation, or picked up along the way — we all get it. I got it from golf, I think. Maybe it was the 8 p.m. lessons at the range with the old mats and the netting that ended at only 200 yards. Maybe it was the putting practice on the artificial turf green that was like putting on ice. Maybe it was the endless hours on the course, competing against myself, that made me this way.
Golf gives you endless chances to give up. It pleads for you to give up. I played a lot of sports when I was younger. Soccer, tennis, canoeing — you name it, I probably tried it. But golf … there was something different about it. The game is about self-improvement, competition. Whether you keep score or not, the score always exists. And no matter how much you change, the course never changes.
The road ahead will be long, and it will be hard, and it will require some proper hardheadedness.
The game never changes.
Golf is, inherently, hardheaded.
It is about respect, honor and all the other words we like to say about it. Yes. 100%.
But golf is a brute. It will beat you up and tell you to move on, go play another game and don’t come back.
Golf in Spain is different than golf in America, too. There aren’t as many country clubs and private courses. In Spain, it’s more about the game and the people — rather than the experience. We didn’t have carts or caddies growing up. There was no alcohol on the course. We didn’t have grass ranges or big practice facilities. We just went out, hauled our bags around and competed. And we always finished in at least four hours, or else we heard about it from the people behind us.
When I’d practice, I’d be at my coach’s range. His name is Eduardo Celles and his place is where I have some of my fondest memories of the game. He had a big family and one of his younger brothers would always be in one of the hitting bays, giving a lesson and smoking a cigarette. In the little hut, where you’d pay three euros to use the facility and another two euros for a bucket of balls, was the lady who helped run the place. She was always there. Every day. With her little dog. The range was close to the city, so you’d see people in suit pants hitting balls during lunch breaks or after work, their kids playing in the bunker near the putting green.
That place, when I think of it now, fills me with so much pride. Those are the spots that make it clear what golf is about in Spain. The people. The game.
I think of them, during times like this, and all they’ve done for me and the sport in our town.
But for Spain, for the whole country — and probably all of Europe — there is nobody who changed our sport more than Seve Ballesteros.
I know, you’re thinking, Jon, what does Seve have to do with a story about Spain in the time of a pandemic like this?
I cannot talk about my life, my career, my country, without talking about Seve. The ’97 Ryder Cup at Valderrama in Spain is the reason my dad ended up buying me clubs. When Seve became the first European to win the Masters in 1980, it gave hope to the game in our country. I read in an article a few years ago that when Seve started playing golf in the ’60’s, there were around 10,000 registered golfers in Spain. The day he retired in 2007, there were 350,000.
Seve makes me incredibly proud to have the Spanish flag beside my name at PGA Tour events. And that same pride and fierceness that I use to play for myself and Spain every week, I need to use it now to speak out for my country.
Without Seve, I wouldn’t be here, with the platform that I have now as a professional athlete. I want to do right by this position that I’m in, and the privilege I have.
Every time I call my parents and family back home, I’m reminded of my childhood. I think of the range, and the people I used to see there every day. I think of the older guys at the course who used to tell us kids to keep up the pace of play. I wonder how they are now. I hope they’re O.K.
I know how tough all those people are, how tough Spaniards are. The great thing about hardheadedness is how committed you can become. And I hope that’s what everyone is doing in regards to staying inside, social distancing and following instructions.
There’s a street in Bilbao, where my grandmother, brother and two uncles all live. Their homes are all separated by a few hundred yards. They haven’t seen each other in nearly two weeks. That’s how seriously this needs to be taken. When my grandmother needs food, someone brings it to her and leaves it on her doorstep. That’s just the way it’s got to be.
Don’t think of yourselves in a moment like this — think of your loved ones. Your parents. Your friend’s parents.
But even in Spain, there still aren’t enough people buying in.
I heard a stat from my family the other day. With the police now able to issue tickets for being out on the street and not following protocol regarding the lockdown, there have been more tickets issued in Spain than there are people infected with the virus.
That is the stubbornness of Spaniards.
It cannot be like this anymore.
So I beg all of you, use that headstrong behavior and channel it toward doing what’s right and staying inside. Follow the instructions. Don’t think of yourselves in a moment like this — think of your loved ones. Your parents. Your friend’s parents.
Think of your country.
If we do that, and we channel our strength into getting through this, we will get through it. I know it.
Because I know what Spaniards are capable of.