Among Sergio Garcia's many regrets: Changing his putting stroke

Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

Among Sergio Garcia's many regrets: Changing his putting stroke

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Among Sergio Garcia's many regrets: Changing his putting stroke

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Unprompted, Sergio Garcia admitted that regret often has been a companion throughout his career, from conduct unbecoming on the golf course to words he wished had never been uttered.

“I’m not going to lie. There are things I’ve done I wish I could take back,” Garcia said as he played a practice round at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in March. “Obviously, we’ve all made mistakes.”

But there is one mistake that has lingered for nearly 20 years, an error that still leaves one of the best ballstrikers of his generation shaking his head.

“One of the things I regret the most is changing my putting stroke,” Garcia said.

He was 20 or 21 at the time, a year or so removed from exploding onto the golf scene as the teen-ager who was electric in the 1999 Ryder Cup and nearly took down Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship.

He was a bit of a drawer with his putting stroke, as he aimed to the right and pulled the ball just a touch, which he said wasn’t a bad thing.

Putter started to give him fits

Up to that point, he loved to putt, and it had served him well. He had been an amateur force, among his highlights being the youngest, at 16, to win the European Amateur. At 18 he won the Catalan Open. Just before turning pro at 19, he won the British Amateur and reached the semifinals in the U.S. Amateur. And then he became someone to reckon with in the pro ranks.

Back then, he was a force with all the clubs in his hands. And then, poof, he changed his putting stroke. While he had no problem with any other club, the putter started giving him fits.

“For whatever reason, and I can’t tell you why, that’s how stupid we all are, I started thinking I’ve got to get it rolling straight,” said Garcia, now 39. “That we have to get the perfect line, we have to have the straight spin, this and that and whatever. And you start doing that, you start losing your feel that you had as a kid. And once I lost that, it’s not easy to get it back.

“When you work away from it for so long, you can’t get it back. Especially on putting, which is such a feely thing. So you keep trying to find that feel, you keep trying to get as close as you can. When I feel good with the conventional grip, my speed is better, my confidence is better and my whole game feels better. I feel I roll it better. But it’s difficult at times to keep that feeling. When you lose something, you try to find something that helps you.”

It’s been a persistent journey of experiment that most players travel. Tiger Woods, after all, used three different putters in four starts last year. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson have used two putters
in the same tournament.

Garcia’s voyage has included three grips – conventional, cross-handed and the claw (he employs the conventional at the moment). At least 12 putter grips in various sizes. He even tried anchoring but immediately knew that wasn’t for him.

Still looking for the right putter

During his travails, he’s relied on the trust of just four people: his father, Victor; his former caddie, Glen Murray; and coaches Stan Utley and Pete Cowen.

As for the number of putters he’s tried?

“Many,” he said with a chuckle as he clutched his current putter, an Odyssey Toulon Atlanta he’s had in the bag for eight months. “I’m not going to lie. I like to try to keep the same one as long as possible. But sometimes when things are not going as well as you’d like them to go, it’s time to get a new look, a different feeling to see if that brings you something extra.”

It’s not that Garcia has been horrific with the putter since that fateful adjustment. He’s spent most of his career in the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s won more than $48 million on the PGA Tour and has 34 worldwide titles, including 10 on the PGA Tour and 14 on the European Tour.

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And just ask any American who has played in the Ryder Cup about Garcia’s genius on the greens during the nine biennial clashes he’s contested.

In an ironic twist, he won his lone major in the 2017 Masters on Augusta National’s maddening greens. On the final day he made a clutch 7-footer for par on the 13th, a thrilling 14-footer for eagle on the 15th and a 12-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole to topple Justin Rose.

But he also missed a 6-footer on the 16th to fall one back and a 5-footer on the 72nd that would have ended matters. Garcia kept his composure after each crucial miss, and in a way those last two hours of the 2017 Masters encapsulated his relationship with the putter.

Ballstriking keeps Garcia near top of his game

Magnificent from tee to green, erratic on the greens. But while he’s come right up to the edge, Garcia has yet to reach his breaking point. He’s a competitor, and the game still tugs at his heart. And his ballstriking talents temper the battle.

“If you look at all the good ballstrikers on Tour, very rarely do you see any of them in the top 15 in putting,” Garcia said. “And when you do, you have a Tiger Woods. Simple as that. A guy who hits the ball amazing, and the years he putted better than anyone else, what did he do? He won every other week. You can’t beat that.

“So when you are a good ballstriker, you’re going to have a lot more putts than the majority of guys and miss a lot more putts. We players see that. The media and the crowds don’t see that. If I’m hitting 15, 16 greens, and someone is hitting 9 or 10 greens, I’m going to have more long putts. It’s tougher to make the putts I face, and I know that, but it’s maddening. It wears on you.

“And when you go stretches without making much, it wears on you and makes you look for answers. Even though you know it’s tougher to keep hitting greens and face those putts. It’s a deal we have
to deal with.” Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Golfweek.)

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