Robert Ray Akins grew up in a barn with a dirt floor. A sniper in the 1st Marine Division in World War II, he was one of three soldiers in his company of 152 who survived the Battle of Okinawa. Akins was at one time the winningest high school football coach in Texas history, and every morning he’d wake up his son Marty with the same message: “What you think and what you believe is who you are. If you think you’re the best, if you believe you’re the best, then you’ll be the best.”
Marty Akins grew up to become a legendary quarterback at the University of Texas, and he passed on that same message to his daughter, Angela, who last summer married Sergio Garcia.
Ray Akins died on Dec. 26 at age 92. Garcia, who now wears a pin with Akins’ initials on his hat at tournaments, served as a pallbearer at the funeral along with Akins’ grandson, NFL quarterback Drew Brees. Garcia was a world-class golfer before he ever met anyone in the Akins family. But to understand the woman he married, to appreciate the winning mindset that now surrounds him at every turn, is to know the Akins legacy.
“I tell you one thing,” Garcia said. “I wish I would have met (Ray) earlier.”
Love does funny things to people. For Garcia especially, it sharpened every arrow in his quiver. (Quite literally, actually, as Marty has taught him how to shoot both a rifle and bow.) Garcia
has triumphed twice in his last nine starts around the world, including a victory in his first event using a new brand of ball and clubs. Life is so good for this soon-to-be father, he might float down Magnolia Lane April 5-8 for his 20th Masters appearance.
70th time was the charm for Sergio
It took Garcia a record 70 major starts as a professional to win his first major. He finally came to the realization that if it never happened for him – if he left the game without a major – life would go on.
“It’s not going to be a disaster,” he said.
A calmer, more accepting Garcia arrived at last year’s Masters with a team of people who believed it would happen – and soon.
“On Wednesday night before the tournament, I tweeted that he was going to win,” the prescient Marty said.
Two days before Garcia left for Augusta, Ga., last spring, he was out hunting hogs on Marty’s 1,250-acre ranch in Austin, Texas. “Hey Big Man!” Garcia screamed as Marty stepped down on a rattlesnake in the tall grass. Garcia himself was a millisecond from doing the same.
Fortunately, both men were wearing snake boots.
“I said ‘Shoot him, Sergio!’ ” Marty recalled. Garcia instead let the “Big Man” take the wheel and passed the rifle to Marty, who shot the snake in half.
“I told him if we can beat this rattlesnake,” Marty aid, “you can win that golf tournament.”
Ben Crenshaw had a similar feeling, though for less harrowing reasons. The two-time Masters champion is a longtime friend of the Akins family, having carved his own history as a Longhorn in the 1970s. In the days leading up to last year’s Masters, Crenshaw played a round of golf at Austin Golf Club with Garcia and his father, Victor. Crenshaw gushed to wife, Julie, over what he’d seen.
“I’ve witnessed a lot of golf in my life,” Crenshaw said. “And I’ve never seen a golf ball hit that well.”
It wasn’t just the ball-striking. Crenshaw marveled at Garcia’s touch with the putter, noting that he had switched between cross-handed and conventional grips and both looked good.
And then the intangibles. Crenshaw found the soon-to-be-married Spaniard at peace with himself.
“I think that when you find your soulmate, when you find the woman of your dreams,” said Garcia, “obviously it helps. She’s that for me. Not only that I think the competitiveness in the family, the sports that runs through the veins, I think all those things obviously helped. …
Between her family and my family, we make a really good team together.”
Garcia’s longtime caddie, Glen Murray, agrees.
“She’s been great,” said Murray of Angela’s influence. “So, long may it carry on because it’s good for me, too.”
Competition continues at home
Angela remembers sitting on the couch with her dad watching the 1999 PGA Championship when Garcia scissor-kicked his way into golf lore. She met him while working as an on-air reporter for Golf Channel, ultimately leaving her job to pursue the relationship.
“We compete at everything,” said Angela, who showed Sergio how to properly shoot a basketball and now loses to him on occasion at H.O.R.S.E.
“He can’t beat me one-on-one though,” she said. “He’s not fast enough.”
The Akins are gamers – dominoes, cards, washers, croquet, tennis, shuffleboard. Like her father, Angela said, Sergio quickly picks up on almost anything he tries. It drives her crazy. There’s even a short-game area at the ranch. Marty likens shooting a gun to putting.
“I know it sounds weird,” he said. “But when you’re shooting a bow or a rifle, you have to steady yourself, steady your breathing, steady your nerves.”
Luke Donald noticed a smoother Garcia on Sunday at the Masters, particularly after hitting it left among the azalea bushes on the par-5 13th.
“That might have been the end of him in previous years,” Donald said.
Instead, a gutsy par save – thanks in part to some Velcro on the banks of a tributary – was followed by an electric eagle on the 15th. Thinking about that hole 10 months later still gives Garcia goosebumps.
“Mainly because of the energy,” he said. “The energy that I felt from the people.”
Rafa Cabrera Bello was in Butler Cabin when Garcia first slipped on the green jacket. The 33-year-old Spaniard partnered with him at the 2016 Ryder Cup and said American fans would remind Garcia about 10 times per hole at Hazeltine that he hadn’t won a major. Cabrera Bello can’t think of a player who deserved to win one more.
“I know how hard he has worked to try to win a major,” he said. “I know how big of a burden that has been on him.”
An easy-going Sergio
The Garcia seen on the golf course now, Angela said, matches the man she fell in love with off of it – a more go-with-the-flow, outgoing, big-hearted guy who people naturally gravitate toward.
He’s honest about how he feels, too. And it bugs Angela that it’s sometimes used against him.
“As media members, we ask for honesty,” she said. “And then when we get it, we punish people for it.”
The couple recorded the Masters coverage at their home in Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, and watched it together after a whirlwind media tour. For several months Garcia would randomly look over at his bride and say, “Babe, we won the Masters.”
When he did the same to his father while out practicing before The Players Championship, Victor began to bawl. It was a beautiful, messy cry.
Garcia insists the Masters victory, while even sweeter than he imagined, hasn’t changed him. Wearing the green jacket around the world, particularly at his wedding reception in late July and at the El Clasico match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, was the stuff of dreams.
“But I don’t feel different when I walk on the golf course,” he said. “I don’t walk taller. I don’t look at people differently because I’ve won a major now.”
The real life-altering event came on March 14 when the couple welcomed their first child, Azalea Adele Garcia. (No. 13 at Augusta is known as ‘Azalea.’) They’ve recently moved into a new place near Angela’s parents in Austin. When presented with a tiny three-club set from U.S. Kids at the Honda Classic, Garcia immediately asked: What if she’s a lefty?
Just when he finds some answers, a tsunami of new questions arises. Figuring it all out, however, has never been more fun.
“I think he’s in his prime,” Angela said. “And I think he believes that, too.” Gwk
(Note: A version of this story appeared in the April 2018 issue of Golfweek.)