Will PGA Championship be Sergio Garcia’s ‘Major’ break?
Luckless Spaniard bedevilled by the majors for last 15 years
Sergio Garcia, of Spain, speaks to the media during a news conference at the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. The tournament is set to begin on Thursday.
Photograph by: Darron Cummings, AP
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For as strong a field as the PGA Championship annually boasts — the only top-100 player in the world not at Valhalla this week is the suspended/not suspended/on-leave Dustin Johnson — the season’s fourth Grand Slam event has produced more than its share of one-and-done major winners.
In its modern history, the Wanamaker Trophy is fairly covered with names like John Mahaffey, Hal Sutton, Bob Tway, Jeff Sluman, Wayne Grady, Paul Azinger, Steve Elkington, Mark Brooks, Davis Love III, David Toms, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Y.E. Yang …
Not all of them were eyebrow-raisers — some, like Azinger and Love, perhaps Toms, could have won more — but one is all they got, and none is ever likely to have another.
Somewhere in that history, perhaps, lies the best hope yet for Sergio Garcia.
Call him cursed, call him doubt-ridden, call him self-defeating, but one way and another, major championships have successfully dodged the luckless Spaniard for 15 years now, ever since he showed up as a cocky 19-year-old at Carnoustie in 1999, urging the media to simply refer to him henceforth as “Sergio.”
Like, you know, Madonna or Ronaldo. Last name unnecessary.
What can you say? It’s 2014. He’s due.
Maybe the championship that has to advertise itself as “This Is Major” will be the cure. Maybe this week at Valhalla — the hall of the slain, in Norse mythology — Sergio Garcia’s star-crossed pursuit of a major championship can have a happy ending.
Maybe, at age 34, after two runner-up finishes in a row to Rory McIlroy, at the Open Championship in July and last week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational, playing superb golf, with a new, almost carefree approach to life’s vicissitudes, he can defeat the demons at last.
So many humbling experiences have befallen him in majors. Remember his nervous habit that had U.S. Open hecklers counting out the number of times he regripped the club? His dismantling at the hands of Tiger in the 2006 Open Championship, when he showed up wearing canary yellow? Remember Sergio blowing a three-stroke lead and losing the 2007 Open to Padraig Harrington, then crying — not on his mother’s shoulder, as he did in 1999 after shooting 89-83 — but to reporters about the whole world being against him?
“I should write a book on how not to miss a shot in the playoff and finish one-over,” he said, bemoaning a tee shot that rattled off the flagstick at the 16th hole in the playoff. “It’s funny how some guys hit the pin and go to a foot. Mine hits the pin and goes 20 feet away. You know what’s the saddest thing about it? It’s not the first time. So I guess I’m playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field.”
Remember his self-loathing soliloquy to Spanish reporters after falling apart at the 2012 Masters? “I’m not good enough ... I don’t have the thing I need to have,” he lamented. “In 13 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”
You don’t hear it any more. The new Sergio seems to have enrolled in the “don’t worry, be happy” school.
Asked Wednesday if he had ever sought help from a psychiatrist, Garcia laughed.
“Should I?” he said. “No, I did see a friend of mine that, I wouldn’t say he was a psychiatrist but probably something similar, at the end of 2009, beginning of 2010. But I don’t know, I’ve never had the feel for it. I’ve never really believed in it, and when you don’t believe in something, it’s difficult to pay attention to it. So to your question: yes, but no. That make any sense?”
He has played this well before, plenty of times, but the run he made at McIlroy in the final round of the Open was more encouraging than anything he’d done since winning The Players Championship in 2008. Last week, he shot 27 on the back nine, birdieing all but the 11th hole, en route to a Friday 61 at Firestone.
That level of performance, and the newfound positive attitude, made him philosophical about losing to a McIlroy charge last Sunday.
“Well, I think to start with is probably not looking at it as a disappointment itself,” he said. “I could stand here and go, oh, I shot 27 on Friday, if I would have made that putt on 11 … why would I do that?
“I think that so many things happen in your life and in golf where you feel maybe that you should have gotten something better, so why look at it that way? Just try to enjoy the good moments as much as possible. I’m really excited about the way I’m playing. I think looking at it that way, it’s probably helped me.”
Sergio isn’t the only one who might deserve a break.
Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood, Jordan Spieth, K.J. Choi, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson … there are plenty of close-but-no-cigar challengers in the field, players who have sniffed at majors, but not yet closed the deal.
Chief among them is Rickie Fowler, his golf game reborn since he began working with swing guru Butch Harmon. He has finished in the top five of all three majors this year — tied for second at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship — and looks like a major champion in waiting.
But so did Sergio, all those years ago. He’s still waiting.
“Obviously I’ve always wanted to win at least one,” Garcia said Wednesday, “but I would never say I felt urgency about it. I mean, we’re here trying to do it, week in, week out. So it would be nice.
“But like I’ve always said, if I get to 45 and I haven’t won one, then I’ll probably start worrying a bit more.
“Hopefully,” he said, “that won’t happen.”
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