MADRID // Seve Ballesteros, one of golf's greatest and most charismatic players, died at the age of 54 following a long battle with tumour, his family said.
The Spaniard, who won five major titles and inspired a generation of players worldwide, died peacefully at 2.10am local time surrounded by his family at his home in Pedrena, northern Spain, after four operations on a brain tumour diagnosed in late 2008.
World No 1 Lee Westwood described Ballesteros as an "inspiration, genius, role model, hero and friend," in one of many warm tributes that kept pouring in.
"Seve made European golf what it is today," Westwood added on his Twitter feed. "RIP Seve."
Many players competing in the concurrent Spanish Open in Terrassa wore black ribbons in tribute to Ballesteros, while organisers prepared to mark his death with a minute's silence.
The flags at the course were flying at half—mast, while Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez embraced on the practice range at the start of the day as they remembered their friend and fellow Spaniard.
At the Madrid Open in tennis, compatriot Rafael Nadal wiped away tears during a tribute of a minute's silence just before his semi—final match against Roger Federer. The top—ranked Nadal watched the video screen showing images of Ballesteros' career and his eyes welled up before he brushed away the tears.
Before going on court, Nadal said Ballesteros was a "pioneer" and "an example for everyone. It's a very sad day for Spain and a sad day for his family."
A winner of three British Opens and two Masters titles, Ballesteros also helped revive Europe's fortunes in the Ryder Cup, breathing new life into the team competition against the United States.
He won 87 titles worldwide, 50 of them on the European Tour, and had the great satisfaction of captaining Europe to Ryder Cup victory at Valderrama in Spain in 1997.
European Tour chief executive George O'Grady said Ballesteros had been an inspiration as a player and a man. "Seve's unique legacy must be the inspiration he has given to so many to watch, support, and play golf, and finally to fight a cruel illness with equal flair, passion, and fierce determination," O'Grady said in a statement.
"We have all been so blessed to live in his era. He was the inspiration behind the European Tour."
The tumour was originally discovered after Ballesteros collapsed at Madrid airport and was rushed to a nearby hospital.
"Because of the way he played the game of golf, you were drawn to him," Mickelson said at Quail Hollow Championship in North Carolina. You wanted to go watch him play. He had charisma and he kind of had so many shots that it was fun to watch him play." — Phil Mickelson.
"The biggest highlight of his personality was his strength, his fighting spirit and his passion for everything he did ... The best homage we can pay him is to continue playing but I don't think any of the homages we make will ever be sufficient enough after everything he's done for golf." — Jose Maria Olazabal.
"The thing that really stands out about him is his determination ... and his passion for everything that he did. He never gave up and always looked for (the shot) or way out, and that reflected his personality." — Miguel Angel Jimenez.
"I am deeply saddened by the news on the passing of Seve. He had a real impact on me and on my life in this sport. He was a leader; bringing the spotlight to the European Tour, paving the way to European success at the Masters and bringing his relentless passion to the Ryder Cup. Today I would call him, Cirque du Soleil. For golf, he was the greatest show on earth. I was a fan and so fortunate I had front row seat." - Nick Faldo.
"His creativity and inventiveness on the golf course may never be surpassed. His death came much too soon." - Tiger Woods.
"This is such a very sad day for all who love golf. Seve's unique legacy must be the inspiration he has given to so many to watch, support, and play golf, and finally to fight a cruel illness with equal flair, passion, and fierce determination. We have all been so blessed to live in his era. He was the inspiration behind the European Tour." - George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour.
"He really blazed the trail for Europeans. Not only in the Ryder Cup, but also on the PGA Tour in how he played at Augusta and his victories over here. We owe a huge amount to him." - Paul Casey.
"America had Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Seve was our Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus rolled into one. You can't speak too highly of him, Seve was Europe's best ever player." - Bernard Gallacher.
"We are looking at a top artist, the king of European golf, if you like, for many years. He brought excitement into the European game as Arnold Palmer did into the American game. Everybody drew another breath when he played. It was like watching a masterpiece." - Howard Clark.
"He was so respected as a player and so admired as a player. His impact on golf to me was more what he did for the European Tour and the Ryder Cup. Those both go hand in hand. It's not far—fetched at all to say that he was the Arnold Palmer of his day on the European Tour, without a doubt. He did so much." - Curtis Strange.
"Seve was the most passionate player I have ever faced and the most patriotic ... One of the most talented and flamboyant players ever to play the game." - Paul Azinger.