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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Golf legend Seve Ballesteros dies of cancer at age 54

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Severiano "Seve" Ballesteros, the dashing, charismatic Spaniard who left his mark on the golf world with one wondrous golf shot after another, lifting European golf and the Ryder Cup to greater heights on his broad shoulders in the process, has died.

  • Seve Ballesteros of Spain lines up a shot on the second green at Augusta National during first round action in 1996. The swashbuckling star was a two-time Masters champion and a legend of golf.


    Seve Ballesteros of Spain lines up a shot on the second green at Augusta National during first round action in 1996. The swashbuckling star was a two-time Masters champion and a legend of golf.


Seve Ballesteros of Spain lines up a shot on the second green at Augusta National during first round action in 1996. The swashbuckling star was a two-time Masters champion and a legend of golf.

He was 54.

Ballesteros, who at age 19 finished runner-up to Johnny Miller in the 1976 British Open and later won three Opens and two Masters, died early Saturday of complications from a brain tumor. A statement on Ballesteros' website Saturday said the golf great died at 2:10 a.m. local time peacefully and surrounded by his family at his home in Pedrena, in northern Spain. In a statement, the Ballesteros family says it "is very grateful for all the support and gestures of love that have been received since Seve was diagnosed" with a brain tumor in October of 2008. The family asked for privacy.

En route to a record 50 European titles and more than 90 tournament wins worldwide, Ballesteros inspired fellow and future golfers with his intensity, imagination, flair for the dramatic recovery shot, and a short game that left others longing.

"Seve has been probably the most creative player who's ever played the game," 14-time major winner Tiger Woods said. "I've never seen anyone who has had a better short game than him. I've been lucky enough to have had an opportunity to pick his brain on several occasions around the greens, watched him hit just shot after shot after shot and have him explain how he did it, why he did it. It was just phenomenal. And to see the creativity.

"He was a genius."

Ballesteros was, according to Nick Faldo, "golf's Cirque du Soleil."

"I think the Cirque du Soleil is the greatest show I've ever seen," said Faldo, a winner of six majors and a Ryder Cup teammate of Ballesteros. "It's passion, artistry, skill, it's drama. That was Seve.

"That man was in a different state. It was quite something. We talked about the swashbuckling way he played. He hit it and chased after it and hit it, but there never was two follow-throughs the same.

"You had to stand back and admire it."

Ballesteros was diagnosed with the brain tumor in 2008. He underwent four separate operations to remove the tumor and reduce swelling around the brain. After leaving the hospital, his treatment continued with chemotherapy. Ballesteros' family said Friday that he was being cared for at home in the northern Spanish town of Pedrena, where he has been recovering since the operations in 2008.

Ballesteros looked thin and pale while making several public appearances in 2009 after being given what he referred to as the "mulligan of my life." He has rarely been seen in public since March 2010.

After lobbying to have the Ryder Cup expanded to include continental Europe in 1979, Ballesteros helped Europe beat the United States in 1985 to begin two decades of dominance. He also captained Europe to victory in 1997 at Valderrama, Spain. Ballesteros retired in 2007 because of a long history of back pain, turning his focus to golf course design.

His improvisational play, however, will never be forgotten. Many of the shots Ballesteros hit left his competitors — and onlookers — in a stunned, admiring state. Ballesteros often did his best work from the worst places, making good use of his feel, creativity and strength.

"Pulling off the impossible was an every day thing for him," former Ryder Cup captain and U.S. Open winner Tony Jacklin once said.

"When he gets going, it's almost as if Seve is driving a Ferrari and the rest of us are in Chevrolets," former U.S. Open winner Tom Kite once said.

"Seve," two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw once said, "plays shots I don't even see in my dreams."

Among his most memorable was the sand wedge he hit from a parking lot in his first Open win in 1979 that earned him the title as the "Car Park Champion." On the par-4 16th, Ballesteros deliberately drove into the parking lot, got a free drop, hit a sand wedge to 18 feet and made the pivotal birdie putt. The win made him the youngest winner of the tournament in the 20th century, and the first golfer from continental Europe to win a major since Frenchman Arnaud Massy won the Open in 1907.

