He stopped and easily agreed to a few questions, and on that Thursday afternoon in Las Colinas it was just Sergio Garcia alone with a reporter.
Sergio was still a story in May of 2005, but by that point he was no longer a focal point on the PGA tour. So it was just Garcia and myself.
“You hope when you turn pro, when you are young, you hope to win a lot of tournaments and all of those things, ” Garcia told me at the 2005 Byron Nelson tournament. “Once you get out here and realize how difficult it is, I am happy where I am. I am happy the way things are going.
“If I keep giving myself chances at tournaments, then I’ll give myself chances at majors. Eventually — eventually — it will come.”
Right now no one cares it took 12 years from that point for Garcia to be right. Sergio Garcia is the Masters champion.
Golf’s next young star is now on the back end of his PGA timeline but on Sunday he finally finished a major. He defeated Justin Rose on the first playoff hole to win his first major championship.
It was as big of a win for the sport as it is for Sergio. Both needed this one.
For a story I wrote about Sergio in ‘05, I spoke with his caddy, John Daly, Phil Mickelson and Bernhard Langer.
Here is the story:
Maybe that’s his girlfriend. She seemed to calm him.
After narrowly missing a putt at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship, Sergio Garcia released a painful groan for the dozen or so people in his gallery. Amid his frustration, however, he stopped to smile at the attractive brunette watching.
One hole later, in the midst of narrowly missing another putt, Garcia held up his putter like a baseball bat and acted as if he were going to beat the %$&! ball into the ground. He followed with non-PG-13 adjectives.
So maybe it wasn’t his girlfriend, but therein lies the beauty of Sergio: In a sport of 90-degree angles — and personalities — Garcia’s willingness to put his emotions on his sleeve, cap or putter makes him Everygolfer.
“The great thing about it is, it’s natural, ” said Garcia’s caddie of six years, Glen Murray of South Africa. “That’s just the way he is. It’s the Spanish temperament, and it’s definitely normal.”
Embraced by golf fans as the teen-ager in an adult’s body, Garcia is oh-so-close to becoming golf’s next star, and most beloved Euro since fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros. At the same time, he also sits dangerously close to becoming the next Phil Mickelson, as golf’s most beloved player who can’t win the big one.
“I just try to be myself, and it’s nice to hear and see that people like it, ” said Garcia, who returns to Fort Worth this week to participate in the Bank of America Colonial, which he won in 2001. “I don’t try to do anything different from who I am. I try to be myself, and we go from there.”
“There” includes hitting 8.0 in downtown Fort Worth. Highlighting his jet-black hair blond. Or filming a commercial for Michelob in which he floats a piece of paper toward a woman’s bellybutton while she reclines in a pool.
He’s 25, single, and doesn’t try to be anything different or act a day older.
People have fallen for Garcia’s exuberance ever since his run and skip up the fairway on final hole of the 1999 PGA Championship. His emotions are reminiscent of a time when there were characters on the tour, not robots concerned with alienating the gallery or potential sponsors. A time when a player was apt to throw a club and not worry about where the cameras were pointed.
During the Nelson on a par-3 tee shot, Garcia screamed after hitting a shot: “That is so bad!”
“Well, some people are fans of characters and some aren’t, ” PGA veteran and celebrated character John Daly said. “Fortunately, more people are.”
Daly can attest to the financial rewards for being a little different. But unlike Daly, whose career has been marked by two major titles but countless other less-flattering personal episodes, Garcia can be both character and champion.
He has five PGA titles and nine championships in Europe. “The moment he learns to take control of his emotions, he will win a major, ” Murray said.
Ranked eighth in the world, Garcia is likely a major away from joining Tiger, Vijay and Phil as golf’s most decorated and feared. But he is still a few years away from having the great-golfer-who-can’t-win-a-major anvil stuffed in his bag.
“People forget he came on the tour when he was 19, so it seems like he’s a lot older than he is, ” Mickelson said. “It is a matter of time. There is no question about if he will win a major — he will definitely win a bunch. It’s a matter of when.”
Ballesteros won five majors and often pleased crowds with his life-and-death approach to shots.
“It’s comparable, ” PGA and European tour veteran Bernhard Langer said. “But Seve was extremely popular, and Sergio isn’t there just yet.”
Garcia wants this, but he wants to be 25, too. He obviously enjoys the fruits of being a millionaire bachelor, and not every good young golfer can be Tiger. For most golfers it takes years, into their late 20s or even 30s, before they are among the elite.
At 37, no one can say Sergio is no longer elite.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.