Rude: Garcia should be applauded for concession
Sunday, February 23, 2014
MARANA, Ariz. – Rickie Fowler didn’t understand what Sergio Garcia was saying to him on the seventh green. Then he didn’t believe what he thought he had heard. “I thought he meant we’d split a sandwich at lunch,” Fowler cracked later.
Being incredulous was understandable. Anyone would have been. At the time, Garcia was 2 up in the WGC-Accenture Match Play third round. Fowler was lining up an 18-foot putt for par, and Garcia faced 7 feet for par. That’s when the Spaniard stunned his fresh-faced opponent by offering that they halve the hole. So they picked up their coins and moved on, leaving observers shaking their heads in disbelief.
Garcia would birdie the par-5 eighth to go 3 up, but Fowler birdied five of the last 10 holes at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, the 18th from 4 feet, and won 1 up. The result elevated the significance of one of the most bizarre and generous gestures in golf history.
“I don’t regret it at all,” Garcia said.
The strange concession was fueled by guilt and an odd circumstance involving a swarm of bees by a watery sprinkler head next to the sixth green. Garcia said he felt bad that Fowler had to wait too long, several minutes, while the Spaniard was getting a drop away from the bees – at least 20 by Garcia’s estimate and 50-plus according to Fowler.
Garcia said he had a bad experience with bees as a kid and felt uncomfortable around them. So he dropped after consulting with an official, but the bees remained. Then he dropped again, played his shot, halved the hole and felt uneasy.
“This is a gentleman’s game and should be kept that way,” the Spaniard said. “That’s the way I was brought up, with my Dad. I felt guilty the drop at 6 took too much time. If I was in his position, I would not have enjoyed waiting. So the only thing I could do on 7 was make myself feel better and not feel guilty. ... At least I can leave here feeling good even though I lost.”
Garcia would add that the “game lately has not been where it should be” and “unfortunately the world is a little twisted at the moment.” He would not elaborate.
Say what you will about Garcia. He spit into a cup at Doral in 2007, implied the golf gods were against him when he lost a British Open playoff at Carnoustie that summer, made a racially insensitive remark about Tiger Woods last year and has acted petulantly at times.
But his offering of a halved hole was about trying to do the right thing and a remarkable act of sportsmanship. While some might criticize the move for lacking a competitive grit, this observer sees it as a sign of maturity. Only he knows what he was feeling inside.
Garcia, 34, should get the kind of public-relations boost he hasn’t had in years, maybe since his smiley splash onto the professional scene or his Ryder Cup brilliance. For certain, he will be remembered far more for this than he would have had he scored a routine third-round victory sans concession. People soon will forget he missed putts in the range of 5-6 feet at Nos. 10, 14 and 15.
The situation, of course, reminds of the 1969 Ryder Cup that ended in a tie after Jack Nicklaus famously conceded a 2-foot putt to Tony Jacklin. The Englishman thanks Nicklaus to this day, and the two co-designed a Florida course called The Concession Golf Club.
Maybe Garcia and Fowler will collaborate as architects someday. What’s certain is that Garcia figures if he ever gave someone a putt of that length before, it was to his father back home. Also known is that Fowler said the delay didn’t bother him and the conceded putt “didn’t change the flow of the match” considering Garcia won the next hole.
That doesn’t mean Fowler wasn’t surprised and thankful. Here’s his playful account:
“As I was lining up the putt, he said, ‘You want a half?’ I thought, ‘What is he saying?’ He said, ‘You want a half?’ I said, ‘Excuse me?’ He goes, ‘You want to halve the hole?’
“I would’ve kind of liked to play it out, but I’d be stupid not to take the half.”