Tributes pour in for golf great Ballesteros

Tributes poured in from across the globe Saturday after five-time major winner Seve Ballesteros died following a battle with brain cancer, with players moved to tears by the passing of the dashing Spaniard who transformed European golf and the Ryder Cup.

Seve Ballesteros

Seve Ballesteros

MADRID, Spain — Tributes poured in from across the globe Saturday after five-time major winner Seve Ballesteros died following a battle with brain cancer, with players moved to tears by the passing of the dashing Spaniard who transformed European golf and the Ryder Cup.

Ballesteros died one day after suffering severe deterioration in his recovery from multiple surgeries to remove a malignant brain tumour in 2008. He was 54.

Headlines such as “The Inventor of Spanish golf” and “Life of a Legend” were splashed across Spanish media websites as fellow golfers, athletes and figures from around the world paid tribute to one of the most charismatic figures the game has ever seen.

“His creativity and inventiveness on the golf course may never be surpassed,” Tiger Woods tweeted. “His death came much too soon.”

George O’Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, said Ballesteros was the inspiration behind the tour.

“This is such a very sad day for all who love golf,” O’Grady said on the tour website.

“Seve’s unique legacy must be the inspiration he has given to so many to watch, support, and play golf, and finally to fight a cruel illness with equal flair, passion, and fierce determination. We have all been so blessed to live in his era. He was the inspiration behind the European Tour.”

The Spanish Open — site of Ballesteros’ record 50th and last European Tour win in 1995 — planned to honour Ballesteros with a minute’s silence during Saturday’s third round, where former Ryder Cup partner Jose Maria Olazabal broke into tears while practicing ahead of his tee time.

“I’m going to play because that’s the greatest honour I could give Seve,” Olazabal, who teamed with Ballesteros to form one of the Ryder Cup’s greatest partnerships, said. “He would have wanted the tournament to go ahead.”

Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion, paid tribute to Ballesteros for his “strength, his fighting spirit and passion for everything he did.” He said he last met Ballesteros on April 16.

“He wasn’t well but he was lucid,” an emotional Olazabal said. “We spoke about a lot of things and memories of the Ryder Cup. The best homage we can pay him is to continue playing but I don’t think any of the homages we make will ever be sufficient enough after everything he’s done for golf.”

Ballesteros’ funeral will be held Wednesday in Pedrena, his native home in northern Spain, with family and close friends attending the subsequent wake.

Three days of official mourning will be held in Cantabria, according to regional government head Miguel Angel Revilla.

“It is such a sad day for Spain, Europe and the world of golf, which has lost one of its icons,” said Colin Montgomerie, who knew Ballesteros well from the Ryder Cup. “But it is only right to celebrate his life. It was an honour to play for him and with him.”

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called Ballesteros a trailblazer.

“Severiano marks a before and after point in Spanish sports — his example opened the way for the extraordinary moment which our country’s sports is living through now,” Zapatero said in a statement. “He knew how to symbolize the image of the new, democratic Spain.”

No. 1-ranked Lee Westwood wrote on Twitter: “It’s a sad day. Lost an inspiration, genius, roll model, hero and friend. Seve made European golf what it is today. RIP Seve.”

Three-time major winner Nick Price said Ballesteros was “light years ahead” after seeing him for the first time when they were both 21, calling it a “mesmerizing” moment.

The pair dueled at the 1988 British Open, with Ballesteros rallying from a two-stroke deficit to beat Price by two shots with a final round 65 for his last major win.

“He did for European golf what Tiger Woods did for worldwide golf. The European Tour would not be where it is today if not for Seve Ballesteros,” Price, whose brother died from the same problem last year, said from a Champions Tour event in Alabama. “His allegiance to the European Tour was admirable. The guy, he was an icon, just an incredible golfer.”

Hours before Ballesteros’ death, English golfer Paul Casey choked back tears after his round at the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour.

“He really blazed the trail for Europeans,” said Casey, who was clearly upset after his round at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C. “Not only in the Ryder Cup, but also on the PGA Tour in how he played at Augusta and his victories over here. We owe a huge amount to him.”

Fanny Sunesson, the former caddie for Nick Faldo during some of those Ryder Cups, was asked her recollections and began to cry. “The tears say it all,” she said.

Phil Mickelson honoured Ballesteros by serving a Spanish dish at the Champions Dinner at the Masters this year. Mickelson recalled his first PGA Tour event as a teenager and the thrill of playing a practice round with Ballesteros.

“From that day on, he couldn’t have been nicer to me,” Mickelson said. “He showed me a few things, showed me a few shots, and ever since then, we’ve had a good relationship. … Because of the way he played the game, you were drawn to him.”

Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, marveled at the Spaniard’s attitude.

“I think his body language was the strongest of anybody, maybe save Tiger in recent years,” Lehman added. “I’ve always said that his body language said, ’Hey, I may have hit a really crappy shot right there, but if you miss this next one, you’ll miss the greatest shot ever hit.’ That’s just the way he walked, the way he acted, the way he carried himself. He never seemed to ever doubt his ability. That’s what makes a champion.”


AP Sports Writer Mike Cranston and AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson in Charlotte, North Carolina, and AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Birmingham, Alabama, and Joseph Wilson in Terrassa, Spain, contributed to this report.