Four years later he authored another miracle, this time with a 3-wood at the par-5 18th hole in the 1983 Ryder Cup at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. All square with Fuzzy Zoeller in Sunday's singles action, Ballesteros was 240 yards from the green with his ball under the sand trap's lip. Into a strong wind, Ballesteros blasted the ball to the edge of the green, got up-and-down and earned an important half point against Zoeller. USA captain Jack Nicklaus said that considering the situation, it was the greatest golf shot he had ever seen.

Perhaps hit greatest putt came in the 1984 Open at St. Andrews, the home of golf. Locked in a duel with Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer, Ballesteros curled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the Old Course to win the Claret Jug. Ballesteros added another Open title in 1988 — with a brilliant chip on the final hole that proved decisive — and won the 1980 and 1983 Masters.

His 1980 win at Augusta National was the first by a European player, and at the time he was the youngest winner of the tournament, at 23 (this record was broken by Woods in 1997).

"There are not enough great things I can say about Seve," said Ernie Els, a winner of three major championships. "He was really the guy that you wanted to watch to play. Nowadays you probably want to go watch Tiger or Phil Mickelson play, because they play exciting golf. And I think Seve was the man of his era. Seve had a different game. And it was always something you feel that was going to happen when Seve was playing.

"He always drew the biggest crowds."

Born April 9, 1957, in the little fishing village of Pedrena on Spain's northern coast, Ballesteros learned the game while playing on the beaches near his home with a 3-iron given to him by one of his older brothers. Golf was in his DNA— his uncle, Ramon Sota, was a professional golfer who finished sixth in the 1965 Masters; his older brother, Manuel, finished in the top 100 on the European Tour Order of Merit every year from 1972 to 1983; and brothers Vicente and Baldomero, as well as nephew Raúl, were also professional golfers.

Ballesteros turned professional at age 16. Three years later, he led the 1976 British Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club by two shots heading into the final round. A 74, however, dropped him into a second-place tie with Jack Nicklaus, six shots in back of Miller. But Ballesteros won five times that year on the European Tour and won the Order of Merit (money title).

In 1978, he won six tournaments in as many weeks on three continents.

And from 1986 to 1989, he led the Official World Golf Rankings for a total of 61 weeks.

His play in Europe and in the USA (where he won nine titles on the PGA Tour) garnered plenty of attention and elevated the European Tour. When Ballesteros turned pro, prize money on the European Tour was less than 500,000 pounds. In 2007 it was 90 million pounds.

"Seve was a flamboyant, high-flying guy that got to the job. And winning the tournaments he won, the Open, the Masters, he did it with style," Arnold Palmer said. "He was always outgoing, and he was always doing things that attracted people, the gallery, the fans. They loved him for the way he played and for his graciousness in the process of doing all that."

Ballesteros also excelled in match play, with five wins in the World Match Play Championships. And he was a mainstay of the European Ryder Cup team for most of the 1980s and 1990s. He earned 20 points out of 37 matches; his partnership with fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal was the most successful partnership in the history of the Ryder Cup, with 11 wins and two halved matches out of 15 matches.

His crowning achievement in the Ryder Cup came in 1997, when he captained Europe to victory at Valderrama, Spain.

Because of back-related injuries, Ballesteros struggled with form during the 1990s. Still, he continued to thrive in the golf world, especially the golf course design business

In 1999, Ballesteros was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

There are very few players or very few people in this world who can enter a room and with their presence everyone knows someone great is in that room, even if you don't see them," said Colin Montgomerie, a frequent Ryder Cup teammate with Ballesteros and a fellow winning captain for Europe. "Seve had that presence. Incredible charisma and genius. I watched Seve from when I was young and he was an incredible genius of a talent, a natural talent. I think that's what you would remember Seve as, a natural player. The club just looked right in his hands somehow always. And that will be missed.

"His charisma and his presence will be missed."

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