Seve Ballesteros, the swashbuckling Spaniard whose talent and charisma drove the popularity of today's European Tour and the modern Ryder Cup, died Saturday at home in Pedrena, Spain, from complications of brain cancer. He was 54.
Ballesteros won three British Opens, two Masters tournaments, 50 European Tour events and at least 90 tournaments world wide. More importantly, he captured the imagination of millions of fans and thousands of young players who aspired to be just like him.
He made up for his often wild long game with the most creative short game of all time. He hit shots from the trees and off his knees. His wizardry from sand bunkers was uncanny, and his ability to create a shot out of what seemed to be an impossible situation earned him the everlasting admiration of his peers.
"He had a real impact on me and on my life in this sport," five-time major champion Nick Faldo said in a statement. "He was a leader; bringing the spotlight to the European Tour, paving the way to European success at the Masters and bringing his relentless passion to the Ryder Cup. Today I would call him Cirque du Soleil. For golf, he was the greatest show on earth."
"Today, golf lost a great champion and a great friend. We also lost a great entertainer and ambassador for our sport," said Jack Nicklaus, golf's greatest champion, in a statement.
On Oct. 6, 2008, Ballesteros fainted as he was about to board a plane in Madrid. Tests showed that he had a malignant tumor the size of two golf balls above his right temple. He underwent four surgeries and several chemotherapies and radiation treatments. He managed a few public appearances in 2009, but after he fell off a golf cart in March 2010 and hit his head, he was seldom seen.
Severiano Ballesteros was born April 7, 1957, in Pedrena, Spain, one of four brothers. His father was a dairy farmer and renowned rower. An uncle was a golfer in Spain. Ballesteros started caddying at the Pedrena Golf Club at age 10, and the game immediately grabbed his attention. Since caddies were not allowed to play the course, Ballesteros practiced on the seaside beach of Pedrena, hitting all sorts of shots with only a 3-iron.
Ballesteros, at 19, became a sensation at the 1976 British Open, finishing second to Johnny Miller. He won his first British Open in 1979, and won the Masters in 1980 and 1983.
It was his second British Open title, in 1984 at St. Andrews, that defined his image. There he made a birdie putt on the 18th to win, then pumped his right fist several times while flashing his electric smile.
He won his last British Open in 1988 in a memorable duel with Nick Price. His game went into decline in the 1990s, a bad back exacerbating his wild swing tendencies so much that not even his magical short game could save him.
Ballesteros and his wife Carmen divorced in 2004. They had three children together. The funeral will be Wednesday in Pedrena