Easier now to understand the strain felt by Seve

NO-ONE would ever confuse Severiano Ballesteros with a poker player. When he was on the golf course, Seve's face provided a window to his soul. If the Spaniard played well or executed one of those extraordinary recovery shots, his eyes would brighten, his jaw would drop and even before he pumped his fist the whole world would know exactly how he felt.

Seve's emotional transparency was one of the reasons he was so popular in this country. Galleries like to share moments of glory and disappointment and Ballesteros always wore his heart on his sleeve. All of the 'famous five' – Seve, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer – were greatly admired. But no European golfer inspired more affection than the player from Pedrena.

In his autobiography, Ballesteros recalled: "In Britain, there was always a great connection between me and the gallery. It was a very good chemistry because I was never flat in my face. The British liked that. My face showed every emotion, from happiness to anger."

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As the world of golf waits anxiously for news of the biopsy which surgeons in Madrid will perform today after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, it was inevitable to reflect on how Seve had not been himself for some time.

Last year at Carnoustie, for example, when he announced his retirement from tournament golf, Seve posed for a picture with his contemporary, Faldo, in the clubhouse. Both of Europe's greatest players were born in 1957, but that day you wouldn't have guessed the Spaniard was only three months older than the Englishman.

The years have been kind to Faldo and, physically, he looks little different from his heyday. Ballesteros, on the other hand, was a shadow of his former self. Flecks of grey speckled his hair, his face was furrowed and his demeanour was fragile. Surely the most charismatic figure to emerge in golf since Arnold Palmer, there was a palpable sadness surrounding Seve's decision to call it a day in Scotland which extended beyond mere regret at serving notice on such a remarkable playing career.

Some 32 summers after making his debut as an 18-year-old in the Open at Carnoustie, Seve did his best that day to dispute that his retirement was in any way related to rumours about his health. While a report on Spanish TV, which hinted darkly of a suicide attempt, was dismissed as fantasy, he did acknowledge going into hospital to be treated for an irregular heartbeat.

After all those years of battling a chronic back injury, which more or less brought the curtain down on his competitive career in 1995 when he won his 50th, and last, European Tour title, Seve appeared worn out by the process which diminished his powers as a golfer.

No matter how poorly he played, for years Seve struggled to let go. The boy who learned to grasp the game on the beach at Santander with a cut-down 3 iron, only accepted the inevitability of what golf had in store for him after he finished last at a Champions Tour event in Alabama. "There had been too much stress, too much effort, for too many years," he conceded.

Even as the virtuoso sought to make a new life for himself away from competition, the suspicion lingered all was not as it should be with such a vibrant individual. A colleague, who arranged to talk to the Spaniard in London last winter was taken aback by how drained Seve looked after speaking at a function and wasn't in the least bit surprised when the interview had to be re-arranged for the next day.

When news filtered through from Madrid last week that Ballesteros had collapsed at Barajas Airport, the golf world held its breath. It was reported he had lost consciousness after suffering an epileptic fit. Once he'd been examined by the doctors at La Paz Hospital, a brain tumour was detected.

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We like to think our heroes are immortal and for someone as special as Seve to be confined to a hospital bed waiting to learn what the fates have in store for him is hard to grasp. "On Tuesday I will have a biopsy performed and then the doctors will decide how to proceed," reported the five-times major winner.

Recalling how when Ballesteros walked into a room, the place suddenly came alive, Colin Montgomerie observed: "Seve is only six years older than me, but he's a hero of mine. His talent was just unbelievable. I think he was everyone's favourite. We all enjoyed watching him play. Seve was always a bit different. He was unique."

From personal experience, Monty understands Seve is not the type to buckle. There were a couple of occasions in 2000 and 2002 in the Seve Trophy, for example, when the Spaniard, who was long past his peak, summoned up the resolve to defeat the Scot.

Once, at the Ryder Cup, Seve was dispatched to console Costantino Rocca after losing a match he might have won. "It was okay," remembered the Italian. "I managed to stop Seve crying after a while."

Accustomed throughout his career to shedding tears of joy as well as sadness, Ballesteros' emotional honesty is not to be underestimated. It's a zeal for endurance which will serve Seve best now as he confronts "the most difficult game of my life".


1974: Turns professional.

1976: Wins first European Tour title at Dutch Open and tops Order of Merit with 21,494 total earnings.

1977: Wins Order of Merit again.

1979: Wins Open at Royal Lytham, and makes Ryder Cup debut.

1980: Wins Masters at Augusta, the first European ever to do so.

1981: Wins first of five World Match Play titles. Left out of Ryder Cup team in dispute with European Tour.

1983: Wins second Masters.

1984: Wins Open at St Andrews.

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1985: Helps the European team to their first Ryder Cup victory since 1957.

1987: Part of European side that wins Ryder Cup in America for first time.

1988: Last-round 65 brings third Open victory and second at Royal Lytham.

1989: Part of Ryder Cup-winning team at The Belfry.

1991: European No 1 for sixth time.

1995: 50th European Tour win at Spanish Open proves to be his last.

1997: Non-playing captain as Ryder Cup is successfully defended at Valderrama.

2007: Returns to Masters but shoots 86-80 in what turn out to be his final rounds. Announces retirement in July.

2008: Reveals ihe has been diagnosed with a brain tumour.

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