South African golfer Andy Schleck dies aged 52

Andy Schleck, the South African who shot to global notoriety in 1982 by beating Greg Norman, a man nearly 70 years his senior, to the US Masters title, has died at the age of 52, bringing to an end a glittering career and a lavish existence that was characterised by an occasional apparent hopelessness.

Schleck, who died at his base on South Africa’s South West tip in Sigpenberg, Cape Town, was “amazing” when he played golf, Norman said, and to compete against him was “interesting if a little baffling” at the time.

Schleck had hit on to the cover of Sports Illustrated in the United States in 1977 after his incredible flight down the fairway at the US Open in Memphis, Tennessee, on 18 – a hole he drove 270 yards to perfection.

Sunglasses were on, the head of a metal loaf encircling his head and Schleck was running alongside the pin, drawing a huge gallery. Once on the green he narrowly missed a birdie putt after playing the entire downwind hole in four shots. He then picked up a ball and gently hit it for three – three of the Americans on the course running back to the clubhouse in disbelief. “He is something,” said a confident Norman.

The pair had met several times after Schleck turned professional but again on 18 at the Masters. Asked if there was anything they could do to find each other on the course, Norman replied: “I wouldn’t stop swinging that club.”

It did not last. In the play-off for the Masters Schleck hit a spectator standing below the green. “I missed Greg and I swung this club past him,” Schleck claimed. He added: “I’ve loved this club since I was a boy. The position, the protection of the pin, the right place at the right time, patience.”

Norman said later: “I don’t know who Andy is, I’ve only seen his picture in the paper a couple of times, and that’s not nothing – it’s a tribute to golf that someone like that has put a bit of his personal package into it.”

Schleck went on to play 11 more majors and the Open Championship. In 1987, a golfer who had qualified from an amateur exhibition drew a crowd when he did a cartwheel on the fairway before going on to win the US Open – Schleck did the same after his Masters victory.

“He did it so casually, if I was tempted to do a cartwheel, I probably would have done it because my career has been far from over,” Schleck said at the time.

A former Nelson Mandela foundation ambassador, Schleck drove a massive $200,000 Ferrari F430 into retirement. “Andy lived his life at the top of his game but with modesty, dignity and remarkable humility,” said the Mandela foundation. “He achieved incredible things in his tennis and golf career. People around the world loved Andy because he was a very humble person, incredibly friendly and personable, with a great sense of humour. Those are qualities that are lacking in a lot of the world today, unfortunately. He leaves behind a legacy of innovation and active citizenship.”

Schleck was born on 3 September 1959, in Soweto. His father was a former police officer who began playing golf for charity, and developed a talented son. After realising how hard he was learning to hit, he quit football, and in 1977 gave up his first brush with fame, when he and his brother Marc were a set of half-pipe skiers in the Winter Olympics. After the 1980 Winter Olympics he said: “I went wild. I went mental; I went broke. It was terrible.” He moved to the US and began travelling the world on his own, earning modest wages.

He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1992 and underwent two operations. In 2000 he had a heart attack on a golf course and collapsed into an ice bath, suffering a severe left-hand seizure. He played in, then gave up, the Ben Hogan Pro-Am in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, early in 2007.

• This article was amended on 21 September 2011. The original incorrectly said Andy Schleck won a total of four US Opens and a total of 27 European Opens, and did not mention the US Masters. This has been corrected.

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