April 11, 1977 12:00 PM

Spanish Airman Second Class Severiano Ballesteros was not exactly born with a silver niblick in his mouth. Instead, he grew up on a farm in Pedreña, on Spain’s Atlantic coast. His father still keeps a few cows, rabbits and a donkey, which are sheltered beneath the family’s stone house (and impart an aroma throughout).

Yet as the 41st annual Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. gets underway this week, Ballesteros will be one of the favorites. He is barely 20.

No, the oddsmakers have not gone loco. Last summer at the British Open Seve—the nickname, pronounced “Sevvy,” has been pushed by headline-conscious agent Ed Barker—led for three rounds before finishing second to Johnny Miller. He won the Dutch Open in August. Then in December Seve helped Spain to a two-stroke victory in the World Cup against 47 other national teams, including Americans Dave Stockton and Jerry Pate. As Europe’s top-rated player, he received one of the special Masters invitations reserved for foreigners.

Had it not been for Spanish law that all young men must serve 15 months in the military, Seve might already be a big-money winner. “He is as good as anyone on the tour,” says Johnny Miller. “Give him a year and he’ll make us all feel like old men.”

The youngest of four boys, Ballesteros began caddying on a course near his parents’ farm. With help from an uncle, Ramon Sota, Spain’s all-time best golfer, and his older brothers, all pros themselves, Seve’s game steadily improved. At 16 he turned pro, won two Spanish tournaments in 1974 and has since earned about $80,000, mostly from B-grade tournaments in Europe.

His reputation has earned him a cushy air force assignment at a military golf course near Madrid. But until his discharge next year he will be quartered in plain stucco barracks, will stand guard duty and be given time off only to play in a few major tournaments. He has to scramble to get in practice time, and even on the course he’s no superstar. “I have to drop everything when a general comes in for a lesson,” he says.

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