Ballesteros looked thin and pale while making several public appearances in 2009 after being given what he referred to as the “mulligan of my life.” But he rarely was seen in public after March 2010, when he fell off a golf cart and hit his head on the ground.
His few appearances or public statements were usually connected to his Seve Ballesteros Foundation to fight cancer. He wanted but was unable to take part in a champions exhibition at St. Andrews for the British Open.
Ballesteros won a record 50 times on the European tour, his first victory as a 19-year-old in the Dutch Open, his last when he was 38 at the Spanish Open in 1995. That also was his last year playing in the Ryder Cup, where he had a 20-12-5 record in eight appearances. Ballesteros was captain in 1997 when Europe won at Valderrama.
“He did for European golf what Tiger Woods did for worldwide golf,” three-time major champion Nick Price said from a Champions Tour event in Alabama. “His allegiance to the European Tour was admirable.”
Ballesteros was the reason the Ryder Cup was expanded in 1979 to include continental Europe, and it finally beat the United States in 1985 to begin more than two decades of dominance. While others have played in more matches and won more points, no player better represents the spirit and desire of Europe than Ballesteros.
His battle went beyond the golf course.
Ballesteros did not play in the 1981 Ryder Cup over a dispute with Europe over appearance money. He later battled former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman over how many tournaments he was required to play.
He was feisty. He was proud. He was charming. He made people watch, and he usually gave them something to remember.
“The best imagination. The best short game. You never really knew where he was going to hit it,” Mark Calcavecchia said.
Ballesteros announced his retirement in a tearful news conference at Carnoustie before the 2007 British Open. He had returned to Augusta National that year to play the Masters one last time, but shot 86-80 to finish last. After turning 50, he tried one Champions Tour event, but again came in last.
His back was ailing, his eyes were less lively, his best game had left him years earlier.
“I don’t have the desire,” Ballesteros said at the time, though he remained active in golf even after he stopped playing regularly, mainly through course design.
His desire was as big a part of his game as any shot he manufactured from the trees, the sand _ just about anywhere on the course.
Born April 9, 1957, in Pedrena, Ballesteros first gained acclaim at 19 in the final round of the British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he threaded a shot through the bunkers and onto the green at the 18th hole, finishing second to Johnny Miller and in a tie with Nicklaus.
“He invented shots around the green,” Nicklaus said in the weeks before Ballesteros was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999. “You don’t find many big hitters like him with that kind of imagination and touch around the green.”