Now Garcia has learnt to giggle again can he be a serious Open contender?
Spaniard who nearly walked away has got his desire back – and his game is not far behind
Thursday 14 July 2011
O Sergio, Sergio! Wherefore art thou, Sergio? Sergio Garcia's career was supposed to be a glorious Enid Blyton adventure. But somehow in the turning of the pages it evolved into more of a Shakespearean tragedy. The dashing young hero has wallowed too often in self-pity lamenting his poor luck (why me? Why Sergio?) And, like star-crossed lovers, he and golf have endured a feisty affair where at times he has sounded like he believes the whole world is against him.
But there have been signs lately of a revival – a new chapter. Maybe there is still time for a Happy Ever After ending. Garcia has been in chipper mood all week here at Royal St George's. On Monday evening he was chilling with Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Darren Clarke at an English pub themed barbecue hosted by their sponsors. Garcia was first to step up to whack balls at a giant dartboard erected 50 yards away. He missed it waaaay right. Uh oh. He teed up another. And missed again. People began to point and snigger. Cancel all bets; the Spaniard can't hit a dartboard with a banjo. But, wait a second, they were deliberate misses for a photo-shoot. And relax.
Garcia laughed when he heard how onlookers had been whispering at his apparent useless drives. It is good to see the smile back on his face. "I'm not going to be laughing if I am not happy," Garcia said. "I don't laugh if it's not genuine. But you've seen throughout this year there have been a lot of positives and only the odd round that has pushed me back. The last two weeks have meant a bit more to me. It's great to get in the Open, always been my favourite event."
Garcia lost a play-off to Pablo Larrazabal at the BMW International in Munich at the end of June but it was good enough to ensure his participation here. It was his best result since winning the 2009 HSBC Champions event in Shanghai and came on the back of an encouraging seventh place at last month's US Open. Perhaps the 31-year-old has finally emerged from his two-year slump during which time he plummeted from World No 2 to being perilously close to dropping out of the top 100. He admits he considered walking away from the game. "But something inside me was missing playing and that's why I came back," he said. He has now clawed his way back to World No 53.
Speaking of claws, Garcia seems to have calmed his putting yips too by changing his grip. Never mind that it makes him look like Edward Scissorhands trying to wring out a wet towel. And he says he is falling in love again with the game. "I still need to get better but I do enjoy it more than the last couple of years," he said. "Early last year I wouldn't have even cared about making it here or not. The good thing now is my desire is back."
The old Garcia is almost back. The Garcia that everyone fell in love with in 1999 when he missed the cut at Carnoustie and cried. The Garcia that hopped, skipped and jumped his way into golf fans' hearts to finish runner-up to Tiger Woods (whatever happened to him?) at the USPGA Championship the following month. There is huge support in Kent for the always-popular Garcia. He has six top 10s in the Open including the heartbreak of 2007 when a putt to win at the last hole lipped out and then he lost the play-off to Padraig Harrington. Garcia has been largely forgotten in the build-up to the 140th Open but the R&A has acknowledged his stellar appeal by grouping him with World No 1 Luke Donald and Japan's 19-year-old superstar Ryo Ishikawa.
Garcia's sabbatical gave him the time to come to terms with golf's most frustrating element: luck. Or, as he saw it, bad luck. "I need to not take the bad breaks too seriously and to see the good breaks for what they are," he said. "I would like some more good breaks, for sure, like a lip out to go in [see: Carnoustie 2007]. But if it doesn't, deal with it." He said he has finally learned not to beat himself up so much. "I can see a lot of good things happening this week," he added. "To be up there and have a chance of winning. That's my goal."
While all the talk in Kent has been about Rory McIlroy, many have expressed a feeling that fate may be about to deal Garcia a winning royal flush. One such voice, surprisingly, has been Chubby Chandler, manager to McIlroy and Lee Westwood. He's obviously backing his boys but if they fold, he fancies Garcia to take the pot (or, rather, the jug). "It feels like he's having fun again," Chandler said.
Garcia was supposed to be the new Seve Ballesteros. And then along came Woods to crush that particular dream. Garcia said he is drawing inspiration this week from the memory of Seve, who died in May aged just 54. Seve's spirit is very much alive at Royal St George's. Those iconic images from St Andrews 1984 are plastered on posters lining the entrance to the course and replicated on the grandstands surrounding the 18th green. Players here have been signing a book of remembrance to honour the legend and the man. It is 35 years since Seve announced his genius to the sporting world by finishing runner-up to Johnny Miller at Royal Birkdale in 1976. What a week it would be if Garcia could finally reap the rewards for his undoubted genius, too.
A Spaniard kissing the jug on Sunday evening: how's that for the ultimate Seve tribute?
Sergio plays TaylorMade, the No 1 driver at the Open. For more details go to www.taylormadegolf.eu
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