Saturday 3 December 2016

Europe's best ever leaves inspirational legacy

Patrick Sawer and Fiona Govan

Published 08/05/2011 | 05:00

Seve Ballesteros has been hailed for the courage he demonstrated after being diagnosed with the brain tumour that he called "the hardest challenge in my life". The Spanish golfer died aged 54 in the early hours of yesterday morning, surrounded by his family, a day after a sudden deterioration in his health ended a three-year struggle with cancer.

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"He knew he was dying and he did so with total integrity," said his older brother, Baldomero. "Seve said goodbye to each of us, one by one. We clenched hands and he whispered to us. I moved very close and told him 'I love you' and Seve replied 'I love you too'." His voice cracking with emotion, he added: "He's much more than a brother, a son or a father. He's a glory."

Ballesteros had earlier been blessed by a priest. His death, after multiple operations and repeated rounds of chemotherapy, prompted mourning around the world, but particularly in his homeland, where he was hailed as "the inventor of Spanish golf".

His final battle began three years ago when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour after fainting at Madrid airport. He underwent four separate operations, and intensive chemotherapy. He was rarely seen in public after March last year, when he fell from a golf cart and hit his head on the ground.

But there was one last gift he could impart to the other European golfers he had done so much to inspire. In October, he delivered an inspirational message to Colin Montgomerie's ultimately victorious Ryder Cup team at Celtic Manor.

On Friday, Ballesteros's family disclosed that his condition had "suffered a severe deterioration". He died within hours of the announcement. A statement published on his website yesterday said: "At 02:10 hours, Seve Ballesteros -- accompanied by his family at his home in Pedrena -- died due to respiratory failure. The family appreciates all the expressions of support and affection they have received since Seve was admitted on October 5, 2008 at the Hospital Universitario La Paz in Madrid."

The affection with which Ballesteros was held remained undimmed. Following the announcement of his death, the flags at Real Club de Golf El Prat were flown at half-mast during the third round of the Spanish Open, while the players, several of them in tears, wore black armbands and held a minute's silence, followed by 60 seconds of applause.

Bernard Gallacher, who captained Ballesteros in three Ryder Cups between 1991 and 1995, said: "He felt it was his duty as the best player in the world to inspire the European team. Every European Tour player today should thank Seve for what they're playing for. You can't speak too highly of him, Seve was Europe's best ever player."

In a mark of how his appeal crossed the generational divide, the Twitter social networking site was inundated with tributes to him within a few hours of his death.

Thousands of fans tweeted messages of condolence, including Lee Westwood, the world No 1, who watched Ballesteros as a young boy.

"It's a sad day," wrote Westwood. "Lost an inspiration, genius, role model, hero and friend. Seve made European golf what it is today."

Billy Foster, Ballesteros's former caddie, remembered him as "an absolute gentleman, the ultimate warrior", adding, "There's not many players I've worked for in my time that have that aura about them."

Ballesteros turned professional in March 1974 at the age of 16. In 1976, he burst on to the international scene with a second-place finish in the British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he memorably threaded a shot through the bunkers and on to the green at the 18th.

Ballesteros sealed his place in people's affections with his daredevil performance at the 1979 British Open, at Royal Lytham & St Annes. Leading by two shots in the final round -- in atrocious weather -- the 22 year-old sent a wayward tee shot into the car park. He had a car moved to get his free drop, then fired his second shot to 15 feet and made a birdie.

He went on to win, celebrating with the fist-pumping action that would quickly become familiar to legions of fans around the world.

Following his 1979 triumph -- which made him the youngest winner of the tournament in the 20th century -- Ballesteros went on to win four more Major championships: The Masters in 1980 and 1983, and The Open Championship in 1984 and 1988.

He also made the Ryder Cup his own, energising the European team with his 'us against them' attitude. Ballesteros played in eight Ryder Cups, winning 20 points from 37 matches, before guiding Europe to victory over America as non-playing captain on home turf at Valderrama, in 1997.

But he was plagued by back injuries in the 90s and struggled with his form, winning the last of his record 50 European Tour titles in 1995.

Thereafter, he appeared intermittently and rarely featured on the leader boards. In 2007, Ballesteros announced his retirement, saying: "I don't have the desire."

Ballesteros was married to Carmen Botin, the daughter of Ernesto Botin, the Santander banking magnate, from 1988 until their divorce in 2004. The couple have three children, Baldomero, Miguel and Carmen.

A private funeral will be held in Pedrena on Wednesday.

"His funeral will be as simple as that of a villager," said Baldomero. "Just like anyone else. Seve was born here and he will stay here."

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