Severiano Ballesteros, the golfer whose adventurous play, extraordinary recovery shots, good looks and passion made him perhaps the most charismatic man ever to play the game, has died. Yesterday, two and a half years after being diagnosed with a brain tumour the size of two golf balls, he died from respiratory problems at his home in Pedrena, Spain, surrounded by his family. He was 54.
He won five major championships, 87 tournaments, was the first European to win the US Masters and had a formidable record in the Ryder Cup. But mere statistics do not begin to express his place in the sport, and the way his character reached beyond it. It was not what he won, but the manner in which he did it, flinging every part of his being into strokes that often landed in trouble – only for him to escape with shots that suggested he was more the heir of Harry Houdini than Harry Vardon.
His skill at these owed much to the young Seve Ballesteros being initially equipped with only an old three-iron. He learnt to play almost every shot he would need with this unforgiving implement, and the resulting talent was apparent at the first major for which he challenged, the 1976 Open Championship at Birkdale. Here, too, was born the rapport he enjoyed with British galleries, a relationship that grew warmer with every victory.
The pinnacles of his career were his victory at St Andrews in the 1984 Open, and the part he played in the renaissance of the Ryder Cup. He brought to this a burning passion, an aspect of him reflected in the disputes he had with the golfing authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. He had three children, and was divorced in 2004.
Recurring back problems and reliance on an athleticism which was not likely to age well saw him cease to compete effectively long before his official retirement in 2007. The following year he collapsed at Madrid airport, and a brain tumour was diagnosed. Four operations and chemotherapy followed, but even his formidable will could not defeat the disease.
Jack Nicklaus said yesterday: "Seve's enthusiasm was unmatched by anybody that ever played the game"; Nick Faldo said he was "the greatest show on earth"; Tiger Woods said: "His creativity and inventiveness on the golf course may never be surpassed"; Phil Mickelson said: "The greatest thing about Seve is his flair and charisma"; and his great friend Jose Maria Olazabal said: "What impressed me most was his strength, his fighting spirit, and the passion he put into everything ." And his one-time caddie, Dave Musgrove said: "If he hit a bad shot he never dwelt on it. His shoulders never slumped."
He will be cremated in a private ceremony in Pedrena on Wednesday.