Golf greats pay tribute to Seve Ballesteros (1957-2011)


There were so many unforgettable moments in the career of five-time major champion Seve Ballesteros, who passed away Saturday after a long battle with brain cancer. Writing in Golf Digest, John Huggan captured perhaps the most iconic of them by recalling the jubilation at St. Andrews after the Spanish golf great stuffed a 10-foot putt on the 18th green on his way to winning the 1984 British Open.

“Again and again he punched the sky, his darkly handsome face alive with the enormity of the moment,” Huggan wrote. “It is a memory worth preserving. Sadly for all who love golf as the art form it is meant to be and not the science it has become, we may never see his like again.”

Ballesteros’ career speaks for itself. He won his first of a record 50 European Tour events at 19. He compiled a 20-12-5 Ryder Cup record in eight events and captained the 1997 European team to victory at Valderrama. Until 21-year-old Tiger Woods’ victory, Ballesteros was the youngest Masters champ, at 23, in 1980. He won his second green jacket in 1983 and the British Open in 1979, 1984, and 1988.

But it was more the man than his accomplishments that moved the greats of the game to pay him tribute. Indeed, Ballesteros was on the minds and in the hearts of so many of his proteges, who paused Saturday in their quests to win tourneys from Spain to Quail Hollow.

An emotional Jose Maria Olazabal was in tears as he practiced prior to his Saturday tee time at this week’s Spanish Open. Olazabal was determined to continue playing after the death of his close friend, “because that’s the greatest honor I could give Seve,” he told the Associated Press. “He would have wanted the tournament to go ahead.”

Olazabal remembered his former Ryder Cup partner for his “strength, his fighting spirit and passion for everything he did.”

It was somehow fitting that remembrances of Ballesteros flowed in during the playing of the Spanish Open, the tourney that served as his 50th and final European Tour win in 1995. Flags flew at half-staff Saturday after Ballesteros’ death.

Phil Mickelson, who fired a 66 in Friday’s second round of the Wells Fargo Championship to sit just three strokes back of the lead, honored the absent Spaniard at the recent Masters by choosing Spanish cuisine for the Champions Dinner. Lefty told the AP about teeing it up with Ballesteros during a practice round when the former was a teenager.

“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.”