To the mournful wail of a lone bagpipe, some of Europe’s greatest golfers joined family, friends and local residents Wednesday at the funeral of Seve Ballesteros, paying an emotional final tribute to the dynamic Spaniard who revived the European game.
Ryder Cup captains Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Sam Torrance and Jose Maria Olazabal and players including Miguel Angel Jimenez marched together in silence as part of the procession from Ballesteros’ family home to the church of San Pedro de Pedrena.
In his groundbreaking career, Seve Ballesteros won a record 50 European Tour titles, amassed five majors and was a key figure in Ryder Cup history.
Young boys and girls wore replicas of the navy blue outfit that Ballesteros wore for his first British Open win in 1979. They each held a 3-iron, the only club Ballesteros owned when he learned to play golf.
About 400 people packed the church to provide Ballesteros with one final send-off before his ashes were spread under a magnolia tree at the family home in this tiny fishing village in northern Spain.
Ballesteros, a five-time major winner and Ryder Cup stalwart, died Saturday at age 54 from complications of a cancerous brain tumor.
“He was so young and such a great man. A great champion -- the best Europe ever had,” Torrance said.
Ballesteros’ oldest son, Javier, carried the urn holding the Spanish golf great’s ashes at the front of the procession, with the somber notes of a single bagpipe punctuating the occasion on an overcast day in the village off the Bay of Santander.
The crowd of up to 1,000 gathered outside the church burst into applause as Ballesteros’ ashes reached the church. Locals, friends and others watched from one of the three giant screens set up outside.
“With hard work he went from nothing to everything, realizing his dream to be the best and to be in the heart of the people,” said nephew Ivan Ballesteros, who was flanked by the golfer’s sons Javier and Miguel on the church altar. “In the end he decided when and where it ended. Rest my friend, rest Seve.”
Relatives inside the church wept and embraced, and so did friends and Pedrena residents watching outside after applauding heartily.
“It’s not a goodbye -- we know you’ll always be here by our side,” Ballesteros’ son Miguel said.
Ballesteros’ brother Vicente picked up the urn -- which had been set above two golf clubs and a golf ball at the foot of the altar -- and carried it out of the church back to the family home, where a private family ceremony was held before the ashes were placed under the magnolia tree overlooking the nearby Real Club de Golf Pedrena course where his career began.
“We all wanted to be here to support Seve and wish him the best. We loved him, he was great,” Faldo said. “It’s a sad time, we lost someone very special. European golf owes Seve a great debt. He was the best frontman we could have ever dreamed of.”
Woosnam said Ballesteros did for European golf what Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus did for the American game. The Spaniard won a record 50 European Tour victories and led Europe to victories in the Ryder Cup both as a player and captain.
His British Open victory at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s in 1979 was only the second for a European player in 28 years and first from the continent since 1907. The hot-tempered Spaniard with a flair for theatrics went on to win the Open again in 1984 and ’88 and the Masters in ’80 and ’83 .
“He put Europe on the map going traveling around the world,” said Woosnam, a fellow Masters champion. “The Ryder Cup is one of the biggest events in the world and that’s thanks to Seve.”
Ballesteros will be remembered not just for the many victories but also the manner in which he achieved them, with daring and courageous shot-making. Faldo said Ballesteros’ 3-wood that helped him halve the final hole at the 1983 Ryder Cup was the greatest shot he’d witnessed.
Coming from a humble background, Ballesteros learned to play golf using only a 3-iron, part of the reason he was inventive in coming up with shots most other players couldn’t imagine.
“I’m so pleased everyone’s all talking about 3-iron because that’s how he started golf,” Faldo said. “I think the 3-iron has to live on. He wanted to give the world a bunker lesson.”
Faldo, Woosnam and Montgomerie said they all hoped the European Tour would consider suggestions to change the tour’s logo to encompass the iconic image of Ballesteros pumping his fist after sinking the putt that clinched the 1984 Open at St. Andrews.
“We will look at it nice and calmly, and if we do consider any single player’s image at the moment it would be Seve’s,” European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady said.
Ballesteros had 87 tournament victories in his career and won 22 1/2 points from 37 matches in eight Ryder Cups. He captained Europe to victory on home soil at Valderrama in 1997.
Homages to Ballesteros were found all along the procession route, mostly in the form of Spanish flags with black ribbons tied to them. Photos and messages of support were also on show in the town of nearly 1,500,
“His roots were here in Pedrena, he never forgot that,” said Asuncion Sota, a cousin of Ballesteros’. “Seve may have passed but his soul lives on here forever.”
Ballesteros’ ashes were to be laid to rest under a magnolia tree in the family garden after the service.
“In golf we never had anyone like him,” five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain said. “He was an innovator.”
Indurain was among a number of Spanish personalities attending, which included former Real Madrid player Emilio Butragueno and bullfighter Enrique Ponce.
For Olazabal in particular, of course, the tears have flowed since the news came at the weekend. He was the other half of the most successful Ryder Cup partnership in history -- 11 wins, two halves and only two defeats between 1987 and 1993.
Ballesteros' final wish was for the funeral to take place in a familiar setting, open to everyone, in his home village and he said he wanted to be treated "like any other neighbor" during the ceremony. With the 400-capacity church packed, three big screens were provided so that others could follow the ceremony from outside.
The family took the opportunity to thank everyone for the support shown during his long illness and, of course, for their condolences since his death.
Spanish state TV broadcast the event live from the village -- population 1,500 -- where many homes paraded Spanish flags with black ribbons attached.
Every golf club in Spain had a minute's silence, and at the European Tour’s Iberdrola Open in Majorca, to where Montgomerie and Olazabal were travelling after the funeral, black ribbons were placed on every flag for Wednesday’s pro-am and a service was held in the chapel alongside the course.