August 24, 2009

The Trials And Travails of Being Sergio

The former world's #2 golfer seems to have lost his touch and his confidence. He needs both if he is to fulfill his vast potential.

Last week was just another bad week for Sergio Garcia. This time, just when he thought he might be able to turn around a rotten 2009, victory once again eluded him - or, as some say, he eluded it once again. Your pick, but for Garcia, recent times have not been glad tidings.

After a year of turbulence in both his professional and personal life, yesterday afternoon, he was leading the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, NC, and pointed towards a possible revival of his season -- and also some much-needed momentum heading into the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

As he left the seventh green, Garcia had just made his third consecutive birdie, and led the tournament by three. For once, his balky putter was aiming in the right direction and his putts were finding the bottom of the cup. Unfortunately for him, that good feeling was not to last long. Withing minutes, Garcia three-putted the eighth hole, and that re-opened the door to the house of horrors that the the Spaniard has seemingly call home all season. He would bogey three holes consecutively, lose his lead and ultimately miss a sudden-death playoff berth by one stroke when he achingly missed a bunker shot at 18 by less than a camel's hair, one that would have gotten him to the 19th tee, still with a chance to win. As the putt rolled by, Sergio ended the day as he has ended every Sunday thus far in 2009: with more questions than answers.

“I should have been in a different position,” Garcia said a few minutes later. “It's a shame.”

It is a shame. Last year, Garcia was within a few steps of the loftiest peak in golf, the #1 ranking. He won The Players Championship and lost to Padraig Harrington in the PGA Championship, and for all intents and purposes, he looked ready to challenge and rival Tiger Woods -- whether or not Woods was healthy and playing his best. Not long after that, however, Garcia's touch around the green turned to stone. Not long afterward, his world ranking also began to sink like a stone, and for the most part, that stone has yet to find the bottom. Garcia is winless in fifteen months on the PGA Tour, and he has not won this year on the European Tour either, a place where he spends a significant portion of his playing time.

No wins this season may not seem like much of a drop-off for a touring pro, and for many that may be true...but Sergio is not an average player, he is one blessed with incredible talent, an effervescence of charisma and seemingly, a desire to take his game as far as it can take him. He was once Europe's Next Coming, a player that would take the place of his hero Seve Ballesteros as the face of European golf, if not the game itself.

These days, that Next Coming moniker has been given to Irish wunderkind Rory McIlroy, and many doubt that Sergio even has the dreaded title of "Greatest Player to Have Never Won a Major." Kenny Perry and others are given that dubious title by many in the golf press, and as for Sergio Garcia, well, his 0-44 streak in the majors only underlines the opinion of him being a good, but not great player, and one with a penchant for losing leads when the heat is at its highest settings -- the closing stages of a tournament. Golf writer Alex Miceli of Golfweek quipped yesterday that "I got goosebumps when that ball rolled across the edge of the hole, but still Garcia found another way to lose an event he had in his back pocket." In a nutshell, Miceli encapuslated Garcia's year.

After a slow start, in April, Sergio was clearly not himself.

After struggling to a tie for 38th at The Masters in Augusta, he said that "I don't like [Augusta National Golf Club]...I don't think it's's too get mud balls in the middle of the fairways." After being pressed to clarify what he said, and perhaps to offer suggestions to the Men of the Masters on how they could improve their course, Garcia replied curtly, "I don't care, they can do whatever they want. It's not my problem. I just come here and play then go home." Undoubtedly, these comments didn't go over well in a certain white house at the end of Magnolia Lane in Augusta, not to mention the legions of golf fans who consider Augusta National to be the hallowed heavenly grounds of the game itself.

Despite his reputation as a fiery competitor, those comments came as a surprise from a player who is long-accustomed to the white-hot media spotlight that follows top touring pros. Garcia no doubt knew better than to say what he did, but did it anyway. Clearly, he was disgusted. But was it at the golf course in Augusta that had just whipped him or was it something else?

A clue to that would come later on in May, when Garcia admitted that his girlfriend, Greg Norman's daughter Morgan-Leigh, had broken up with him. While he was practicing at Turnberry for the upcoming Open Championship, he told the London Times the breakup had hurt him deeply and that "it was probably the first time I have been really in love. It took me a while to get over it.

"I haven't been that comfortable on a golf course for two months," he continued. "Obviously the break-up with Morgan didn't help. You get over some things. Others take a little longer. I haven't been playing well. The last seven months of 2008 I would give myself a 9 out of ten for my golf. The last two months a 2 or 2½."

That poor play would continue on and off, but mostly on throughout this season, but it looked for a short time as if his personal drought might end yesterday on a rain-soaked course in North Carolina. That didn't happen, however, and that is the bad news for Garcia.

Last Chance For Redemption

The good news is that by playing almost well enough to win, he solidified his FedEx Cup standing, and gets another chance at redeeming his 2009 starting this week at The Barclay's. The site of the tournament, Liberty National, is a place where he will be able to see the Statue of Liberty up close and personal on many holes. There, perhaps he will be remembered why he came to this country in the first place: to play with and to win against the best golfers in the world...a group Sergio Garcia certainly belongs in, especially when he is playing his best.

Perhaps Sergio is hoping that the statue is his version of Lady Luck. He needs it. For Sergio Garcia, winning the FedEx Cup is all he has left in 2009. Playing well and advancing in the playoffs would go far to restoring his self-confidence, and put him in position for a much better 2010.

1 comment:

  1. If someone had tried to convince me Sergio and a score of other 'the next Tiger' would have their 30th birthdays without a major and only a handful of regular wins, we would've come to blows.

    How wrong I was. Is is a sea of mediocrity?


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