UNTIL HE WON the 2017 Masters, the life and times of Sergio Garcia were best defined by the final round of the 2007 British Open. The gifted Spaniard led the tournament after each of the first three days and held a three-stroke lead heading into Sunday, but a closing 73 allowed Garcia to get caught by Padraig Harrington, who beat Sergio in a four-hole playoff.
Perhaps I was the only one at Carnoustie that day who felt like the wrong man had just won his first major title. As the rest of the press corps shuffled into the media center to hear from the affable Harrington, I slipped off to the clubhouse in search of Garcia. In the freshly renovated but relatively tiny men’s locker room, I found Glen Murray sitting alone on a bench in the corner.
Sergio’s caddie barely looked up at me, nor would I have expected him to acknowledge my presence. His puffy red eyes told me all I needed to see — I am not among the many journalists who feel compelled to ask inane questions when someone is throbbing in emotional pain. So I took a seat and waited for Garcia, whom I’d gotten to know fairly well, and though I wasn’t nearly as familiar with Murray, his anguish over the playoff loss led me to deep thought.
It wasn’t easy, working for a temperamental prodigy whose career had become framed in disappointment. Garcia’s childish antics over the years stood in stark contrast to his caddie’s calm demeanor, and though there were periods when Murray wasn’t on the bag, the two would remain together for the better part of 20 years.
On that overcast afternoon in Scotland, their bond was forged in tears. Sergio entered the locker room and immediately asked me to leave, a request I had no problem accommodating. And as the door closed behind me, I heard a loud, almost primal wail from the room I’d just left. The grieving had officially begun.
Fifteen minutes later, Garcia would follow Harrington into the media center and launch into one of the most infamous post-round press conferences ever. He portrayed himself as a victim, scorned by the golf gods when his tee shot at the par-3 16th (third extra hole) rattled off the pin and rolled 20 feet away. Sergio then took the woe-is-me theme to dangerous depths in suggesting that it was an ongoing thing, a curse he simply could not overcome.
“This is not the first time, unfortunately,” he would say. “I’m playing against a lot of guys out there, more than there are in the field.”
I would come across Murray a bit later, the wound still fresh, his eyes still moist, his loyalty to the boss still very much intact.
“You have to get it done, but he didn’t do anything wrong,” the soft-spoken South African lamented. “Not a [bleeping] thing wrong.”
THERE HAVE BEEN moments when his petulance was difficult to stomach and impossible to comprehend. The spitting incident at Doral four months prior to Carnoustie. The shoe he ripped off and flung into the gallery at Wentworth in 1999. All those over-the-top celebrations at the Ryder Cup.
All seemed to be forgiven, or at least forgotten, when Garcia finally claimed that elusive first major at Augusta National 22 months ago. His sudden-death victory over Justin Rose came with a complicated, feel-good storyline — a tale of cinematic redemption and blissful maturity. Sergio was a good guy, after all. At least that’s what a lot of us wanted to believe.
His behavior at last week’s Saudi International, however, leaves absolutely no question: Garcia still has several hundred miles of growing up to do. At a tournament which paid him an appearance fee north of $500,000, Garcia was disqualified Saturday for intentionally damaging five greens, a breach of Rule 1.2a, which covers serious misconduct.
There was no video evidence of those transgressions for the public to consume, but Sky Sports would release footage of Garcia unleashing a wild tantrum in a bunker the day before, pounding his club and slashing at the sand as if to perform a flawless impersonation of an axe murderer. Somehow, European Tour CEO Keith Pelley chose not to further penalize Garcia, perhaps because the Spaniard has been such a vital part of Europe’s Ryder Cup success — and because the rickety relationship between the player and his native tour needn’t suffer through any additional strife.
Sergio Garcia’s meltdown in a Royal Greens bunker a day prior to his disqualification for vandalism work on five greens. Story by @SkySportsGolf fills in details. Translations welcomed! https://t.co/UoGmPtTOz4 pic.twitter.com/dQMDN7y2PC
— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) February 4, 2019
Literally and figuratively, the damage is done.
The vilification of Sergio Garcia is back en vogue.
THINK WHAT YOU want, but certainly, he has earned your wrath. Very few people have seen Garcia hug old ladies who have approached him timidly in search of an autograph. Almost nobody notices when Sergio pauses on the hill left of the 18th green at Quail Hollow and spends 10 minutes hanging out with the handicapped patrons who have gone to the trouble of attending a golf tournament.
There is an element of massive warmth in his soul, a quotient of goodness very few people possess. His parents are two of the kindest and gentlest people you could ever meet. And whether he’s behaving like a perfect gentleman or an absolute idiot, Victor and Consuelo’s middle child goes above and beyond.
As pro golfers go, Garcia has turned dichotomy into an art form. His churlish displays and unexplainable rage are undermining a legacy that should shine as brightly as anyone’s in the game. Remember young El Nino, the 19-year-old bundle of joy with the whiplash swing, the kid who almost took down Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship?
He is dead and long gone. Replaced by a contemptuous spoilsport who just doesn’t get it. There is a sadness to it all, a sense that a man to whom God gave the whole package cannot escape his demons when competing on a public stage. Of course, Garcia says he’s sorry about the whole deal in Saudi Arabia, as if that makes everything all better. And of course, Pelley lets him slide.
The blind lead the blind. We are who we are.
All views expressed in this column are those of John Hawkins and do not necessarily reflect those of the Caddie Network.