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Despite retiring, Seve Ballesteros plans to remain active in the game. (David Cannon/WireImage)
Despite retiring, Seve Ballesteros plans to remain active in the game. (David Cannon/WireImage)

Magic gone, Ballesteros retires from competitive golf

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Seve Ballesteros reluctantly announced his retirement Monday at Carnoustie, where he made his Open Championship debut 27 years ago. The charismatic Spaniard has struggled recently, but was one of the game's greatest shotmakers.

By Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- On Monday, one of the rare times in his standout career, Seve Ballesteros admitted his head finally won out over his tremendous heart.

The man Nick Faldo called the "Arnold Palmer of European golf" came to Carnoustie, the site of his Open Championship debut in 1975, to announce his retirement from competitive golf.

"For a few months, there was something confused inside of me," Ballesteros said in his heavily accented English. "There was a fight, internal fight. My head say, 'I think you should retire.' I keep saying that over and over, but my heart was keeping telling me that you would be better to continue playing and compete.

"So it was difficult for quite a while."

Ballesteros said he made his decision after coming to the United States to make his Champions Tour debut. The Spaniard finished 77th at the Regions Charity Classic, shooting rounds of 78-81-73, and then withdrew from the Senior PGA Championship.

"It's just I don't have the desire," the 50-year-old Ballesteros said. "You have to remember that I give away all my years of my teenage, you know. I worked really hard from morning to night and I put all my energy and my effort into the game, focused a hundred percent and I thought that was enough."

In his prime, Ballesteros was one of the game's most creative and charismatic performers. His erratic ball-striking continually put the Spaniard in predicaments that required heroic shots and -- more often than not -- Ballesteros was up to the task.

Perhaps his most famous is the one he played from the car park at Royal Lytham. He'd hit his drive on the 16th there and received a free drop. His second shot settled 15 feet from the pin and produced a birdie that clinched his first Open Championship in 1979.

Ballesteros' penchant for Houdini-like escapes sometimes overshadowed the talent he honed growing up as the son of a greenskeeper in Santander. The swashbuckling Spaniard went on to win five major championships, nine PGA TOUR events and 79 other titles worldwide.

Ballesteros also led the European resurgence in the Ryder Cup and captained a victorious team in 1997. He's played sparingly -- and when he did, it was sub-par -- over the last decade, though, as he battled back problems.

"He was fantastic for the game," Faldo said. "His passion, his charisma, his energy, his determination -- he had all of those in abundance, which was great as an individual and as a team member in Ryder Cup. He was an awesome player.

"One of the best rounds of golf I ever witnessed was that last day at Lytham. ... The style he played, it was just a classic. Tee it up, hit it, didn't know where it went, chase after it, hit it again. It was just his style. The energy in the shots was just fantastic.

"It wasn't just hit and pose. It was the whole ... Cirque de Soleil. He was Cirque de Soleil of golf. That's probably the best description of his artistry and grace."

Faldo had a breakfast meeting with his long-time friend and adversary on Monday and he sensed something was up. So Faldo, who was Jack Nicklaus to Ballesteros' Palmer across the pond, was not surprised when two sportswriters asked for his reaction.

"It's tough," Faldo, who turns 50 next week, said. "You've given your heart and soul to something. I hope he doesn't feel it's admitting defeat. I hope he feels he did his time. Yes, he's had tough times, but a lot of it was generated by his back. ...

"So I think it's a good time. A very good time."

Ballesteros denied that a recent health scare influenced his decision. He had gone to the hospital after feeling "tension in my chest" and spent several hours there when doctors suspected he was suffering from arrhythmia.

The Spaniard also said that there was no truth to the rumor, broadcast on Spanish television, that he had attempted suicide. The report indicated Ballesteros was despondent over the death of his girlfriend several months ago.

So Ballesteros will retire, but he doesn't plan to rest. He'll spend time with his three children -- one of whom is a scratch golfer and another who plays to a 3 -- and the rest of his family. He recently convinced his 12-year-old daughter to take up the game.

"Who knows, maybe one day I'll caddie with one of them or both and become the manager or the assistant or whatever, one day when they come to the media center," he said, smiling at the thought. "It's possible."

Ballesteros has a golf course design business and event management company, as well as a new business centered on motivational training. So he will be able to stay close to the game that has been such a prominent part of his life.

"I have to say that golf give me so much over the years that it's really hard to give back, even 25 percent of how much I get," Ballesteros said. "It really gave me not only the pleasure of competing and enjoying the competition and feel the glory of winning, it give me the chance of traveling around the world, meeting people through dinners, cocktails and playing in pro ams, and it give me the great feeling of the people who really show me the understanding and the appreciation of what I have done in the game of golf.

"Obviously, I feel very, very lucky, personally, and I'm very, very grateful for these things that really happened over those 30 years."

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