Salvador Balbuena: Spanish Golfer Who Died Young

Salvador Balbuena was a Spanish golfer who made his mark in the 1970s, the early years of the European Tour. He won the first European Tour event he ever played outside of his home country. Unfortunately, what he is best known for is dying young.

Full name: Salvador Balbuena Bruna

Date of birth: 1950

Place of birth: Spain

Date and place of death: May 9, 1979 in Lyon, France

Balbuena's Biggest Wins

He is credited with one official win on the European Tour:
  • 1976 Portuguese Open
Balbuena also won the 1976 Morocco Grand Prix, not (then) an official Euro Tour event.

More About Salvador Balbuena

Balbuena first played in a European Tour tournament in 1972, the tour's inaugural season. But he played only in the tournaments held in Spain through 1975, so three was his highest number of European Tour events through that year.

Only in 1976 did Balbuena first enter a European Tour event outside of Spain. Good decision! The very first tournament outside of Spain that Balbuena played on the European Tour was the 1976 Portuguese Open. He won it, showing off a short backswing but great power.

One week later, Balbuena was the third-round leader in the Spanish Open, but shot 78 in the final round. Two weeks after that, he was the French Open's third-round leader before finishing second. He went on to finish 20th on the tour's Order of Merit, which would remain his career-best.

Also in 1976, Balbuena was selected for three international teams: He represented Team Spain in the Philip Morris International (a 16-country knockout tournament); Team Continental in the Double Diamond International (played 1971-77); and Team Continental in the Hennessy Cognac Cup (vs. Team Great Britain & Ireland).

It was quite a debut season, and Balbuena appeared poised for great success. And while the rest of Balbuena's short career didn't quite live up to that first year, he did, in the ensuing amount of time he had, produce consistent play and multiple more Top 10s. That included one more win in 1976 at the Morocco Grand Prix. It was later called the Trophee Hassan II, but at that time was not yet part of the European Tour.

Balbuena played 12 tournaments in 1977, nine in 1978. He came close again in the Spanish Open in 1978, finishing third. In 1979, he tied for sixth at the Madrid Open on April 28. On May 5, the Italian Open concluded with Balbuena tied for 28th. That was the last tournament he ever played.

For his European Tour career, Balbuena played a total of only 45 events, with one win, one second, one third and nine total Top 10 finishes. He was in the Top 60 of the money list all three of his full seasons on tour, 1976-78.

Balbuena's Sudden Death

The French Open followed the Italian Open on the 1979 European Tour schedule, so after his 28th-place finish in Italy, Balbuena headed to Lyon, France.

On May 10, 1979, Balbuena joined several fellow Spanish tour players at a restaurant for dinner. With him that night were Antonio Garrido, Manuel Pinero and Jose Maria Canizares. During dinner, Balbuena collapsed. An ambulance was called and rushed him to a hospital, but it was too late. Balbuena died on the way. He had suffered a massive heart attack. Balbuena was only 29 years old.

According to Peter Alliss' 1983 The Who's Who of Golf, almost all of the other Spanish golfers in the field for the French Open withdrew in tribute to Balbuena. Seve Ballesteros, however, carried on, and gave his tournament winnings to Balbuena's wife.

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