Tour Confidential: Why Does Sergio Garcia Struggle in Big-Time Moments?

February 29, 2016
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. At the Honda Classic on Sunday, Sergio Garcia failed to convert a 54-hole lead for the 10th time in 13 attempts on the PGA Tour. Why does Garcia struggle so mightily in big moments, and how much of his legacy do you suppose will be tied to his inability to close?

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): It’s pretty simple. Some guys just handle the pressure better than others. Even Sergio has suggested as much. It’s hard to believe that the scissor-kick at the 1999 PGA at Medinah may turn out to be one of his greatest moments.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree–there must be a mental disconnect there for Sergio. Such a talent. But he also has more moving parts in his swing and in his putting stroke than most elite players and under Sunday pressure that creates problems.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Hard to believe is right, but it’s sure looking like it’s going to be the lingering legacy. The back nine today was pretty much his career in microcosm. It’s not just reflected in the stats. Garcia himself has been very open about his own mental frailties, which to my mind makes him all the more compelling to watch (and an easier guy to root for), even if part of me is wincing as I wait for the meltdown. I’d love to see him win a big one, but even the final birdie he made today on 18 was emblematic of the bigger picture and suggestive of why he probably never will. He drained that putt right at the very moment when it no longer mattered.

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Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Well said, Josh. I, too, hope Sergio can get over the hump and win a major. He seems to be too big of a talent to go an entire career without one. But other than the Ryder Cup, he hasn’t put on his big-boy pants to own the big moment. In fact, as Josh points out, he seems very, very uncomfortable in the big moments, waiting until after they’ve passed to play his best golf. Who ever won a major that way? I suppose it’s possible, maybe by not looking at scoreboards, or maybe by finishing three or four hours before the leaders and watching a storm roll in. Seems like an unlikely thing to hope for, though, if you’re a Sergio fan.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Is it mental or is it technique when you make putts for three days but you turn into Zorba the Greek in the final round–Never On Sunday? Sergio has had his share of successes, he has handled the pressure at times but he hasn’t done it as often as we all expect. He’s won too much to say he can’t close but unless he snags a big one–and there’s still time–that assessment will dog his career.

RELATED: Sergio Says PGA Tour Wins Don’t Mean More Than Others

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Said it here before, but I think Sergio gets a boost playing in Europe, where the fans love him and he feeds off the energy. If he were to win a major, it would probably need to be a back-door variety, and while I have very little confidence it will happen for him, his best shot each year is the British Open.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Sergio is who he is: an incredible swinger of the club but a soft egg. We all know he is almost never going to win these kind of dogfights. The sad thing is he now seems to know it, too.

2. On Sunday, Adam Scott became the first ex-anchorer to win a Tour event since the anchoring ban went into effect on Jan. 1. Did Scott’s performance convince you that he can win majors — in particular, the Masters — with a traditional putter?

GODICH: That’s consecutive weeks on demanding tracks that Mr. Scott has looked comfortable with a conventional-length putter, but the greens at Augusta (and then Oakmont) will provide an even bigger challenge. That said, he’s always going to be among the leaders in GIR, and the recent success should give him a load of confidence.

SENS: As Mark says, Augusta is an entirely different animal. But Scott also seems like a new man. Or at least a newly reenergized man. Putter transition aside, he’s been adjusting to other major changes. Getting married, becoming a father. His strong play of late may have less to do with getting comfortable with the conventional flatstick than with his reshifting of what the self-help gurus call a life-work balance.

BAMBERGER: Oh, sure. Adam Scott didn’t get to where he is on the world of golf because of the anchored putting stroke. He found a method that worked for him. It was not the method he grew up on. Now he is simply going back to what he did for most of his golf career. The thing with majors is, you pretty much win a certain percentage of the ones in which you play that is roughly similar to the percentage of “regular” wins you achieve. For most players that is a number between 0 and 1. Scott is not different. If he keeps giving himself chances in majors, he’ll win one.

RELATED: Scott, With an Improved Putter, Should Strike Fear Into the Tour

SHIPNUCK: Beneath his cool exterior Scott has some very deep ambitions. He has always talked about winning the career Grand Slam, and I still believe that’s a possibility. He just needs to win a second major – after that, the third and fourth might come easy.

