Seve Ballesteros, who won five major championships and was the catalyst for Europe’s resurgence at the Ryder Cup, died May 7, 2011, of complications from a brain tumor. He was 54.
Ballesteros grew up in a tiny village on the coast of Spain and learned to play golf by hitting shots on the beach with hand-me-down clubs. The Spaniard honed his talents and turned pro as a teenager, and before long he was challenging the game’s best.
He won the first of his three British Opens in 1979, and the following year he overpowered Augusta National Golf Club en route to his first Masters victory. He eclipsed Jack Nicklaus as the youngest Masters winner, a mark that has since been broken by Tiger Woods, and threatened the tournament’s scoring record before settling for a four-shot win.
Ballesteros added a second Masters title in 1983 when he blitzed the field on a Monday finish that was caused by rain. Ballesteros started birdie-eagle-par-birdie and won by four shots.
“When he gets going, it’s almost as if Seve is driving a Ferrari and the rest of us are in Chevrolets,” Tom Kite once said.
The Spaniard added British Open titles in 1984 and 1988, but today’s generation of golfers know him best for his passion and play at the Ryder Cup. He compiled a record of 20-12-5 in eight appearances, and helped the Europeans end decades of American dominance. He teamed with fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal to become the best pairing in the event’s history with a record of 11-2-2.
His proudest moment came in 1997 when he served as captain on his home soil, and the Europeans defeated the Americans.
Ballesteros won 50 times on the European Tour, but only nine times on the PGA Tour. The fiery Spaniard was not immune to controversy, and he feuded with PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman about the required number of events to retain membership.
Although many predicted Ballesteros would challenge Jack Nicklaus’ record for most Masters victories, the Spaniard fell short of those expectations. He squandered a big lead in 1986 as Nicklaus charged from behind for his sixth Masters win, and a year later Ballesteros was eliminated in a sudden-death playoff against Larry Mize and Greg Norman.
Back problems plagued Ballesteros later in his career, and he struggled to regain his form. He announced his retirement from competitive golf at the 2007 British Open.
Ballesteros’ tumor was discovered in October 2008 after he passed out in the Madrid airport. Four surgeries were needed and he underwent chemotherapy. At the time, Ballesteros called it “the hardest challenge of my life.”
“With the passing of Seve Ballesteros, the Masters Tournament loses one of its great champions,” Augusta National and Masters chairman Billy Payne said in a statement.
“Best known for his fearless and heroic play, Seve annually showcased his brilliance at Augusta National, much to the enjoyment of the millions of fans he inspired around the world,” Payne said. “He leaves an indelible mark on the history of our tournament and will be dearly missed.”
Furman Bisher, who covered the Masters 62 times and was personally acquainted with Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones, died March 18, 2012. He was 93.
Bisher started his career in his home state of North Carolina but eventually landed in Atlanta, where he became prominent as one of the nation’s leading columnists.
While Bisher regularly traveled the country to cover top events such as the Super Bowl, World Series and Triple Crown horse races, his favorite assignment was one closer to home: the Masters.
Bisher began covering the tournament in 1950 and covered the leading players from the era of Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan; to the days of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player; and then Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other modern stars.
While covering his 50th Masters, in 1999, Bisher said two Masters stood out.
The first was in 1954, when he was walking across the fairway as William Patton made his hole-in-one on No. 6.
“The ball whizzed over my head,” Bisher recalled with a chuckle. “I didn’t see where it landed, but it rolled into the cup. Then he knocked it in the water on 13 and 15. He laughed his way through it.”
And Nicklaus’ victory in 1986, when his son Jackie caddied for him, was also very special for Bisher.
“I’ll never forget the scene of the two Jacks embracing on the 18th hole,” Bisher said. “To see him win, that was something.”
Bisher was well-liked by golfers, and he was on a first-name basis with many of them.
During Nicklaus’ media conference earlier in the week in 1986, a question was asked and Bisher got up to leave the room.
“What’s the matter, you don’t want to hear my answer, Furman?” Nicklaus asked.
“At my age, a man respects his kidneys,” Bisher replied as the crowded interview room burst into laughter.
Bisher received numerous awards over his career, including the Red Smith Award for lifetime achievement and the William D. Richardson Award from the Golf Writers Association of America.
“Mr. Bisher was as passionate about the AJC in his final days as he ever was,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports editor Ray Cox said in a statement. “And he was always a perfect Southern gentleman. He was first and foremost a journalist but one whose ability to write far surpassed the skills of most of us who came into the business hoping to emulate him.”
Jim Huber, an Emmy-winning broadcaster who covered 21 Masters Tournaments, died Jan. 2, 2012, after being diagnosed with acute leukemia. He was 67.
Huber was best known for his work on CNN and TNT, but he began his journalism career in newspapers. He covered professional sports, first in Miami and then in Atlanta.
He took his storytelling talents to television, where he became known for his essays. The Sporting Life with Jim Huber became a staple on CNN, and he later served as anchor for CNN/Sports Illustrated, a 24-hour sports news network. Most recently, he covered golf and the NBA for TNT.
For the past 10 years, Huber worked for Masters.com doing feature vignettes.
Huber won an Emmy for his essay on the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He also wrote three books, including Four Days in July, a look at Tom Watson’s effort to win the British Open at age 59.
In 1997, Huber was the first to report that Fuzzy Zoeller had made racially insensitive remarks about recent Masters champion Tiger Woods. The comments aired on a CNN segment.
“The Turner Broadcasting family suffered a great loss and we are saddened by the passing of our colleague and friend,” David Levy, a Turner president of sales, distribution and sports, said in a statement.