Curtis Strange calls it “scar tissue” referring to the soul-tarnishing blemishes that a lifetime in the game can bring. There is no other tournament that inflicts or exposes that scar tissue the way that Augusta National and the Masters mercilessly metes out annually. Rory McIlroy reminded us of that a year ago. Sergio Garcia’s frustration this year, after playing with Rory on Saturday, came to a head causing him to concede that he, “isn’t good enough” to win a major.
Shaun Micheel, the 2003 PGA Championship winner, looks at the situation from a different angle. “We always hear the conversation about the best player never to win a major, but what about the worst player to ever win one?”
Granted, there have been a handful of major championship winners who could never reclaim that type of glory. However, Micheel backed up his victory with a runner-up finish at the PGA Championship in 2006 behind Tiger Woods. That same year, he finished second in the HSBC World Match Play Championship. But Micheel is motivated to remove himself from a conversation that rarely happens.
It is hard to hear champions talk so openly about the toll that playing professional golf has taken on these great player’s psyches, with each approaching their demons in their own way.
Strange has two U.S. Open trophies and a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame to comfort him but he still remembers the 1985 Masters. Of course, Micheel has a Wanamaker Trophy that no one can take away.
Garcia has spent his entire career in the spotlight with the tremendous highs from the Ryder Cup and winning the Players Championship, to astounding lows that caused him to walk away from the game 18 months ago.
Garcia’s record in the majors is pretty astounding. He has finished in the top 10 in 17 major championship coming into the 2012 Masters. Compare that to Westwood’s 12 and Luke Donald’s six and you start to get a clearer picture. Compare it to 10 top-10s in major championships that Colin Montgomerie amassed and you realize that Garcia is the most accomplished player in the majors never to have won one. And maybe coming so close so many times does take its toll.
But Garcia is younger than Phil Mickelson was when he finally broke through in 2004. He is younger than Strange was when he broke through to win his first U.S. Open. Interestingly, both Strange and Mickelson were 33 when they finally hoisted a major championship trophy. If you are looking for closer comparisons, Mickelson had 17 top-10s in major championships prior to the 2004 Masters, the exact same number as Sergio. Sergio will be 33 next January.
Hopefully in the weeks to come, Garcia will realize that the best part of his career may just be ahead of him. Others have been where he is right now and have endured and indeed triumphed. The game of golf is better with Garcia at the top of his game. The pairing with McIlroy on Saturday was the most anticipated of the day. Ultimately the only memorable moment of the day came when the two embraced on the 12th green after each had made his first birdie of the day.
As my old man said, that is golf….that is life. Neither tend to play out the way that we expect. Hopefully Garcia will take that final step into the pantheon of greatness that is reserved for major championship winners. Bubba Watson took that step Sunday at the age of 33. There is plenty left in the tank for Garcia if he can find perspective. Garcia said, “I don’t have the thing you need to win one of these.” It’s impossible to say what that missing ingredient is. Is it toughness? Confidence? Something else entirely?
Only players understand the process of being a professional and how you are constantly rebuilding yourself as a player. Consistency over a period of time is the most difficult thing to achieve and maintain. Your strengths can vary from year-to-year or even week-to-week. But if a player is being truthful about his game he will admit that there are two types of weaknesses. There are those you can change and there are those you can’t. The scar tissue that Strange was talking about comes from focusing on those things you cannot change. You can’t change your level of talent anymore than you can change the past. But you can overcome both.
Here’s hoping Garcia realizes that soon.