James Lawton: Ballesteros feels the pain of a fallen idol

Nothing has been more forlorn than the news that along with his golf game the personal life of Seve Ballesteros is also in disarray.

Stories of the great man's distress at the loss of his genius have sprouted along with the announcement that he and his wife Carmen, the daughter of a powerful Spanish banking family, are seeking a divorce. Action by the European PGA in the wake of an incident between Ballesteros and a Spanish golf official was just another indicator of the days of angst and disillusionment that have come to one of the great figures of European sport.

One of the more haunting images is of Ballesteros firing balls on a Spanish beach in the small hours of the morning.

The dispiriting reality is that Seve's pain has gone on for so long. A decade ago, after he had faded from contention on the second day of a British Open, someone was bold enough to ask if he had considered taking a break from golf... maybe, it was suggested, a little time off from the game which had become so central to his life would be a good thing. Ballesteros's eyes blazed. "Do you think I need a break, have you decided I'm no good?" the ill-advised counsellor was asked.

In retrospect it seems one might as well have recommended a break from breathing. What happens when the wheels of a great talent fall off, when John Daly trembles over a putt or Ian Baker-Finch, a former Open champion, duck-hooks a tee shot on a windless day or Seve forgets how to chip so brilliantly it almost makes the heart stop? So much pain, Ballesteros makes it graphically clear.

News of divorce was perhaps not so surprising when recollecting one family crisis. It was on the long second fairway at Augusta. Ballesteros was struggling desperately and this, it seemed, made an enjoyable spectacle for some of the gallery. "Gee, who is this guy... he can't even play the game," exclaimed one of what passes for the cognoscenti in country club America.

Whether Seve, locked into his despair, even heard the insult was not quite clear. But certainly Carmen Ballesteros did. She had the beginnings of tears in her eyes. That was seven years ago. The toll that has been levied on lost genius since then is suddenly a matter for only the bleakest speculation.