My television schedule has taken me to the Algarve this week for the Portugal Masters, but, like a lot of other people in golf, I find my thoughts drifting across the border to Spain. The news from a Madrid hospital that Seve Ballesteros has been diagnosed with a brain tumour affected millions who have known, watched, admired and idolised the great man since he burst on to the scene in the 1970s.
He suffered a complication following surgery yesterday, but was said to be in a stable condition. The biggest comfort for us all is that Seve is one of the greatest battlers the game has ever seen. Looking back over his five victories in the majors, 87 tournament wins overall, and wonderful Ryder Cup record, we're now trusting him to win his toughest fight following a 12-hour operation. I had the great fortune to play, practice and talk golf with him on many occasions over the years, and for every round, session or chat, there's a good Seve story.
My first encounter with him came at Royal Birkdale in 1983 when I was playing in my first British Open Championship as the new British Amateur champion. During a practice round with two other amateurs, I quickly became aware of the legendary Seve magic. He was playing right behind us, towing his own audience around Birkdale, and entertaining them in his inimitable way. It was obvious from the roars and screams of delight ringing out across the course that they were all having a wonderful time, Seve, his caddie, and the crowd.
When he caught up with us on the 12th tee, I was expecting to let him through. Instead, he joined us to make up a fourball, and it was my first of many encounters with the generous side of Seve. I don't know many top pros who would have shared an Open practice round with three amateurs, and been happy to offer advice and give tips. But over the years I saw many other examples of this. Seve gave so much time to other players. He enjoyed interacting, and passing on his great golfing knowledge.
My most unforgettable encounter with him came at the 1984 US Masters, where he caught up with me on the 10th green during another practice round, and we played the last eight holes together. On the par five 13th I hit a nice drive around the corner on the dog leg. Seve told me to hit a one iron to the green. So I did, and hit it perfectly, but it fell short into the creek. Seve laughed and said: "I knew you'd do that." Then, before I had a chance to complain, he said: "I wanted you to make that mistake now, not in the tournament, like I've done in previous years."
Two holes later, Seve hit a three wood second across the lake to within 15ft of the hole. Not satisfied, he hit another three wood, his ball finishing six inches from the pin. Then another, almost exactly the same result. Having finished me off in our little friendly contest, it was time for some fun on the par three 16th. Seve said: "I'm going to hit a three iron, bounce it on the water three times, and run it up on to the green." He did, and the ball finished 15ft from the hole.
Then on the 17th he challenged me to get closest to the hole from the front greenside bunker, after we'd stamped on our balls to virtually bury them in the sand. I managed to keep my ball on the green, and was satisfied. To this day, I don't know how Seve's ball managed to come out of that awful lie, land gently on the green and roll up to within a few feet of the hole. Seve resented the tag of "car park champion", awarded following some adventurous driving en route to his British Open victory in 1979. But he often was a wayward genius who could escape miraculously from trouble.
I remember playing behind him during the German Masters, and on this day he was all over the place, often in the trees, never, it seemed, on the fairway. At the end of our round, before handing in our cards, myself and my two playing partners tried to guess Seve's score. One of the guys said he must have shot at least an 85. The other said, because it was Seve, he could possibly have got away with an 80. I went for a 76, and my two playing partners thought I was crazy. Then we found out Seve had shot a 69. It seemed impossible, but there it was on the scoreboard.
As they say in Ireland, pure genius. Severiano Ballesteros. Golf's greatest fighter, we're fighting with you. Philip Parkin, a former Tour player in Europe and the US, is a world-class golf coach now based in Florida, and a member of the golf commentary team for the BBC, European Tour Productions, Setanta Sports and The Golf Channel.