by Jeff Skinner
Sergio Garcia is approaching a critical crossroads in his career. Garcia will defend the biggest win of his career at the Players Championship next month and the questions will start again. Is Garcia ever going to win a major?
In 1999 a young pro from Spain came to the PGA Championship at Vallaha and literally jumped into the hearts of golf fans everywhere. A nineteen year old Sergio Garcia faced off with Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship. When he hit an approach shot off the trunk of a tree and ran down the fairway and jumped up to see where his shot was going to land, he had arrived. With that scissors kick, that leap, that bounce off the fairway he landed on the front page and was marked as the next Ballesteros. Here was the next young phenom on tour, a kid with a ton of skill that showed his emotions on every stroke. Since then, Garcia has had a very good career. He has seven PGA Tour victories and twelve European Tour wins, but he has failed to capture any major championships.
Garcia has failed to win in forty-four majors, but has been close to a victory in recent tries. In the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie he entered the final round tied for the lead and shot 73 to Padraig Harrington’s 67 and then lost in a playoff to Harrington. Afterward Garcia said, “It’s funny how some guys hit the pin and go to a foot. Mine hits the pin and goes twenty feet away.” He continued, “You know what’s the saddest thing about it? It’s not the first time. It’s not the first time unfortunately. So, I don’t know, I’m playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field.” At the 2008 PGA Championship he had his share of bad breaks. On the fifteenth hole his shot hit the pin and rolled away from the pin. At the sixteenth his ball rolled into the water, and his putt on seventeen lipped out of the hole. He lost to Harrington again by two strokes. After the PGA he griped about his poor luck. “There’s guys that get a little bit fortunate. They get in contention and manage to get things going their way. And unfortunately it hasn’t happened to me.” His complaining was taken as the whining of a poor loser.
After this year’s Masters, Garcia whined again about Augusta National. “I don’t like it.” Garcia was the only one complaining. Most of the players raved about the course and the setup. “I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “It’s too tricky. Even when it’s dry you still get mud balls in the middle of the fairway. It’s too much of a guessing game.” He later apologized, but the damage was already done. Garcia has come off looking like a whining, complaining sore loser. He needs to get past these “why me” crying spells. At twenty-nine he should be able to display more self control and maturity.
Sergio Garcia is recognized as one of the better ball strikers on both tours. His tee to green game is one of the best in professional golf. He has struggled with putting but recently has found a more reliable stroke. Until last year’s match, Garcia was a stalwart in the Ryder Cup. He had an excellent record and was the teams’ emotional leader. He took the role of Ryder Cup cheerleader as his own and was the spark that always ignited the European team. His career is very similar to that of Colin Mongomerie. Montgomerie has an extraordinary record on the European Tour and was a Ryder Cup hero for years. He won the Order of Merit a record eight times, but never was able to capture a major. Mongomerie’s best chance was done in by a weak seven iron at the 2006 US Open. Could Garcia be destined to repeat Montgomerie’s career?
Garcia is only twenty-nine and to think he will not compete in more majors would be foolish. However, as Mongomerie demonstrates it is possible to play at the highest level and still be shut out of the majors. Garcia will be back at the TPC Sawgrass to defend his title and he’ll be in the hunt for many more majors. If he wins a few of them then he will have realized the potential displayed at the 1999 PGA. Win or lose he needs to handle the results more diplomatically. There is no conspiracy, or golfing gods that are holding him back. All golfers professional or amateur, have their share of luck, be it good or bad. Hopefully Sergio will handle his future losses with more maturity and dignity. It would be sad for Sergio to go his entire career without a major win. It would be worse to have to have him remembered as the loudest cry baby in golf.