The spirit of Seve Ballesteros is everywhere at Royal Lytham. It was here in 1979 that his legend began, winning his first of three Open Championships. He triumphed again on this beautifully rugged Lancashire links in 1988, and the R&A unveiled a portrait of Seve early this week, which will hang in the clubhouse. Members and visitors will for ever be able to raise a glass and look up to him, resplendent in that trademark navy blue Slazenger sweater cradling his beloved Claret Jug.
Sergio Garcia has long been the adopted son of Seve, the heir apparent, the sorcerer's apprentice. The weight of expectation has often been overwhelming, but Garcia's love for Seve still burns bright, a year after Seve lost his battle with cancer. You can hear the emotion in his voice when he remembers the old master.
"Royal Lytham is extremely special for me," he said. "With everything that Seve has done here, and the way he did it. I played my first Open here, too, in 1996 [as an amateur] and got to play with Seve in practice rounds. He spoke to me about some of the shots he hit when he won and I remember the chip shot on the last hole playing with Nick Price in 1988. But one of the things I remember most was the people and their reaction towards him: just the aura Seve had, walking with him let you feel the energy."
Just being at Royal Lytham, all those fabulous Seve champagne moments come flooding back. "He does come to mind. There is no doubt," Garcia said. So what more perfect place is there for Garcia to break his major duck and win the Open as the ultimate tribute to his hero? What perfect symmetry that would be. "I just hope I can give myself my best performance so that I am at least out there having a chance," he said.
The desire to make it happen is burning a hole through Garcia. Or, as Dustin Johnson, who was runner-up to Darren Clarke last year at Royal St George's, said, "burning his ass". Garcia laughed when told of the American's colourful assessment: "Obviously, I wouldn't have put it like that. Dustin always puts things in a funny way. You have seen me through the years. I have had my share of chances, and when it doesn't happen it hurts a bit. But the good thing is I am only 32, and hopefully if I stay healthy I will have many more majors to come and chances to win." Those chances equate to seven top 10s in 13 Open appearances as a professional.
So as Garcia sets off today in the company of Tiger Woods and Justin Rose, he will be channeling the spirit to Seve to try to add his own name to the list of stellar Open champions on Royal Lytham & St Annes' roll of honour. Doff your caps to Bobby Jones, Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Bob Charles, Tony Jacklin, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Lehman and David Duval.
Sergio Garcia was speaking at the Premiere of 'TaylorMade Presents: Outside The Ropes' – a new film that reveals the physical, mental and technological preparation of today's elite golfers. To find out more visit: www.taylormadegolf.eu