Seve Ballesteros has died from complications of a cancerous brain tumor

May 7, 2011 7:03 AM

Seve Ballesteros, a five-time major champion whose passion and gift for imaginative shot-making invigorated European golf and the Ryder Cup, has died from complications of a cancerous brain tumor. He was 54.

A statement on Ballesteros’ website early Saturday said the golf great died peacefully at 2:10 a.m. local time, surrounded by his family at his home in Pedrena, in northern Spain.

Ballesteros, a two-time Masters champion and three-time winner of the British Open, was as inspirational in Europe as Arnold Palmer was in America, a handsome figure who feared no shot and often played from where no golfer had ever been.

Such was his stature, even out of the public eye, that European players celebrated his most recent birthday – the Saturday of the Masters – as if it was a national holiday.

For such greatness, his career was relatively short because of back injuries.

Ballesteros won a record 50 times on the European tour, his first as a 19-year-old in the Dutch Open, his last when he was 38 at the 1995 Peugeot Open in his native Spain. That also was his last year playing in the Ryder Cup, where he had a 20-12-5 record in eight appearances. He was captain in 1997 when Europe won at Valderrama.

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.

He announced his retirement in a tearful press conference at Carnoustie before the 2007 British Open. Born April 9, 1957 in the tiny town of Pedrena, Spain, he learned golf with only one club – a 3-iron – that forced him to create shots most players could never imagine.