He will return to the scene of the shine, that day when youthful exuberance carried him into our hearts, if not quite the winner’s circle.
Just one off the lead at the PGA Championship that August day in 1999, Sergio Garcia sprayed it right, up against the base of an oak tree at Medinah’s 16th. What followed was joy – a blade-wide-open 6-iron, eyes closed, massive wallop, and a run, hop and skip up the fairway, complete with a scissors-kick so that the 19-year-old could see his ball on the green.
If it wasn’t love at first sight, it surely brought us pleasure to see someone having so much fun.
Likely, we’ll see it again from Garcia – and at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, no less – because the precocious one, now 32, has returned to a stage where he’s truly at his best: the Ryder Cup.
Having ridden an emotional roller-coaster in recent years – sick of golf, rejuvenated, burned out, re-committed – Garcia on Aug. 20 called upon some of his vintage ballstriking magic to win the Wyndham Championship and nail down a berth in his sixth Ryder Cup.
You could say it will be his seventh, but Garcia’s involvement in 2010 was as a member of the European staff – not as player. Something just wasn’t right with that picture.
“He felt awkward to be there, but he didn’t want to miss it,” Luke Donald said. “He felt he needed to be there. One, to lend his support. But two, to pick up a little of that energy that he finds at the Ryder Cup.”
So he is back where he belongs, in the arena of golf’s greatest showcase.
For all the critics who suggest Garcia is temperamental and selfish, this indicates he is anything but: He has lost four of his five singles matches in the Ryder Cup, but he’s 8-0-1 (4-0-0 with Donald) in
the most demanding team format of all, foursomes, and 5-2-3 in four-ball.
“I think he loves being part of a community of other people, and not have it just on his shoulders,” said Donald, a close friend and supporter.
“Just a little tap on the shoulder from someone saying, ‘I believe in you. Go show us what you can do.’ ”
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Sadly, Garcia also can cause a scene.
Two months after that brilliant scene at the 1999 PGA, Garcia took off his shoe and fired it after a poor drive during his World Match Play game against Retief Goosen at Wentworth. “If you miss a shot because of something you do, you do get angry,” the Spaniard said.
True to his words, he has gotten angry – and around the world, too.
• Australia, 2001: He slammed his putter against a cart when hit with a two-stroke penalty for a bad drop.
• U.S., 2002: He blamed a bad draw and USGA officials for the way in which his U.S. Open got under way in the rain.
• U.S., 2007: A putt didn’t fall at Doral’s 13th, so he spit into the cup.
• Scotland, 2007: Padraig Harrington didn’t win the Open. No, the golf gods took it from Garcia. “I’m playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field,” he said.
• U.S., 2009: He ripped Augusta National. “Too much of a guessing game,” he said.
• Thailand, 2011: Bad par-3 tee shot. He hurled his 5-iron into the water.
Along the way, he has sulked, hung his head, flagrantly quit trying, taken breaks from the wear and tear, poured his heart out and entrenched himself in that peculiar stratosphere where enigmas roam. You want to embrace him, but . . . he makes it so difficult.
“I think he’s easy to understand,” Donald said. “He puts it out there. He’ll just show you what he’s feeling, but he’s changeable. He’s not even-keel. He’s up and down. He doesn’t hide it.”
Petulant athletes are nothing new, but here’s the intrigue about Garcia: His supporters are loyal enough that they will listen, talk and cajole. To them, Garcia is worth the effort.
“Golf needs Sergio to play well,” said South African Tim Clark. “We all have our rants, (but) he’s a fun-loving guy, very genuine, friendly and warm. He’s certainly honest about how he feels, and at the end of the day, that’s what we want from players: to be honest.”
Donald won the Madrid Masters in May 2010, yet he remembers the week for a heart-to-heart talk with
Garcia, then in an emotional valley. “He thought about giving up the game,” Donald said. “He was distraught. I told him, ‘This will pass. You can’t beat yourself up.’ ”
Similar scene, different stage.
Adam Scott shot a second-round 75 at the recent PGA Championship and thought he was still in the mix. Garcia, his playing competitor, shot that same score and acted miserable.
“I spoke to him (after the round),”
Scott said. “I said, ‘Hey, listen, you’ve got to stop doing this. There’s nothing wrong with your game. Don’t embarrass yourself and carry on like that.’ ”
Why not just walk away? Scott cited friendship.
“As much as I didn’t want to watch that, as much as I don’t want to play with a guy who’s like that, I’ve known the guy a long time. ‘You’re too good,’ I told him. ‘Just try and make it fun. Don’t beat yourself up.’ ”
Say what you want about Garcia, but there’s nothing wrong with his hearing. He listens and reacts to those whom he trusts.
“I think that if you’re surrounded by good people, you usually become good people,” Garcia said. “I’ve been always very fortunate about that.”
He won the week after Scott pulled him aside, and his play has continued to shine, through the Barclays and the BMW Championship. That bodes well for Europe’s Ryder Cup hopes. Though he may not show off another Medinah scissors-kick, clearly the bounce has returned to Garcia’s step.