PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – When it comes to public apologies for besmirching golf’s reputation in Saudi Arabia, we’re 1-for-2. But in the absence of contrition from the European Tour, which granted its imprimatur to a public relations exercise for Mohammed Bin Salman’s murderous government, we’ll have to settle for Sergio Garcia’s mea culpa.
Every golfer who competed in the Saudi International left town with his reputation stained, but none moreso than the mercurial Spaniard, who was disqualified for “serious misconduct” after damaging five putting greens in a fit of pique. His antics were unsurprising for longtime viewers of the Sergio Show.
Twenty years ago at Wentworth in England, Garcia reacted to a lousy shot by ripping off his shoe and flinging it into the gallery. After missing a putt at Doral in 2007, he retrieved his ball then spit into the cup, a snotty gesture of contempt toward the competitors unfortunate enough to be playing behind him.
Those are but two snowflakes in a blizzard of boorish behavior.
There’s a club tossed into a lake, fans flipped off, microphones obliterated, his whirling dervish slashing in the bunker the day before his DQ in Saudi —all set to a whiny soundtrack that blames poor results on everyone from Tiger Woods to Carnoustie’s bunker rakers.
Garcia was 11 days and 8,000 miles removed from Saudi Arabia when he began an effort to repair his reputation at Riviera Country Club.
“I’ve obviously had some time to reflect, and want to again say I’m sorry to my fans and fellow competitors. What happened is not an example I want to set, and it’s not who I truly am,” he wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday. “I am an emotional player and while I believe that’s one of my biggest strengths, it’s also one of my biggest flaws. I’m focused on working hard to channel that emotion the correct way and to be the best me, learn from it and move forward.”
The noteworthy fact is not that Garcia waited 11 days after the DQ to apologize, but that it came only hours after he first reappeared in a locker room with his peers. His reception is unlikely to have been warm.
He admitted as much in an interview Wednesday evening with Golf Channel, which exhibited all of the spontaneity of a hostage video. “I’m sure some of them aren’t going to be happy about it,” he said of his fellow players. “We all make mistakes and I’m the first to admit it. The only thing I can do is apologize. I’m going to work hard to behave the best way possible. Show everyone that not only am I a good golfer, I’m a good person.”
He faces an uphill battle. I asked one player if he thought Sergio’s conduct warranted greater sanction than the disqualification.
“Absolutely,” he said emphatically.
Suspension? I asked. He nodded firmly.
Celebrity contrition is often assumed to lack sincerity, and Garcia’s record as a repeat offender won’t afford him much benefit of the doubt. Twitter’s firing squad is not minded to consider mitigating circumstances, and there may be some in this instance.
“I received some very emotional, personal news earlier that week that didn’t help. It was in the back of my mind. As I became frustrated on the course everything erupted,” Garcia told Golf Channel. He declined to elaborate on what that news was.
When he first burst into public view as a leg-kicking teenager chasing Woods around Medinah two decades ago, there was a joyful effervescence to Garcia. The years of painful underachieving in majors and scrutiny and indiscipline erased that likeable kid, leaving in his place a sullen, self-absorbed man who finds himself in the most perilous place a public figure can reach in life: when there’s no one around who’ll tell him that he’s become a jerk.
Sports tends to expose just how fine the distinction is between passion and petulance, and Garcia was clearly guilty of conduct unbecoming a professional. But he also seems to be carrying himself with the air of a man troubled by more than his golf swing.
Perhaps European Tour CEO Keith Pelley was aware of the personal situation Garcia faces and opted for compassion when he declared the matter closed. That’s the generous interpretation. And the cynical reading? That he gave a break to a tormented guy who unwittingly diverted scrutiny away from those who have much more to apologize for in this sorry Saudi Arabian affair.