After a poor third round at the 2012 Masters, Sergio Garcia had a public breakdown.
“I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have,” Garcia said in Spanish. “In 13 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”
Someone asked, “In the Masters?”
“In any major,” Garcia spat back.
It is in the nature of professional golf that it occasionally breaks the spirit of people who play it. Few have suffered as many emotional disappointments as the 37-year-old Spaniard. He has become golf’s born loser.
In many minds, he remains the winsome teenage newcomer. That’s because nearly two decades into his career, Garcia’s height remains the moment just before this sport became his job.
He entered the public consciousness in 1999. Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods aside, he may have been the most fetishized amateur ever.
He took up golf at three years old. He’d won a club championship at 12. He played his first European Tour event at 15. In that same year, he became the youngest European amateur champion in history.
Aged 19, he was the best of the non-professionals at his first Masters in ’99. For golf, the timing was a sign from the gods of marketing.
It was generally decided that Garcia’s role would be to press a then-24-year-old Woods. Here was the rivalry that would give the sport its narrative thrust for years to come.
It wasn’t a Bird versus Magic scenario. Garcia was not meant to be the antithesis of Woods. The pair were alike in too many ways – photogenic wunderkind, obscure personalities, imbued with anti-establishment bona fides as golf began its move away from the country-club cabal.
Instead, Garcia would serve as Woods’s spur and occasional foil. He wasn’t intended to be golf’s Robin so much as Batman’s understudy. Garcia would put on the cape whenever the real Bruce Wayne had a day off.
It didn’t work out that way. Upon turning pro, Garcia’s rocket boosters disengaged and gravity got hold of him. He was good, but not in any notable way. He hired and fired caddies. In the midst of one tournament, Garcia yanked off one of his shoes and flung it into the crowd.
“I tell myself, ‘Hombre, no pasa nada [Man, it’s no big deal],’” Garcia said at the time. “If things don’t work out, there’s another round to play tomorrow.”
He was half right. There was always another round to play. But things continued not working out.
He won, but not enough and never at the right time. Of current PGA Tour regulars, only Lee Westwood has played in more majors without a victory.
Whenever a sure thing fizzles, the story will inevitably take on a moral cast. It wasn’t that Garcia wasn’t talented enough. Eventually, the problem was variously that he was too erratic, too mentally fragile or too under the thumb of various authority figures.
Where Woods was seen as boyish, Garcia was childish. That’s the difference between winning and losing.
Going into this year’s Masters, Garcia had passed into the trivia phase of his career (”Is this the year that X does Y?”). The question generally contains its own answer: probably not.
Garcia muddled competently through on Thursday. No one took much notice. On Friday, he shot three-under par while many of his colleagues were making the course look like it had been oiled overnight. In the middle of his round, he was able to shrug off an hour-long period in which he was misidentified for a rules infraction and incorrectly penalized two strokes.
Garcia ended his afternoon at four under in a tie for the lead with journeyman Charley Hoffman. Afterward, he was in an anti-reflective frame of mind.
Talking to Garcia in early middle age is about as close as anyone will get to interviewing Sisyphus. This man’s been crushed by his own boulder on 22 occasions – the number of times Garcia has finished top-10 in a major. All he knows how to do any more is to keep pushing.
So once he’d finished his round, he did not look very contented. Mostly, he seemed antsy. He fidgeted with a bottle of water and stared at his hands while answering questions.
Pressed to be reflective, the best Garcia could come up with about how his life has changed between then and now was, “Being surrounded by great people that are not afraid of telling you what’s wrong with something when you do something wrong, that’s something that I feel like I’ve always been very blessed with.”
It’s an oddly sombre way of looking at things. It’s the sort of answer some other minutely observed prodigy, say a Mozart, might have given.
By the end of the day, American Rickie Fowler and Belgian Thomas Pieters had joined the top pair in a tie for the lead. At five over, Canada’s Adam Hadwin made the cut in his first Masters. Compatriots Mackenzie Hughes and Mike Weir did not.
Before any of that happened, Garcia was already dissembling on the topic of whether he could finally manage you-know-what.
“Being part of a major, it’s exciting already. Having a chance is the best thing. And winning it, I’m sure it’s amazing.”
It’s hard to feel sorry for the professional disappointments of someone who’s banked $45-million (U.S.) in prize money, but right there, a roomful of people got close.
Can he do it this time? Given his history, no close observer of the game will believe it until Garcia’s tucked up in the Butler Cabin chatting banally with Jim Nantz.
You’d guess that that group of doubters includes the man himself. He has been too close too often. But if you’re inclined to believe in them, the omens are lining up.
“Things are … things are … um … happening at the moment,” Garcia said when asked if he thought so, too.
Having seen a lot of things before, too many things maybe, exactly what sort of things Garcia wouldn’t say.Report Typo/Error
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