AP News

Ballesteros ends a charismatic career

Photo: Peter Morrison/AP

Seve Ballesteros officially retired from competition Monday.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) — The Spanish eyes that came to life whenever Seve Ballesteros faced an impossible shot were soft and sad. The man who bounced on the balls of his feet when he won at St. Andrews sat calmly at a table to announce his career was over.

``I don't have the desire,'' Ballesteros said.

Ballesteros officially retired from golf on Monday, ending a charismatic run filled with spectacular shots that carried him to a record 50 victories on the European Tour, five major championships and a Ryder Cup career that helped Europe shed its underdog image.

He has not been a factor the last decade because of back injuries, rarely playing the last couple of years.

Ballesteros was the youngest Masters champion (23) until Tiger Woods came along, and he returned to Augusta National this year to give his career one last chance. He had rounds of 86-80 to finish in last place, then tried one Champions Tour event after turning 50 in April, but again came in last.

``There was a fight, internal fight,'' Ballesteros said. ``My head said, 'I think you should retire.' I keep saying that over and over, but my heart was telling me you would be better to continue playing and compete. It was difficult.''

He said he would keep playing golf with his children, and his focus would be spent on his family and his business, which includes golf course design. His announcement follows television reports from Spain that he tried to commit suicide, which Ballesteros said ``were not even close to reality.''

He arranged to make the announcement at Carnoustie, where he made his British Open debut in 1975 and missed the cut.

Ballesteros was pure magic after that, beginning the following year at Royal Birkdale when the 19-year-old Spaniard threaded a shot through the bunkers and wound up sharing second place with Jack Nicklaus, finishing behind Johnny Miller.

Everyone knew he was special, and he continued to show it.

Ballesteros won his first major in 1979 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, then overwhelmed Augusta National a year later when he took a 10-shot lead into the back nine only to start hitting the ball everywhere. He settled for a four-shot victory, then added another green jacket in 1983 with a four-shot victory over Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, two of America's rising stars.

Ballesteros didn't just win majors. He won them with shots that won't be forgotten, perhaps the most famous a recovery from the parking lot along the 16th hole at Lytham in 1979. He also won in 1984 at St. Andrews, beating Tom Watson, and he captured his final major in 1988 at Lytham by holding off Nick Price.

Asked to choose some of his favorite memories, the list was too long.

``I hit so many good shots and so many good things happened, it's hard to describe how good it feels,'' Ballesteros said. ``It was great.''

Five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson called Ballesteros one of the two greatest natural players, the other being Sam Snead.

``He was the most gifted young golfer that I'd ever come across,'' Thomson said. ``His exploits bore that out. When he did mature, he was pretty good - as good as anyone of his time.''

Ballesteros was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999.

Much like Arnold Palmer, he brought excitement to golf with his swashbuckling style. He could be abrasive at times, and he often argued with the PGA Tour over how many tournaments he was required to play.

But there was rarely a dull moment with Ballesteros, especially when he got in trouble.

Facing a desperate situation in the 1983 Ryder Cup against Fuzzy Zoeller, Ballesteros hit 3-wood from the edge of a bunker to earn a remarkable halve on the 18th hole at PGA National.

Europe had not won the Ryder Cup since 1957, and it usually wasn't even close. But it finished only one point behind in 1983, and inspired by the fiery play of the Spaniard, it won in the next event in England and now dominates the Ryder Cup.

Along the way, he and Nick Faldo were an inspiration to European youth.

``He probably had the best short game in the world,'' Luke Donald said. ``When he was competing, he was the best. And that's how he was able to score. I'm sure there's a few players out there that are similar to that, but probably don't have the charisma that he had getting to the green.''

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