May
7
2011
RIP Seve Ballesteros
By Stephanie Wei under European PGA Tour

Legend: Seve putting on the Green Jacket after winning the 1980 Masters

Spanish golfing icon Severiano Ballesteros passed away peacefully surrounded by family at his home in Pedreña, Spain, early on Saturday morning after the deterioration in his condition. The 54-year-old was suffering from health problems since being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 2008. The five-time major winner sustained four operations, along with a course of chemotherapy, in the past two and a half years.

News of Seve’s dire medical state clouded the mood at Quail Hollow Club on Friday during the second round of the Wells Fargo Championship.

Around noon, a rumor that Seve had already passed circulated amongst IMG-represented players who had received an email from the agency prematurely informing them of the Spaniard’s death. Turns out the message was inaccurate and Seve had taken a turn for the worse, but he was still alive. The confusion added to the already-gloomy and difficult day.

Feisty

Henrik Stenson’s caddie Fanny Sunesson was among those most impacted by the news. While looping for Nick Faldo during the ’90s, Sunesson shared four Ryder Cup teams with Seve, including ’97 when he served as captain.

“[Reporters] told Fanny when we came in and she burst out in tears on air,” said Stenson before rushing off to catch a flight home. “She was just asked a question about the Ryder Cup and she was very upset. An hour later, I was in the locker room and I gave comments, as well. So that’s an anecdote.”

A media member told Justin Rose that Seve had died and he sent a Twitter message expressing his condolences, only to learn he had been misinformed. He quickly corrected his mistake and apologized profusely in two tweets.

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Last month on Seve’s birthday, Conor wrote a poignant tribute to Seve’s contributions to the sporting world and I certainly couldn’t sum it up any better.

Not only were his victories frequently among the most compelling the modern game has witnessed, but his most painful defeats managed to carry an emotional heft that transcended golf and drew close to the raw, universal stuff of sporting tragedy.

Seve remains the player most indelibly marked by both the best and worst the game has to offer: a living, breathing testament to the potential of a life spent inside the ropes, as well as the psychological, even physical, toll it’s capable of exacting.

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Imagination

Other players were saddened by the news and shared their comments. Here’s a collection of player reactions gathered on Friday afternoon:

*”He was the guy I wanted to play a practice round with the most, and when I played my first PGA Tour event in San Diego in 1988, Ernie Gonzales, another fellow lefty, arranged a practice round with him. From that day on, he couldn’t have been nicer to me. We had a great round of golf. He showed me a few things, showed me a few shots, and ever since then we’ve had a good relationship for the last 23 years that I’ve known him. I have nothing but nice things to say about him.

“He’s certainly had an impact on the game, but to me the greatest thing about Seve is his flair and his charisma. Because of the way he played the game of golf, you were drawn to him. You wanted to go watch him play. He had charisma and he kind of had so many shots that it was fun to watch him play.” –Phil Mickelson

*”He was an icon in the game and somebody that I looked up to. I copied his swing. Everybody wanted to be as exciting and fun and flashy as Seve. Maybe hit a few more fairways, but everybody wanted that style. They wanted to be aggressive and able to play like that. He was definitely somebody that I grew up idolizing.

“My first three matches were against those two guys [Seve and Jose Maria Olazabal]. We were supposed to play all four, and then when we got the draw for Saturday morning, Watson said, ‘Okay, you guys are sitting out.’ We took those guys three times in a row and didn’t take a break. It was tough, we beat them the first match and then they beat us the next two. It was an exciting way to start the Ryder Cup, to start off against Seve. It was pretty incredible. He was always very good to me, and I’ve been blessed in my career because I’ve had so many guys like that because of my dad, because of meeting them when I was a little kid.

“He was so good to me. I played practice rounds with him and spent a lot of time trying to hang around him, like anybody. But I was lucky, when I tried to hang around, he would let me. He was very nice to me.” –Davis Love III

*He was a game-changer, not only for Europe but for golf himself when he came out. Obviously, there was Jack and Arnie, but he played differently. To come out from Spain, do what he did was amazing. It was very inspiring. He played differently. And that just shows you the kind of charisma he had. That’s why people loved watching him.

“I had the opportunity of playing practice rounds with him when I was 15, 16, it was amazing. I remember at Royal St. Anne’s when I played my first British Open as an amateur, I played two practice rounds with him. To see the people and the aura around him is something I’ll never forget.” –Sergio Garcia

*”I’ve received a couple of really nice letters from him over the past couple of years. He was European golf, you know?

“[When he called into the team room at the Ryder Cup last year,] you could still feel his passion and his verve, not just for the Ryder Cup but for golf. He was very loyal to the European Tour and to Europe. You could still feel his passion for the game. Yeah, it was a very special phone call that Monday or Tuesday night at Celtic Manor.” –Rory McIlroy

*”He was an interesting character. I probably played several times in the summer of ’97 when he was Ryder Cup captain and I was on the fringe of that team, so he had a good look at me for it seems like the whole of the summer. Seve was a great guy and if anything, he was probably too competitive in that day. We all wanted to stand back and put him on a pedestal. He didn’t want that, though — he considered himself a competitor and a player all the way through.

“At the time, all of us guys wanted to have him as the figurehead of the European Tour. I’m not sure who is on our logo for the European Tour, but I’d certainly back putting Seve on it. For us, he really is, to be honest with you. There have been a lot of great people who have done the work behind the scenes, but there’s nobody who has as much of a connection to the European Tour as Seve Ballesteros. So maybe I should start a campaign…We’d love to have him up there. He’s certainly emotionally the guy who everybody looked up to and wanted to be as a kid.” –Padraig Harrington

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Iconic

Thank you, Seve, for all you’ve given to the game. You shared with us your imagination and taught us to believe in achieving the impossible. You will forever be an inspiration to the game. Here’s a compilation of some of his finest moments (posted previously by Conor to honor Seve’s birthday):