Seve Ballesteros, who earned 87 titles during his career, had undergone surgery for a brain tumor three years ago.
Spanish golfing great Ballesteros dies
MADRID // Spanish golf legend Severiano Ballesteros, one of golf's all-time greats who lifted five majors and turned a new generation on to the sport, died Saturday aged 54 three years after undergoing an operation to remove a brain tumour.
"Seve Ballesteros died at 2:10 am, surrounded by his family, in his home in Pedrena" in northwestern Spain, following "respiratory failure," his family said in a statement.
Ballesteros was a charismatic figure who led the European challenge to the decades-long supremacy of the United States.
From the mid-1970s to the 1990s, "Seve" was one of the sport's most celebrated personalities, collecting 87 career titles before retiring in 2007 with back problems.
Known for his flamboyant and imaginative style of play, he famously won one of his three British Open titles by playing a shot from a temporary parking lot.
El Pais led the tributes, calling Ballesteros the "brightest star" and a "unique genius". "The memory of his feats still blinds," the leading Spanish daily said on its website.
Tennis world number one Rafael Nadal of Spain, a keen golfer, said Friday on learning of his deteriorating condition: "Seve is great, a model for all Spanish athletes who had the good fortune to meet him and play golf with him."
The news cast a pall over the Spanish Open under way in Barcelona, with second-placed Pablo Larrazabal saying Friday: "His fight these last years has been an inspiration for us all... He was really spectacular, never giving up, hitting his driver and chasing the ball into the hole from everywhere."
The European Tour's official website said Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, contemporaries of Ballesteros, were in tears over the news.
Olazabal, a close friend of Ballesteros, said: "I will keep on playing because it's the best way to pay tribute to Seve. "He would have liked us to keep on playing."
George O'Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, said: "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."
Ballesteros was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour after losing consciousness at Madrid airport on October 6, 2008.
He underwent four operations to remove the tumour and reduce swelling in his skull, as well as chemotherapy. He called his battle against the tumour the "hardest challenge of my life".
"During my career I was one of the best at getting around obstacles on golf courses. Now I want to be the best at confronting the most difficult match of my life with all my strength," he said when he revealed his illness.
Ballesteros announced his presence as a teenager in 1976 when he finished second at the British Open, just two years after turning pro aged 16.
Topping the European Tour Order of Merit that year -- he would go on to do so on another five occasions -- was a measure of compensation for being the runner-up after leading at the midway point.
In 1979, aged 21, he became the youngest winner of the British Open.
A year later, he was the first European to make the breakthrough at the Augusta Masters, opening the floodgates for the likes of Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, and his Spanish compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal.
That first of two Masters titles made him, at 23, the youngest winner before a 21-year-old Tiger Woods broke his record in 1997.
Ballesteros was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, where he joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Golf Digest magazine in 2000 ranked him as the greatest golfer Europe has produced.