With more time than he could ever have anticipated prior to his 12th US Masters, Rory McIlroy could do worse than study the approach of Seve Balleteros towards becoming its first European winner.
orty years ago this week, golf's beloved conquistador arrived early at Augusta National, convinced he would don the coveted green jacket.
It is also fascinating to think that had Ballesteros not been gravely ill with a brain tumour when McIlroy endured a dramatic last-nine collapse in 2011, he could have told the young Irishman about travelling a similar road. Except that he managed to halt the makings of a ruinous last-nine collapse in 1980 with time to spare.
Ballesteros died on May 7, 2011, and little more than a month later, McIlroy was crowned US Open champion at Congressional.
Since his triumph in the 2014 Open Championship at Hoylake, the Holywood star has seen the Masters tantalise him with the prospect of becoming only the sixth player to capture golf's career Grand Slam. So far, the precious prize has remained elusive, largely, we imagine, because of crippling mental pressure.
In this context, the Ballesteros approach is most enlightening. Effectively, it came down to a clear mental decision the previous autumn which was then seen through to fruition.
This conditioning contained three key elements. First was his love of the venue. "When I saw it, Augusta gave me a very familiar feeling," he later observed. "These were my trees, my colour of green."
Though considerably grander, it reminded him of the rolling tree-lined fairways of Real Club de Golf de Pedrena outside Santander, where he had learned the game as a young caddie and then as an aspiring professional. Along the way, there was an awareness of six Masters appearances by his gifted uncle, Ramon Sota, between 1964 and 1972, which included a sixth-place finish behind Jack Nicklaus in 1965.
Then in 1978, came the inspiration of playing the final round with Gary Player, who swept to the title with a course-record-equalling final round of 64.
Familiarity and inspiration were then followed by conviction. This began to take shape in the autumn of 1979 when, prior to the World Match Play Championship, he radically shortened his backswing so as to achieve greater control around Wentworth's West Course with its ubiquitous trees.
Later, on returning home to Pedrena for the winter, he would throw golf balls in among its pines so as to practise the sort of recovery shots he would encounter at Augusta. And in the evenings, he would stand in front of a full-length mirror down among the cows in the farmhouse stables, and re-shape his takeaway. As he later explained: "I wanted to see myself take the club back more in one piece."
He also acquired a 30-minute cassette of soothing messages from a psychiatrist specialising in positive thought, which he listened to when appropriate. When asked what was on it, Ballesteros replied: "It is private, but it helps me to relax and convinces me I am good."
Then there was the so-called Gravity Gym machine, a fixed trapeze device aimed at strengthening his back which had been damaged in a fall while boxing as a youth.
In his book Seve: The Young Champion, Dudley Doust tells us how Ballesteros finished third in the Tournament Players Championship at Sawgrass, then opted out of the next two PGA Tour events immediately prior to Augusta. Publicly, he made no predictions, but privately he was bubbling with confidence. "Give me a three-stroke lead with three holes to play and I'll win," he told a friend, referring to Ed Sneed's collapse from that position in 1979.
By the Saturday evening, everything was going beautifully. Rounds of 66 and 69 gave the Spaniard a half-way lead of four strokes which he extended to seven after 54 holes. Not only was Ballesteros set to become the youngest ever Masters winner; he seemed likely to do so in record style.
Dinner that evening was a buffet, where offerings surrounded an antique putter which his manager's wife, Rhena Barner, had given Seve to mark his birthday on the Thursday, April 9. Meanwhile, the player went from ridiculing Spain's thrashing by England in soccer, to watching Saturday Night Fever (what else?) in the den.
Elsewhere on American television, a Saturday interview with the Australian challenger, Jack Newton, was a lot more cutting than the controversial remarks from NBC pundit, Paul Azinger, about Tommy Fleetwood during the recent Honda Classic. McIlroy later described as "condescending", Azinger's suggestion that the Englishman could not claim to "have what it takes" as a serious competitor until he had won in the US.
The tone of Newton's remarks, however, left no room for ambiguity. Set to partner Ballesteros in the final round, he looked declared: "I've read some of the newspaper articles this week and, you know, it's almost as though you guys are waiting for Seve to blow it."
The normally taciturn Australian went on: "I've also heard some pretty snide, completely uncalled-for remarks from some of the players. They say he's lucky and a one-putt Jessie and all that. America's considered to be the tops in professional golf and here comes a young 23-year-old and he's taken some of the highlight away from your superstars. But you know, the guy's a great player and the sooner Americans realise it the better."
After a front nine of 33 on the Sunday, Ballesteros had stretched his lead to a staggering 10 strokes over Newton and the American Gibby Gilbert. Surely the rest would be plain-sailing?
Though McIlroy's problems in 2011 began with a severely hooked drive on the 10th, his chance of subsequent salvation was destroyed by poor putting. As it happened, Ballesteros also encountered uncharacteristic problems with the blade as a famous victory beckoned.
His chance of breaking the tournament's record aggregate of 271 took a blow when he three-putted the 10th for bogey. And when seeming to right himself with a par on the next, he went on to double-bogey the short 12th after blocking a six-iron into Rae's Creek.
Another ball in the water on the 13th saw his lead cut to only three over Newton. That was when a classic Ballesteros recovery effectively secured the title. From a hooked drive into trees on the 14th, he turned a magnificent six-iron recovery around further timber to get the ball to 25 feet past the flag. Two putts for a par and the ship was steadied.
Shots from amid Spanish trees the previous winter had delivered a priceless dividend in a closing 72 for 275. At the tender age of 23 years and four days, he had opened a door through which seven other Europeans, including fellow Spaniards Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia, would stride during the following 37 years.
In 1996, Ballesteros made a Masters cut for the last time and later witnessed Nick Faldo's famous comeback from six strokes down to Greg Norman. That was also the year when Tiger Woods, still in the amateur ranks, departed the scene on Friday evening after successive 75s.
For Faldo and Woods, Augusta would bestow rich blessings, as it once did on Seve. But as McIlroy will discover, their efforts were first lit by the unquenchable fire of a raw determination to succeed.