CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The news that European icon Seve Ballesteros had suffered “a severe deterioration” in his condition 2 1/2 years after being diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor swept over a stunned field Friday at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Sergio Garcia is a protégé of Ballesteros’ and learned the news just before his 2:20 p.m. (ET) tee time at Quail Hollow.
“He’s fought for so long. It’s a tough illness. We’ll see,” the fellow Spaniard said. “He’s been one of my idols. He’s meant so much for Spanish golf and done a lot of good for all of golf.”
The 54-year-old three-time British Open champion and two-time Masters winner has undergone four operations and an assortment of chemotherapy and other treatments since late 2008.
Fellow Spaniards Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, both playing this week’s Spanish Open, were too emotional to speak with reporters after their rounds on Friday.
“He was so nice to me,” Casey said through tears. “He was my idol. I don’t know, it just makes me sad.”
Casey’s emotion was a common theme among the Europeans at the Wells Fargo, all of whom were too young to have played with Ballesteros during his prime but benefited from his trailblazing career and his kindness.
“He was a guy I wanted to watch because you always knew his golf was exciting,” Casey said. “Sergio was like one of his sons, really. Seve had it all, it was the flair, the smile, the never-say-die attitude that was very attractive.”
For Justin Rose the news goes beyond Ballesteros’ impact to European golf. Rose’s sister, Margi, runs the Ballesteros foundation that raises funds for brain cancer research and he is scheduled to play in Ballesteros’ charity event in two weeks at Wentworth in England.
When Rose won last year’s Memorial, his first PGA Tour title, he created a scrapbook from the victory and had Ballesteros sign it.
“There were a couple of times on the course (at last year’s Memorial) it was a little inspirational and I’d think of him when I had a couple good short-game shots,” Rose said. “He’s been a hero of mine. It was a really cool keepsake.”
Rose once partnered with Ballesteros at the Seve Trophy, a Ryder Cup-style team event created to honor the Spaniard. “He wasn’t hitting it well at all, but he never lost his dignity and he never lost his touch around the greens,” he recalled.
Davis Love III received an early indoctrination of Ballesteros’s legendary short game, which lifted him to 50 European Tour titles. At the 1993 Ryder Cup, Love’s first, he played his first three team matches against Ballesteros and Olazabal, dubbed the “Spanish Armada” for the duo’s stellar team record in the biennial matches.
“(United States team captain Tom Watson) said, ‘I’m not sending you back out for the fourth match. Nobody should have to play them four straight times,’” Love laughed. “He was always so good to me. It just makes you realize no matter how great a player you are your time will come.”
Phil Mickelson, a kindred spirit of Ballesteros’ with a magical short game and flair for the dramatic on the golf course, honored the former Masters champion during this year’s champions dinner at Augusta National with a Spanish-themed menu.
“The way he played the game of golf you were drawn to him. You wanted to go watch him play,” Mickelson said. “He kind of had so many shots that it was fun to watch him play.”
Mickelson met Ballesteros at his first Tour event in 1988 in San Diego and convinced a friend to arrange a practice round with him.
“He was the guy I wanted to play a practice round with the most,” Mickelson said. “From that day on he couldn’t have been nicer to me. . . . He showed me a few things, showed me a few shots and ever since then we’ve had a good relationship for the last 23 years.”
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggardGC