Has Sergio Garcia Gone Soft? Maybe Off the Course
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The professional golfer has mellowed — but he’s still tempestuous on the course.
Few golfers know the Bronx cheer better than Spanish PGA Tour and European Tour golfer Sergio Garcia. Hearing him speak glowingly about the support he’s received from fans in New York now that he’s back for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills this week, one could be forgiven for believing all the sports clichés about fatherhood offering Garcia some perspective. Or perhaps it was his marriage last summer to Angela Akins that brought him balance.
But the truth is, at 38, Garcia remains a tempestuous golfer, playing with passion that never runs cold, even when his putter does. His emotional style can lead to epic tantrums — from throwing his shoe into the crowd in 1999, to attacking a sand trap in 2010 to chucking his club nearly the length of a par-3 in 2011. As a result, he has often drawn hecklers, but Garcia has never been shy about responding. When fans in New York counted the number of times Garcia waggled his club before hitting the ball in 2002, he replied with a middle finger.
But speaking in midtown Manhattan, Garcia seems at ease, even stopping the interview when my wife calls to make sure I let her know where I am. “I’m with Sergio,” he jokes, playing me in a pretend back-and-forth. “No you’re not, he’s in the Hamptons,” Garcia fires back, completing the mock exchange. He is taking the piss out of me, while also insisting I do the husbandly thing and let her know I’ll call later. This is a version of a conversation he’s no doubt had.
The way the amateur rankings are right now, [the quality of players] is better than it’s ever been.
When I tell him my wife played golf in college at Drake and that she still beats me all the time, he jumps at the chance to quip, “On the course too?” Speaking of the course, Garcia has mellowed the theatrics while retaining his competitive spirit. He sees the next generation of young golfers as an opportunity to be a mentor, but also as an impediment to his own success.
Garcia may no longer be the up-and-coming virtuoso talent, but he’s not ready to give up winning.
You’re back in New York, where you’ve been many times and where the fans have given you a rough time in the past, most infamously at Bethpage Black in 2002 for the U.S. Open.
Sergio Garcia: But you have to realize before that, I was very successful here. I won twice at Westchester, and I’ve always had a good connection with the New York crowds. Even at Bethpage, obviously yeah, it got a little rough there, but they still supported me very strongly throughout the whole week. So I’ve always been very thankful too. They’re a different kind of crowd, but when they cheer you on, they cheer you on hard.
It seems to me, over the past year since you won at Augusta, the crowds have responded to you differently. Do you feel that?
Garcia: I wouldn’t go all the way there. I think that people always look and think … there’s always like a 10 percent group of the crowd [who] are rough for everyone. I think that 10 percent has gotten a little bit smaller for me, so that’s great to see. Obviously, winning the Masters, that helps. But I’ve always said I feel very lucky the way I’ve been treated, not just in the U.S., but all over the world. I’ve always had a great following, and here has been no different.
Now, week in, week out, there’s going to be times when you get a couple guys that just want to be funny or have had a couple drinks too many, but that happens to everyone.
One of the things I think is really great about the PGA Tour right now is this generation of young players who have come in at 19, 20, 21 and believed they can compete right away. As someone who was able to come in at an early age and compete with the top players in the world, do you think there’s something different about this generation?
Garcia: The way the amateur rankings are right now, [the quality of players] is better than it’s ever been. The kind of tournaments they play is better than they were. We had U.S. Amateurs and British Amateurs, which were great tournaments, but nowadays they have a bigger variety of good tournaments they can play with quality players from all over the world.
When they become pros — if they play a couple pro events as amateurs that also helps — when they turn pro, they feel like they belong a little bit more. They feel more comfortable. It’s not like they don’t know where they’re standing or what’s going on.
You won the Masters after famously — or infamously — declaring you’d never win it. Does that change the way you look at a golf tournament or a golf course that might not feel ideally suited to your game?
Garcia: I’ve always felt like, to be totally honest, the U.S. Open or the British Open would have been one of the ones I won first. Funnily enough, I won the Masters last year.… When I said that, obviously I had just finished my round. I was very disappointed, and that’s the way I felt at the time. After the week finished, that [disappointment] didn’t change the way I was thinking.
If I thought I couldn’t win a major, I would have never played another one. And I gave myself chances before I won last year. I’ve always enjoyed the U.S. Open; it’s just a matter of playing my game. If my game is solid and my frame of mind is the right way, I know how good I can play. I feel like I can win any of them. So why not here?
Peter Bukowski is a writer, reporter and broadcaster living in New York. He has covered golf for Sports Illustrated, Golf.com, FanRag Sports and others.