Ballesteros' distinctive career hits end of the line

Updated: July 16, 2007, 4:28 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- There was no official "army" of followers, and there won't be a long procession of goodbyes. But Seve Ballesteros was every bit the Arnold Palmer of European golf -- a swashbuckling, go-for-broke player whose style and charisma elevated golf to a new level in this part of the world.

Ballesteros, 50, announced his retirement from competitive golf Monday at Carnoustie, where the three-time Open Championship winner made his tournament debut as an 18-year-old in 1975.

Seve Ballesteros
AP Photo/Peter MorrisonSapped of his desire to continue playing, Seve Ballesteros announced his retirement at Carnoustie, where his career began in 1975.

Unlike Palmer, who waved from the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews (across the Firth of Tay from Carnoustie) to put an end to his Open career in 1995, Ballesteros bowed out unceremoniously in a news conference Monday after an unsuccessful bid to play the Champions Tour earlier this year.

"I just don't have the desire," said Ballesteros, who has been plagued with injuries for most of the past decade. "I am not willing to give away things that I did before. I put all my energy and effort into the game, focused 100 percent, and I thought that was enough."

Ballesteros dominated the European Tour for much of the 1980s and helped Europe -- which had joined Great Britain & Ireland -- to its first big victories in the Ryder Cup, including the first on American soil in 1987. He won the Open in 1979, 1984 and 1988, and captured the Masters in 1980 and 1983. He also captained the winning 1997 European Ryder Cup team.

The style he played with was just classic. Tee it up, hit it, chase after it and hit it again. The energy of his shots was just fantastic. It was Cirque de Soleil on golf.

Nick Faldo

He won 56 times on the European Tour, all over the continent. He was known for his wayward drives and his amazing acts of recovery, but perhaps it all caught up with him. Ballesteros turned pro at 16. By his early 40s, when many players are still at the top of their games, he was a physical wreck with back problems. His last victory came in the 1995 Spanish Open at age 38.

"The style he played with was just classic," said Nick Faldo, another three-time Open winner. "Tee it up, hit it, chase after it and hit it again. The energy of his shots was just fantastic. It was Cirque de Soleil on golf."

Both Seve himself and Faldo recalled Ballesteros' final-round 65 in 1988 at Royal Lytham, a score that denied Faldo a second straight Open title and brought Seve his third. It was nine years after his first at Lytham, an Open made famous for, among other things, Ballesteros making birdie from a car park.

"He was one of the two greatest natural golfers I ever saw," five-time Open champion Peter Thomson said of Ballesteros. "The other was Sam Snead. And I give him the praise that he was the most gifted young golfer that I'd come across. His exploits bore that out. When he did mature, he was pretty good, good as anyone of his time."

American golf fans were mostly denied viewing his brilliance. Ballesteros attempted to play the PGA Tour in the 1980s, but was -- like any other tour member -- given a minimum number of events to play. He balked at the all-or-nothing nature of the commitment and walked back to Europe.

It was ironic because in 1981, Ballesteros was banned from the European Ryder Cup team because he was said to have played too much in America.

Ballesteros played in last year's British Open at Hoylake and had a respectable two days before missing the cut. He missed the cut at this year's Masters (shooting 86-80), but turned 50 in April and was expected to play a good number of Champions Tour events. After finishing last at an event in Birmingham, however, Ballesteros withdrew from the Senior PGA Championship and returned to Spain.

It was around that time that he began contemplating Monday's announcement, and he said it had nothing to do with an erroneous Spanish television report last week that he had attempted suicide.

Ballesteros had been to a hospital to have tests performed on his heart after he experienced some chest pains.

"I chose Carnoustie because Carnoustie was my first Open," he said. "I thought that maybe it was the best place to do it. I just felt it was the time for me to stop and to compete at a good level demands a lot of effort and a lot of things, and I felt that I was not ready for that.

"In a lot of ways, it's a little bit sad to say goodbye, but on the other hand, there's one thing you knew was always going to happen sooner or later. I thought this was the time."

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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