• Alistair Tait

The strange case of Sergio


How do we measure whether a sports person has achieved his or her full potential? That question has been on my mind since reading Tony Jacklin’s comments regarding Sergio Garcia’s career.

Has the Spaniard fulfilled his potential or, as Jacklin believes, is he the “biggest underachiever in golf?”

Garcia announced himself on the world stage 22 years ago this weekend when he won the Amateur Championship at Muirfield by handing Welshman Craig Williams a dog licence. Garcia’s 7&6 victory was no surprise: he was a class player in a field with quite a few class players.

Future major winners Justin Rose, Trevor Immelman and Geoff Ogilvy played the Amateur Championship in 1998. Immelman was trying to bounce back after finishing runner-up to Scotland’s Craig Watson the previous year at Royal St George’s. The South African lost to England’s Mark Hilton in the quarterfinals. Rose came out second best against Scotland’s James Bunch in his opening match. Williams beat Ogilvy in the quarter finals.

Other future European Tour winners that year included Gregory Havret, Kennie Ferrie, Graeme Storm, Mikko Ilonen and Simon Dyson. Storm won the following year at Royal County Down, while Ilonen was the 2000 champion at Royal Liverpool.

I didn’t witness Garcia’s Amateur Championship victory. I wish I had. I started a run of 20 straight Amateur Championships the following year at Royal County Down, when Storm penned a unique story by winning the championship with his mother caddying for him.

I was at Druid’s Glen in 1999 when Garcia won the Murphy’s Irish Open. Like many, I thought then the Spaniard would follow in the footsteps of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal and win majors. Indeed, many of us thought he’d better Olazabal’s tally of two majors and contest Seve’s five. The reason? Garcia drove the ball better than his two compatriots. They may have been better shot makers, but Garcia was/is a better, more consistent ball striker.

I walked all 18 holes of the final round with Garcia when he won that Irish Open by three shots. He strolled around Druids Glen in 64 blows without really breaking sweat. The victory came just 10 weeks after he turned professional.

Garcia has had a great career. He has 16 European Tour victories, 10 PGA Tour titles and numerous other wins around the world. He’s won more Ryder Cup points than any other player.

For years he had that unwanted best player not to win a major tag hung around his neck. He shed that with his 2017 Masters win.

Most tour pros would kill for Garcia’s career. So, is Jacklin right to say Sergio should have done better?

“He’s been one of the best players on the planet for the last 20 years and doesn’t have much to show for it,” Jacklin told former Golfweek colleague Adam Schupack. “Seve had more courage in his little finger than this lad.”

Ouch!


Garcia’s finished runner-up on four occasions in the tournaments that really matter. He’s also battled a few demons in his time.

The Spaniard has let himself down on more than one occasion through bouts of petulance unbecoming of a club golfer never mind a tour pro. Remember last year when he was disqualified from the Saudi International for wilfully damaging greens? The Spaniard apologised for his actions, but it wasn’t his first transgression.

He once threw a shoe in anger on Wentworth Golf Club’s 15th tee during his debut in the 1999 World Match Play Championship. He committed a serious breach of etiquette by spitting into Doral’s 13th hole after missing a short putt during the third round of the 2007 CA World Championship.

Despite his innate talent, Garcia hasn’t always fully believed in himself. Five years before he slipped on the green jacket, Garcia told Spanish reporters at Augusta that he wasn’t good enough to win a major. That lack of self-believe has been manifest in his putting woes over the years, despite the perfect display of putting he showed in that first European Tour victory 21 years ago.

Maybe Jacklin’s wrong. Perhaps the Spaniard has achieved exactly what he deserved.

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