SANDWICH, England — Sergio Garcia has finally learned to embrace a very English proverb: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you cry alone.” For too long in recent years Garcia has lamented his poor luck and beaten himself up after every missed opportunity. It’s an unhealthy attitude and the inevitable sabbatical ensued. For almost two years he has wandered in the wilderness, playing tennis and football and, no doubt, scratching his head and staring at the stars at night wondering what it’s all about.
But the smile has been back on his face this week at Royal St. George’s. And golf fans have been smiling back. Love is a two-way street. 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 on his mother’s shoulder. The Garcia that hopped, skipped and jumped his way into golf fans’ hearts to finish runner-up to Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship the following month. There is huge support around the Kent links for the ever-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 before he lost the playoff to Padraig Harrington.
Garcia said he is drawing inspiration this week from the memory of Seve Ballesteros, who died in May at just 54 years old. Seve’s spirit is very much alive at Royal St. George’s. Those iconic images from St. Andrews in 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 honor the legend and the man. It is 35 years since Seve announced his genius to the sporting world by finishing with a flourish to be 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. It would be the ultimate Seve tribute and if Garcia cried, there is no doubt the whole world would cry with him.
“I can see a lot of good things happening this week,” Garcia said. “To be up there and have a chance of winning. That’s my goal. 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. It has always been my favorite event.”
Garcia lost a playoff to Pablo Larrazabal at the BMW International Open in Germany at the end of June, but it was good enough to ensure his participation here. It was his best result since winning the 2008 HSBC Champions event in Shanghai and came on the back of an encouraging seventh place at last month’s U.S. 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 cured his putting yips too by changing his grip. Never mind that it makes him look like he’s trying to shake hands with himself while uncorking a bottle of wine. 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.”
He said he has learned to accept Kipling’s twin imposters in more equal measure. “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.
Garcia has been largely forgotten in the build-up to the 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. While all the talk at Royal St. George’s has been about Rory McIlroy, many have expressed a feeling that fate may be about to deal Garcia a winning hand. One such voice, surprisingly, has been Chubby Chandler, manager to McIlroy and Lee Westwood. He is obviously rooting for his boys, but Chandler admitted he has a sneaky feeling that this could be Garcia’s year.
“It feels like he’s having fun again,” Chandler said.