MORFIT: I’m convinced Adam Scott wins more than one major in his career. Seems like the guy is in contention to win pretty much every British Open, and now that he’s putting well with the standard-length putter, he can get it done pretty much anywhere. The Champions Course at PGA National is about as major as a non-major course gets in 2016, so it’s certainly a positive sign that he got it done “in the smoke,” as Trevino used to say.

RITTER: Totally agree with Cam. In between the Tiger-Phil era and the new Big 3, the Tour floated through a stretch of parity where several guys grabbed their first major. There are a few I like to win a second one someday, like Rose and Oosty, but none more than Scott, who only has to putt slightly better than average to contend. This could be the year he bags No. 2.

VAN SICKLE: Scott messed up on the greens last year at the British Open, kicking away a chance. He looks comfortable enough for now. But is anyone ever really comfortable on the greens at Augusta? I say yes, he’s crossed the line of doubt into can-do territory.


3. Augusta National has reportedly acquired land from Augusta Country Club that will allow ANGC to lengthen its 13th hole. Billy Horschel said the notion of extending the 510-yard par-5, which at last year’s Masters played as the easiest hole with a 4.55 stroke average, was “the dumbest thing in the world,” adding, “Golf is going in the wrong direction by adding length.” Is Horschel right?

BAMBERGER: I agree with Horschel. Adding length would kill the hole. Adding length to courses has done nothing to make the game better. It has made the game worse.

GODICH: When I stop seeing players bomb 300-yard 3-woods, hit irons off the tee of 460-yard par-4s and rocket 8-irons 190 yards, we can have a discussion about golf going in the wrong direction in regards to distance.

SENS: Going in the wrong direction? When it comes to how far the ball travels today, the past tense “went” is more like it. That horse has already left the barn. And I understand why some tournament courses have had to be lengthened in response. Regarding Augusta, though, Horschel is right on the money. You’re going to modify what might be the greatest par-5 in the world for the sake of protecting par? Makes no sense to me.

GODICH: I beg to differ, Josh. These days on Tour, a 510-yard hole makes for a good par-4. How many players are hitting 3-wood and a mid-iron at the 13th? Shouldn’t they at least have to pull driver if they want to have a go at a reachable par-5?

SENS: I hear you on that point, Mark. No argument that the hole plays shorter than it used to. But if that’s your concern, call the hole a par-4 and move on. Change its designation, but not its design.

MORFIT: We asked more than 100 people in the golf business, from major winners to administrators, to name the best hole at Augusta National. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but guess which hole won easily? Yep, the 14th. No, just joking–it was the 13th. Changing it seems like the wrong move. Aren’t we past the era of Tiger-proofing or in this case Bubba-proofing? The 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, where Justin Rose won at 1-over par, disproved the idea that adding yards is the best and only way to fix every problem. Didn’t it?

VAN SICKLE: I can’t think of anything more exciting than watching tee shots come up short of the corner at the 13th and then watching player after player lay up with a short iron and wedge on. Come on, man. The 10th and 11th holes are par 4s and they’re both longer than 13. Just call the 13th a par-4 and move on instead of ruining one hole at Augusta National and another at Augusta Country Club.

SHIPNUCK: It’s a sad state of affairs. That’s always been the prettiest hole at Augusta National and probably the most exciting. But it certainly loses a lot of dramatic tension when guys are going in with a short-iron. There’s no good solution – I hate to see it touched, or turned into a par-4, but so much of the shot value has been lost it’s probably necessary to make it longer, even though that’s painful to say.

4. Phil Mickelson said on GOLF LIVE last week that no player today is “remotely close to the level of performance Tiger was in his prime. Mentally, short game, or ball striking, I don’t think anybody matches him in any of those areas.” Is this a bit of an overstatement from Phil, or is he on point?

SHIPNUCK: It’s actually an understatement. Tiger was that good.

GODICH: Tiger hasn’t won a major in almost eight years, but his 14 titles are still two more than the most PGA Tour victories for a player under the age of 40 (Rory McIlroy). And never mind Tiger’s 79 career Tour victories. Players would kill to have a career anything close to the stretch he had from 1999 through 2003, when he won 32 times. Or the run he had from 2005 through 2009, when he racked up 31 more victories. Yeah, I’d say Phil is spot on.

