Spanish golf legend Severiano Ballesteros, one of golf’s all-time greats who lifted five majors and turned a new generation on to the sport, died yesterday aged 54, three years after undergoing an operation to remove a brain tumor.
“Seve Ballesteros died at 2:10am, surrounded by his family, in his home in Pedrena” in northwestern Spain, following “respiratory failure,” his family said in a statement.
Ballesteros was a charismatic figure who led the European challenge to the decades-long supremacy of the US.
From the mid-1970s to the 1990s, “Seve” was one of the sport’s most celebrated personalities, collecting 87 career titles before retiring in 2007 with back problems.
Known for his flamboyant and imaginative style of play, he famously won one of his three British Open titles by playing a shot from a temporary parking lot.
El Pais led the tributes, calling Ballesteros the “brightest star” and a “unique genius.”
“The memory of his feats still blinds,” the leading Spanish daily said on its Web site.
The news cast a pall over the Spanish Open under way in Barcelona, with second-placed Pablo Larrazabal saying on Friday: “His fight these last years has been an inspiration for us all ... He was really spectacular, never giving up, hitting his driver and chasing the ball into the hole from everywhere.”
The European Tour’s official Web site said Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, contemporaries of Ballesteros, were in tears over the news.
Olazabal, a close friend of Ballesteros, said: “I will keep on playing because it’s the best way to pay tribute to Seve. “He would have liked us to keep on playing.”
Ballesteros was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor after losing consciousness at the Madrid-Barajas Airport on Oct. 6, 2008.
He underwent four operations to remove the tumor and reduce swelling in his skull, as well as chemotherapy. He called his battle against the tumor the “hardest challenge of my life.”
“During my career I was one of the best at getting around obstacles on golf courses. Now I want to be the best at confronting the most difficult match of my life with all my strength,” he said when he revealed his illness.
Ballesteros announced his presence as a teenager in 1976 when he finished second at the British Open, just two years after turning pro aged 16.
Topping the European Tour Order of Merit that year — he would go on to do so on another five occasions — was a measure of compensation for being the runner-up after leading at the midway point.
In 1979, aged 21, he became the youngest winner of the British Open.
A year later, he was the first European to make the breakthrough at The Masters, opening the floodgates for the likes of Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and his Spanish compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal.
That first of two Masters titles made him, at 23, the youngest winner, before a 21-year-old Tiger Woods broke his record in 1997.
Ballesteros was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, where he joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Golf Digest magazine in 2000 ranked him as the greatest golfer Europe has produced.