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Spanish golf legend Severiano Ballesteros dies

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Seve Ballesteros: One of golf's greats
  • "Seve was a superhero" for young golfers
  • Ballesteros was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008
  • He won a record 50 tournaments on the European Tour
  • He helped beat the U.S. in the 1985 Ryder Cup to begin two decades of dominance in golf

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- When Severiano Ballesteros became a professional golf player in 1974 at the age 16, he began transforming the game in Europe with his masterful creativity and imagination.

On Saturday, at the age of 54, he succumbed to complications related to a brain tumor, according to his official website.

A message on the site Saturday said, in part, "Today, at 2:10 a.m. Spanish time, Seve Ballesteros passed away peacefully surrounded by his family at his home in Pedrena.

"The Ballesteros family is very grateful for all the support and gestures of love that have been received since Seve was diagnosed with a brain tumor on 5th October 2008 at Madrid Hospital la Paz."

Fellow players have been quick to pay tribute.

English golfer Lee Westwood, the current world No. 1, tweeted that it was a "sad day" and described Ballesteros as an inspiration, genius, role model, hero and friend. "Seve made European golf what it is today," Westwood continued. "RIP Seve."

Italian golfer Francesco Molinari tweeted: "What a terrible news to hear first thing in the morning. Seve was a superhero for all young golfers, played shots only he could see. RIP."

Ballesteros first made his name as a 19-year-old in 1976 when he finished second at the British Open -- one of golf's four major tournaments.

A moment of silence for Ballesteros
2005: Meet Ballesteros the legend
Gallery: Ballesteros career highlights

Three years later, he captured the win, making him the youngest winner of that century and the first non-British European to do so since 1907.

The Spaniard headed to America the following year where he achieved what no European player had: he won the Masters at Augusta.

That victory was seen as breaking down the barriers for his fellow professionals from across the Atlantic who were seen at the time as inferior rivals.

"It was hard to get an invitation, it was hard to get into the majors, especially the U.S. Open," Ballesteros told CNN in 2006. "They didn't like to see someone coming from a small country like Spain and go over there and take their money. As I hear several times in the locker room, 'Here comes the Spaniard to take our money.'"

During his 33-year career, he won a total of five major championships, six titles on the U.S. PGA tour and 56 on the European tour.

Adored by fans around the world, Ballesteros was also highly respected by his fellow golfers, who described him as a maverick.

"You never knew when Seve was down -- he's always been a battler on the golf course," said British professional golfer Lee Westwood. "When he thought he was out of a hole, he's been able to get it up and down and just grind away."

He led the newly formed European team to its first Ryder Cup victory in 1985 and its continued period of success after that.

Key to the team's success was the partnership between Ballesteros and his friend Jose Maria Olazabel. They went on to become the most successful pairing in the event's history.

Olazabel told CNN that he "learned a lot" from his fellow Spaniard.

"It was wonderful to watch him play," the European Tour player said in a 2006 interview. "Even though he might not be hitting the ball well he never gave up. He fought until the end. Great matches we won matches that looked lost. So everything was positive."

He led his team to victory in Valderrama, Spain, in 1997 -- the first year that the teams event was hosted by Europe outside of Britain and Ireland.

Despite battling chronic back pain that hampered his form in the 1990s, he was named Spanish Sportsman of the Century and European Player of the Century in 2000.

It was Ballesteros' passion and fighting spirit that saw him reach the summit of golf's world rankings and escape seemingly impossible positions on the golf course.

When he announced his retirement in July 2007 at the age of 50, he said it was "the most difficult decision of my life."

"I have a number of good years left and I'd rather spend time now with my three children and my companies and friends," he said at the time.

"Golf has given me so much over the years that it's really hard to give back even 25 percent of how much I got. It gave me the pleasure of competing and feeling the glory of winning."

A three-time British Open champion and two-time Masters champion, Ballesteros was often credited for transforming European golf.

He was diagnosed with a brain tumor after losing consciousness at Madrid Airport on October 5, 2008.

In late 2008, he reportedly was recovering from the tumor and was released from a hospital after several operations.

At the time, he called the situation the "hardest challenge of my life."

He posted a message on his personal website to thank the doctors at Madrid's Universitario La Paz hospital for the treatment.

"Thanks to them I will be able to play the mulligan of my life, which I expect to enjoy at my best," Ballesteros said at the time.

CNN's Tricia Escobedo and Esprit Smith contributed to this report.