The condition of golfing legend Seve Ballesteros, one of the most popular sportsmen ever, has taken a serious turn for the worse.
In a wheelchair when visited by Jose Maria Olazabal two weeks ago, the 54-year-old’s health is now giving such concern that a statement was issued today on his website.
“The Ballesteros family informs that Seve’s neurological condition has suffered a severe deterioration,” it read.
“The family will inform accordingly about any change in his health condition and takes this opportunity of thanking everyone for the support that both Seve and his own family have been receiving during all this time.
“They also indicate that they will promptly report on the state of the Spanish champion through the website www.seveballesteros.com.”
Ballesteros’s life was saved by four lengthy brain operations after he collapsed with a tumour late in 2008.
He then underwent six courses of chemotherapy and additional radiotherapy, but now his millions of fans are once again anxiously awaiting more news.
It is understood that the former world number one’s three children – sons Baldomero and Miguel and daughter Carmen – are with him at home in Pedrena and that his ex-wife Carmen is staying at their apartment in nearby Santander.
Olazabal’s manager Sergio Gomez said the current Ryder Cup captain was contacted by Ballesteros’s daughter yesterday and told of his deterioration.
Olazabal, who with Ballesteros formed the most devastating partnership in cup history with only two defeats in 15 games together, is competing at the Spanish Open in Barcelona.
According to the event’s press officer, both Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who served as Ballesteros’s vice-captain at Valderrama in 1997 and has gone on to win four caps as a player, were in tears after playing the first two rounds together.
The pair made their debuts in the tournament in 1983 and have yet to win it. Ballesteros was his national champion in 1981, 1985 and 1995, the last of his record 50 European Tour titles.
“Seve’s physical condition was not good when Jose Maria went to see him, but they talked about golf and everything,” Gomez said. “Then came the call yesterday to tell him that Seve was in a critical condition.”
Ballesteros was the first person Olazabal spoke to after being offered the Ryder Cup captaincy in January.
“I would love him to be able to travel to Chicago next year and stand alongside me, but being realistic I think those chances are very slim,” Olazabal said at the time.
“Seve was the biggest inspiration for me without a doubt. I didn’t know what the Ryder Cup was all about before my debut at Muirfield Village (in 1987).
“He took me under his wing, I saw the way he fought until the end and his passion for winning. It’s something I’ve carried on, or at least I’ve tried to keep with me.”
Not surprisingly, Olazabal was chosen by the BBC to present Ballesteros with his Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 Sports Personality of the Year.
At last October’s Ryder Cup Ballesteros sent a message of encouragement to Colin Montgomerie’s side and a photo of him and Olazabal playing in the match was in the team room all week.
Lee Westwood said at the time: “He sounded just as passionate as he always does when talking about the Ryder Cup.
“He obviously is one of the legends of the game and instrumental in taking European golf to a world audience.
“Not that everybody needed a lift, but it gave some of the lads that had not played with him or spent much time with him that extra idea of what it’s all about.
“I know it was over the phone, but you could still almost see a twinkle in his eyes when he was talking, he was so passionate.”
Ballesteros, who announced his retirement from golf in 2007, collapsed at Madrid Airport in October 2008 and two days later came confirmation that he had a brain tumour.
He underwent an initial 12-hour operation, but further surgery was necessary 10 days later because he had suffered a brain edema.
After two more operations he eventually left hospital and while starting treatment launched the Severiano Ballesteros Foundation, created to help fight brain tumours.
“I am very motivated and working hard, although I am aware that my recovery will be slow and therefore I need to be patient and have a lot of determination,” he said then.
“For these reasons I am following strictly all the instructions that the doctors are giving me. Besides, the physiotherapists are doing a great job on me and I feel better every day.”
His first public appearance came in June 2009, when he said it was a “miracle” to be alive, but after setting himself the target of appearing in the 2010 Open at St Andrews – not for the event itself, but for the four-hole Champions challenge – he was not well enough to attend.
Nor has he been able to go to The Masters for the annual Champions Dinner, but Phil Mickelson had a Spanish menu in his honour last month and spoke of how Ballesteros had inspired him to take up the game.