Golf: The prodigy and the patriot

Talismen of the tee: El Nino a breath of fresh air for Europe as Stewart raises a storm for the US; Surge of the sublime Sergio; Tim Glover says Seve's heir will have to grow up quickly next week

IN A sleepy village somewhere in Spain, a kid who should be at nursery will be doing something precocious with a golf ball and a bit of driftwood washed up on the beach. He is a prodigy, blessed with gifts that already separate him from the rest. By the age of 10 he will be supplementing his pocket money by thrashing members at his local club; by 15 he will win the British Amateur Championship, the prelude to a career that will take the world by storm.

It is the natural order. First there was Seve Ballesteros, then Jose Maria Olazabal and now Sergio Garcia. All were born and raised within a pitching wedge of golf courses; they lived, slept and ate golf and all have a sublime short game. They have something else in common, a wildness off the tee that adds to their appeal. If they hit it straight every time it would be boring and there's nothing boring about the three conquistadors.

When Garcia gave Tiger Woods a run for his money during the final round of the US PGA at Medinah last month, curling a shot from behind a tree on to the green, Ballesteros, watching the tournament at home on TV, was on his feet yelling at the screen. Houdini-like escapes were one of Ballesteros's specialities. At least they were when he was younger. If he was stymied behind an oak now, he would ask for a ruling or a chainsaw.

In a vintage season for the four majors, the US PGA not only pointed the way for the millennium but elevated Garcia into an all-American Spanish hero. Woods led by five strokes with seven holes to play and was pegged back to one. It was the way Garcia injected the adrenalin that swung the crowd behind him. At the 13th, after making an 18ft putt, Garcia looked back at Woods on the tee. "I wanted him to know he had to play well to win," Garcia said. Woods double-bogeyed the hole.

It was what happened at the 16th that nearly brought the house down. After his drive landed at the base of the tree, Garcia sliced a six-iron 190 yards on to the green. "I opened my stance and took a full swing. I closed my eyes, went backwards in case the ball rebounded off the tree and when I opened my eyes, it was flying towards the green." El Nino, as the 19-year-old is known, ran after it like he was chasing an ice- cream van. While Woods was getting some stick from the Chicago crowd - "$1,000 says you slice it into the water" - Garcia's name echoed around the stands.

Ballesteros made a similar impression when he was runner-up to Johnny Miller in the Open at Birkdale, 23 years ago. But neither Ballesteros nor Olazabal, despite sharing four Masters, took to America. America has taken to Garcia, and he seems at home there, although he misses Real Madrid. "The first time we took Sergio to the US, he was 13," Jose Marquina, a family friend, said. "We wanted to test him against tough opposition in conditions he was unfamiliar with. He played in the Palmetto Junior Classic and beat a field of 16-year-olds by 14 shots. We knew then we had something special."

That special something is now in the hands of Mark McCormack's IMG, although Marquina will oversee El Nino's "special projects," like playing tennis with Anna Kournikova. Pre-IMG, Garcia signed only two deals, with Adidas and Titleist, and received $16m when he turned pro only five months ago. "Sergio and his family are not interested in money," Marquina said. "His value is going to rise."

This is good news for IMG, whose image took a battering when Nick Faldo and Greg Norman deserted them. Now they are back on top and in a position to manipulate and exploit a rivalry between Garcia and Woods. It promises to be as big a draw as the long-running duel between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus which began 40 years ago.

"Sergio and I play a very similar way," Woods said. "We are both aggressive, we hit the ball a long way and we like to be creative. One of the things I like about him is that he can take a bad shot and turn it into a positive. It's neat to see him wear his emotions on his sleeve. The media were all over me for that but hopefully they won't get on him. He's a wonderful kid."

Woods is beginning to sound like a 23-year-old uncle. Nobody heard Arnie describe Big Jack as a wonderful kid. By the time IMG have finished with him, Garcia will be wearing more than his emotions on his sleeve. First, though, the Ryder Cup, where the two stable-mates could be going head- to-head in the singles, depending on the draw.

Under normal circumstances, the youngest player to appear in the cup could expect some guidance, but such has been Garcia's impact that the onus is on him to perform big time at Brookline. He may only have been eight when Faldo was runner-up to Curtis Strange in the US Open at Brookline in 1988, but Garcia is one of Mark James's crack troops. Not only is Europe stuffed with Ryder rookies, but only two of the team, Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, have played in the cup in America.

It's a pity this one has come too late for Ballesteros, whom Garcia describes as a "second father". Nevertheless, Ballesteros has been marking the prodigy's card and there are two other Spaniards in the team, Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, Seve's right-hand man two years ago.

The pairings of the fourballs and foursomes will be as interesting as the draw for the singles but not, perhaps, as interesting as which way the Bostonian crowd will jump. At Medinah the Chicagoans appreciated the way Garcia played and at the same time made Woods aware of their feelings over the Ryder Cup payments controversy. It is doubtful whether Ben Crenshaw's team will get anything less than the full red, white and blue carpet treatment for an event they haven't won in six years and which is the nearest thing to golf with knuckle-dusters.

However, even Crenshaw sounds as if he's fallen under Garcia's spell. "He's absolutely electrifying," said the American captain. "He's charismatic and graceful. He's magic."

He's also fallible and human (he had to be consoled by his mother after Carnoustie chewed him up and spat him out in the Open) and liable to drive into Boston harbour.

"I've had a few good tournaments," Garcia said. "But I've got a long career ahead of me - that's when I have to prove I'm something else. At the moment I couldn't ask for more. If somebody had said I was going to be first in the Irish Open, second at Loch Lomond, second in the US PGA, miss the cut in the Open by hundreds and make the Ryder Cup team, I'd have taken it."

Don't tell them Garcia is coming. They already know.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape