Golf: The Masters - Garcia more than just a gifted amateur
Teenage Spaniard has ambitions beyond just making the cut. By Andy Farrell
Thursday 08 April 1999
That is not the limit of a player who is expected to turn professional in time for the Spanish Open in two weeks' time. Garcia is hoping to match Matt Kuchar's achievement in earning a return trip.
While Kuchar, the 1997 US Amateur champion, did so by finishing 21st last year, the bar has been raised and Garcia must aim for the top 16. "If everything goes right, maybe I can get in the top 16," Garcia said. "That would be a good tournament."
Garcia has the lowest handicap ever recorded in Europe of +5.4. Having won everything in the amateur game, he has spent the last year playing European and Nike tour events, making 20 cuts in 27 events, the first at the age of 15. He already has one pro title to his name, the 1997 Catalan PGA.
Known as "El Nino" - the "gifted child" - Garcia is the son of a club professional from Castellon, near Valencia. His world travels have been supported by a family friend, Jose Marquina, who is based in Miami.
Blessed with the modern power game off the tee, Garcia has also inherited the flair and imagination in shot-making and short game skills of Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros. "Seve has helped me at a lot of tournaments," Garcia said. "He has been like almost a second dad."
As well as practice rounds at Augusta with Ballesteros, Garcia's preparations included playing in the Georgia Cup in Atlanta against his counterpart as US Amateur champion, Hank Kuehne, winning 6 and 4. Kuehne is thought to be a longer hitter than Tiger Woods and, like the 1997 Masters champion, hit a pitching wedge for his second shot at the 15th in practice.
Kuehne has shaved his head ever since undergoing rehabilitation for alcoholism four years ago. He admitted himself to the programme after being involved in a 65 mph car accident, in which fortunately no one was killed. Due to his rehab, he missed the 1995 Masters in which his elder brother, Trip, played. Trip, the 1994 US Amateur runner-up to Woods, will caddie for Hank this year. Watching will be their sister, Kelli, a US Amateur champion in her own right and now an LPGA Tour player.
A student at Georgia Tech, Kuchar became a favourite with the gallery for his beaming smile. It was with the same countenance that he achieved a 14th-place finish at the US Open and, showing a taste for the big time, his stroke average is better in PGA Tour events than on the collegiate circuit.
"It's still very difficult to believe what the Masters brought me," said Kuchar, who was treated in hospital on Tuesday for dehydration and flu- like symptoms, but should be able to play today. "I was pretty much an unknown going into the tournament but, when I left, it seemed everyone in the world knew who I was," he said.
No amateur has ever won the Masters, but that has not stopped Garcia dreaming. "The amateur field is pretty strong this year, so maybe we can do something good," he said. "It would be very difficult, but I think it is possible for someone to win. It would take the week of your life playing great, putting great, doing everything right."
Latest in Sport
What time is the 2015 WWE Royal Rumble on? TV details and full card
Sam Burgess: Bath and England's next big thing
Andy Murray gets his revenge over Grigor Dimitrov to face home favourite Nick Kyrgios in Australian Open
Brighton 2 Arsenal 3 player ratings: Did Tomas Rosicky's performance and goal make him man of the match at Amex Stadium?
Liverpool transfer news and rumours: Glen Johnson to stay; Fabian Delph move goes up in flames; Marc-Andre Ter Stegen for loan deal
- 1 Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Railway Museum, the largest of its ...
£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...
£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...