Ballesteros confirms he faces brain tumour fight

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The Independent Online

Severiano Ballesteros will undergo a biopsy tomorrow after the five-time major champion confirmed last night that he has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. The 51-year-old, whose fame transcends the game of golf, was admitted to La Paz hospital in Madrid on Monday after briefly losing consciousness following a "partial epileptic fit" and spent until Friday night in intensive care as he underwent what he described as "exhaustive tests".

After eventually discovering the tumour, the doctors consulted with Ballesteros and his family and informed them that the exploratory operation will reveal the severity of his illness and determine how they will proceed. The Spaniard was described last night as remaining in a "stable" condition.

In a statement he said: "Throughout my entire career I have been one of the best at overcoming obstacles on the golf course and now I want to be the best at facing the most difficult game of my life, using all my strength and also counting on those who have been sending me get well messages.

"Now I've been able to tell my three children personally and their mother, now I can tell you the illness that I am suffering from. After the exhaustive tests that I have undertaken in the Hospital La Paz, they have detected a brain tumour.

"I have always sympathised with those people who face illnesses. Therefore, I want to remind them that with bravery, faith, serenity, confidence and a lot of mental strength, we have to face any situation no matter how difficult it is."

Ballesteros then went on to ask for his family's privacy to be respected while promising to keep his many fans regularly updated. "My wish is to ask for respect for my family and especially for my children," said Ballesteros. I want to thank from the bottom of my heart all those people who have shown affection and interest in my state of health, with all kinds of support. Many thanks."

Indeed, the hospital has been stunned by the level of interest from both the media and the public at large after rumours about the tumour circulated. As a national celebrity in Spain, cards have inevitably arrived from all over his homeland, but support has also arrived from throughout the world. As the James Bond of the fairways, Ballesteros's popularity has never been in question, although only now is the full extent of it becoming apparent.

Among other things, he is credited with transforming the European game with his swashbuckling style and his never-say-never approach to recovery shots. But this has been no one-continent love affair and an estimate of the esteem in which he is held can be approximated by the depth of affection felt for him in America, despite him being the scourge of so many of their Ryder Cup teams.

In one American website poll a few years ago he was voted as "the favourite golfer in history" above Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Meanwhile, the latter has called the three-wood Ballesteros played from under the lip of a fairway bunker on the 18th during the 1983 Ryder Cup as "the best shot I have ever seen".

This sort of praise has been par for the course for Ballesteros ever since he announced himself on the world stage as a skinny, fearless teenager with a startling second-place finish in the 1976 Open behind Johnny Miller. There was global dismay last year when this champion of the galleries announced his retirement from competitive golf due to a long-standing back complaint that had caused a glittering career to descend into a swift and depressing freefall.

During an emotional farewell press conference at the Open at Carnoustie he addressed reports in the Spanish media that he had attempted suicide after the death of his girlfriend, Fatima Garlaza, in a car crash. He announced that the stories were "were not even close to reality" and revealed that he had in fact been hospitalised around that time with an irregular heartbeat. His condition was not considered dangerous enough for him to be detained overnight.

Now, however, his plight is serious enough for the enormous weight of reaction to be justified, although those who know him best in the game were quick to stress last night that Ballesteros's spirits remain positive.

Jose Maria Olazabal visited his former Ryder Cup partner in between competing in the Madrid Masters, the tournament which Ballesteros was on his way to visit when he collapsed in the airport, and was buoyed by the compadre he encountered. "I saw Seve looking very well," he said. "We were speaking for quite a little while. I wish him a prompt recovery."