London: Jack Nicklaus paid tribute to Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros on Monday, saying the sport had lost one of its greatest entertainers and ambassadors.
Ballesteros, who won five majors in a pioneering career, died aged 54 in the early hours of Saturday morning following respiratory failure.
His death came three years after he underwent a series of operations to remove a brain tumour.
"Golf has lost a great champion and a great friend," said Nicklaus, arguably the sport`s greatest player with a record 18 major titles.
"We also lost a great entertainer and ambassador for our sport," added the American in a statement issued by the Laureus Sports Academy, whose members help promote charitable sporting initiatives around the world.
"I have always had wonderful respect for Seve`s ability, how he played the game, and the flare he brought to the sport while achieving the success he did," Nicklaus said.
"It was his creativity, his imagination, and his desire to compete that made him so popular not only in Europe but throughout American galleries, too.
"He was a great entertainer. No matter the golf that particular day, you always knew you were going to be entertained. Seve`s enthusiasm was just unmatched by anybody I think that ever played the game."
It was Nicklaus who suggested the biennial Ryder Cup team tournament be opened up to include players from continental Europe following a series of lopsided United States wins over Great Britain and Ireland.
Ballesteros, the first European to win the US Masters in 1980, did much to revive interest in the Ryder Cup, helping Europe lift the trophy in 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1995 before captaining them to another victory at the Valderrama course in
Spain two years later.
"Seve was, without argument, a terrific player – his record speaks for itself -- but more important was his influence on the game, especially throughout Europe," Nicklaus said.
"Through the years, his involvement with the Ryder Cup, as both a player and captain, served to further elevate the stature of the matches. He was probably the most passionate Ryder Cup player that we`ve ever had.
"I think his team-mates always rallied around him and that passion of his. He was Europe`s emotional and spiritual leader, the heart and soul of their team. The Ryder Cup was something that was very, very special to Seve. And Seve was very special to us.
"We can only imagine how difficult this battle has been for him and his family the last few years, but I know Seve faced it with the same grit, fight and spirit he approached his golf career.
"Speaking on behalf of my wife Barbara, Seve and his family are very much in our hearts, on our minds and in our prayers."