ARDMORE, Pa. – Sergio Garcia’s damage control and healing continued Tuesday at the U.S. Open. He apologized yet again for his unfortunate “fried chicken” racial slur regarding Tiger Woods last month. He put a handwritten note in Woods’ locker a day after shaking his hand on the driving range. And he expressed contrition over and over during a lengthy news conference at Merion.
“I’ve obviously made my fair share (of mistakes), and you do regret your mistakes,” Garcia said. “But I think the most important thing from them is to learn, hopefully to make you a better person, hopefully you can handle things differently in the future.”
If his repentant behavior is as heartfelt as it seems, if it sinks in and continues for the long haul, if it leads to transformation, if it spurs him toward achieving a stated goal of being a more evolved human, then perhaps the unfortunate, offensive mistake could serve as a blessing in disguise for the Spaniard.
Let’s hope the fallout shame he has felt serves as an “Aha!” moment, one that launches him out of a stunted adolescence into a mature adult. Time will tell.
The Garcia on stage Tuesday was a likable one, but then that happens when one is knocked off a high horse. You might say we saw a fourth version of his personality.
First there was the smiling, cheerful happy-go-lucky young professional who not only skipped down a fairway at Medinah in 1999 but two years later skipped down a dark Lytham, England, street alone after having dinner and charmingly introducing himself to a friend of mine.
Then there was the pouty, whiny, petulant Garcia, who soured after missing all those short putts and coming close in so many majors and having his heart broken by Greg Norman’s daughter. You know, the Garcia who implied the divine universe was against him after he lost a 2007 Open Championship playoff.
Then there was the candid Garcia of late, since he regained form, the one who would machine-gun his version of hard truths, such as at and around The Players when he’d say such things as Woods is not a nice person.
And now we have the apologetic Garcia, one you can maybe hug again, one you hope is genuine, not just one trying to save lucrative endorsement contracts and keep fans off his back.
Garcia said hello to Woods on the driving range Monday but chose not to get into a long apology and discussion because “it wasn’t the appropriate place, out of respect to him and to the other players.” Garcia said he had hoped to apologize to Woods after that practice round or on Tuesday but didn’t see him. Hence the note – the content of which he wouldn’t reveal – went into the locker.
“It’s a big week, and I understand it’s difficult to meet up and stuff,” Garcia said. “So hopefully I’ll be able to do it.”
Yes, we can hope that the two visit like mature adults, for the sake of forgiveness and kindness. But we also can’t hold our breath. Let’s just say Tiger Woods, known to hold a grudge, wields a golf club better than he does an olive branch.
Earlier in the day, when asked if Garcia had apologized to him, Woods said, “No. It’s already done. We’ve already gone through it all. It’s time for the U.S. Open.” In the same interview, when asked if Garcia had personally apologized to him, Woods said, “No, we haven’t had time for that.”
Curiously, Woods has not yet accepted Garcia’s stated apologies via news conferences and a telephone call to agent Mark Steinberg. This is the same Woods who asked the world to forgive him in early 2010 after his sex scandal. One would like to think that someone who asks for forgiveness also should grant it.
“(Woods) considers the matter closed,” Garcia said. “He’s moved on. And I’m happy that he feels that way, so hopefully we can do the same thing and move forward.”
The controversy began last month at a golf banquet in England when Garcia playfully was asked if he would invite adversary Woods to dinner at the U.S. Open. Garcia then crossed the humor line by saying he would serve Woods fried chicken.
At the Tuesday news conference, an African-American journalist underscored the breadth of Garcia’s slur when he asked the golfer: “Do you have an understanding that the comments you made regarding Tiger Woods extend beyond Tiger Woods, that they have a stinging feeling to people who look like me …?”
Garcia responded by saying, “I understand that. That’s why I said sorry, because I can obviously see that I hurt a lot of people. And that doesn’t make me feel good, I can tell you that. I wish I could go back in time and take back what I said, but unfortunately I said it. The only thing I can do is show you my respect from here moving forward.”
Garcia said he has been concerned about potential sponsorship loss and negative crowd reaction. But he said fans in suburban Philadelphia have treated him well during his first two days here.
“It gives me a lot of good feelings and a lot of pride, and hopefully we can move on and compete respectfully and just do our best,” Garcia said.
The controversy, of course, doesn’t figure to aid his concentration at the Open. He knows that. He also knows where to point the finger.
“It is my own fault,” Garcia said. “So I don’t have anyone to blame other than myself.”