Some of golf's biggest names gathered last weekend for the Father-Son Challenge at the sprawling ChampionsGate Golf Club near Disney World. It was one of those silly season made-for-TV tournaments in which Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Davis Love, to name a few, played a team format with their sons or grandsons.
Thousands of miles away, in Madrid, another golfing legend was surrounded by his family in his battle with brain cancer. Seve Ballesteros, 51, was back in La Paz Hospital for a fourth time to drain fluid and repair bone damaged during one of the previous three surgeries.
The Spaniard collapsed in a Madrid airport Oct. 6 and had his first surgery Oct. 24 to remove a malignant brain tumor. He was released from intensive care Nov. 18, but he went back into surgery two other times to implant a valve in his brain and drain fluid. Ballesteros, a five-time major champion, was released from the hospital Tuesday and will continue to be treated as an outpatient.
Life goes on in the world of golf, but those who know Ballesteros are keeping a close eye on his situation.
"It's obviously very sad circumstances that he's under right now,'' said Norman, the Australian who played against Ballesteros numerous times in majors and European tournaments. "It's a bit of a reality check for all of us at that age. I have been in touch with his brothers on about a weekly basis. I have gotten messages relayed from Seve through his brothers that he has gotten the messages. It's important for him to know that people are reaching out to him."
Ballesteros has received hundreds of get-well wishes from the golf community since word got out about his cancer. And for the first time in more than a month he was able to respond on his Web site, seveballesteros.com.
"There is a long recovery time ahead and I shall keep on fighting with patience and determination against the brain tumor that was detected at the beginning of October,'' part of the message read. "After the four surgeries I have undergone I would like to emphasize the efficiency and humanity of the neurosurgeons. They are excellent professionals and unique as human beings. Thanks to them I will be able to play the mulligan of my life, which I expect to enjoy at my best.''
Faldo knows firsthand about the heart of Ballesteros. He was on the 1997 Ryder Cup team, captained by Ballesteros, that defeated the Americans by one point at Valderrama in Spain. He was also on the 1985 team with Ballesteros that defeated the United States for the first time in 28 years.
"It's a brutal time for poor Seve,'' said Faldo, 51. "I'm not even going to talk about (memories). My message to the universe is that I'll see him on the putting green somewhere. I don't want to talk about the past, I want to talk about the future. I reckon he'll pull through. That man's got a heart bigger than anybody else.''
Unlike Faldo, Love, 44, played against Ballesteros in Ryder Cup matches and has a healthy respect for his competitiveness.
"Well, I knew him fairly well, competed against him a little bit in the Ryder Cup and stuff like that,'' Love said. "You know, it's tough. We're praying for him. We've got a little girl at home (in his Sea Island, Ga., neighborhood), same situation, struggling. Hopefully they'll figure something out and he can get better and the news will turn around for him.''
Ballesteros was supposed to captain the European team in the Ryder Cup-style Royal Trophy tournament in January against Asia, but Jose Maria Olazabal will take his place.
Ballesteros won a record 50 tournaments on the European PGA Tour and has nine more victories on the PGA Tour. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999.
Norman, 53, hopes Ballesteros' battle with cancer is something else he can win.
"I grew up with Seve and have had a lot of battles with Seve,'' Norman said. "We've been very good friends for a long period of time. I came to America and he didn't and that's when we started growing apart. I feel for him. My heart goes out to him. Quite honestly, I've been thinking about him a lot lately. I actually dreamt about him the other night. I hope he can pull his way through it."