BAMBERGER: I agree with Mark, and I agree with Phil. Wholeheartedly. McIlroy and Spieth are fantastic golf talents. There is not one area that either of them is better than Woods was in his prime. Not even close. Yes, Spieth had a great putting year last year. Woods had a great putting decade and then some. Rory drives it long and in play. There was a time Woods did, too. And when he did he was longer than virtually everybody.

MORFIT: Michael, I disagree with you on one point: Spieth’s short game is otherworldly, or at least it was in 2015. Tiger’s short game was otherworldly, albeit for a much longer period of time. I’d like to give Spieth a little time before we declare his work around the greens “not even close” to Tiger’s.

SENS: Phil’s contention is no more controversial than claiming that the world is round. We have not seen anyone achieve the sort of sustained dominance Tiger showed at his peak, and I doubt we will in our lifetimes.

VAN SICKLE: Jason Day was on par with Tiger during his late-summer run last year. How many 385-yard drives did Tiger hit during his day the way Day did at Whistling Straits? Day had all facets of his game working for a few months and was totally Tiger-esque. Now all he’s got to do is keep that up for the next eight years, without fail. I’ll believe that when I believe it, Yogi. I’m with Phil on this one.

MORFIT: I agree with Mickelson, but I reserve the right to change my mind. True, Tiger sustained a level of play that all these other guys have been able to reach for only short bursts. The thing is, we’re dealing with a very small sample size in the case of Spieth, slightly less small in the case of McIlroy, and slightly less small still in the case of Day. What if 10 years from now we look back on Spieth’s 2015 as the start of the new normal? We just don’t know enough right now to be able to make that call.


5. This week the Tour moves to Donald Trump’s Blue Monster at Trump Doral for the WGC-Cadillac Championship. In December, not long after Trump said the U.S. should ban Muslims from entering the country, the PGA Tour told it would “explore all options regarding the [WGC-Cadillac Championship’s] future.” Given the political complications that come with being aligned with Trump, do you suspect the Tour will turn its back on Doral?

GODICH: The folks in Ponte Vedra Beach are playing with a ticking time bomb. I’d be surprised if they don’t move on.

SENS: As would I, Mark. If the Tour wants to stay true to its stated goal of greater inclusivity, I don’t see how they stick with Doral. But any break with Trump will have to be made as quietly and politely as possible, and if/when it happens, I’ll be interested to see what sort of blowback the Tour gets hit with as a result. Just as golf has hardcore fans, so does Trump. And I suspect that there’s a lot of overlap between those two groups.

BAMBERGER: Trump’s comments about Muslims and Mexicans, among many others, are mind-blowingly stupid. His attack-dog tone is a far cry from the game’s code of gracious behavior. But Doral has been a good venue for good tournaments for many decades and golf should not have to pay for Trump’s bombast.

VAN SICKLE: Let’s just say, hypothetically, that he turns into President Trump. Are you really going to stiff POTUS because of some of his views? At that point, it might be a good idea to have the Commander in Chief on your side. If I was the Tour, I’d check the wind direction and wait for the November election before deciding to insult a resort owner who may end up having his finger on The Button. (See “Dr. Strangelove” for details.) If I was the Tour, I’d relax and remain at DefCon 5.

RELATED: Nicklaus Almost Stole the Show at the Honda Classic

SHIPNUCK: Exactly, Gary. Don’t forget Finchem is a lawyer by training and was a successful political operative in Washington, D.C. I think he’ll let the voters decide this. If the American public is okay with Trump, I expect the Tour will still want to be aligned with him, too.

MORFIT: Couldn’t disagree more, guys. Golf is at a point where it can’t afford to be perceived as starchy and calcified and yes, bigoted. The sport has to find a way to get more people in the tent, not fewer. The PGA Tour may feel insular and high school-ish, but it’s part of something much bigger–an entire sport. With golf about to return to the Olympic Games, ostensibly broadening its appeal, this would be an especially poor time to stay small and stick with the Donald.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.