As you know if you’ve followed this site for a while, I’m a huge sports fan, and while this isn’t a sports blog (except maybe during the World Cup, sort of) I do comment when a sporting event especially moves me.
The last time I wrote about golf, I think, was when Darren Clarke won the British Open back in 2011. And that’s the tournament that this week’s Masters most puts me in mind of, though Darren Clarke’s relationship with golf and the public is quite different than Sergio Garcia’s. The reasons may have been different, but you saw a similar outpouring of affection from the crowd in both cases.
“Potential”, as we know, is a terrible burden to place on someone. But Sergio Garcia brought it on himself by taking the world by storm as a 19 year-old rookie, almost beating Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship and seemingly destined to be Tiger’s great rival. Well, it never worked out that way – not in Majors, anyway. Sergio became one of the greatest Ryder Cup players ever – better than Woods, by a mile. But like his companions in the “greatest never to win a Major” club, Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood, Sergio was never able to replicate his great Ryder Cup success in the major championships.
Until now, that is. I love Sergio for a number of reasons, but perhaps most of all because he’s a man of no artifice – he always says what he thinks and feels. And that’s gotten him into trouble. He’s also a man whose self-doubts have never been hidden, who’s wrestled with his demons as publicly as any golfer ever has. He’s come close so many times, fallen short so many times – sometimes through genuine bad luck (just like Greg Norman – though some people like to pretend you’re not allowed to admit that), and lately, often simply succumbing to the pressure. The more you come close and fall short, the harder it gets to get over the wall.
No one deserves this more than Sergio. He’s a phenomenal ball striker, and that’s another thing I’ve always admired about him. He and Justin Rose put on a phenomenal display of golf today, proving in the process that Augusta isn’t just a putting contest. They also put on a phenomenal display of sportsmanship, great friends that they are. It seemed for a while that Sergio would be the victim of a rival’s hot streak yet again, or of terrible luck (like Rose’s ball on the 72nd hole caroming off the mound at the edge of the right-greenside bunker straight towards the hole). But he hung in there, survived yet another crushing disappointment in missing a 6-footer to win, and prevailed on the first extra hole.
It did my heart good to see how hard the Augusta galleries were pulling for Sergio, because to me, if you’re a golf fan this is a guy you desperately wanted to see finally win a Major. But to hear American galleries chant “Sergio!” as they did after the winning putt is pretty unbelievable. I also thought it was fantastic to see Matt Kuchar (who shot 67 with a hole-in-one and finished T-4) hang around with his sons to watch the final holes, and to congratulate Sergio when it was over. That tells you that there was something special happening out there today.
I love all the major chamoionships in golf, but there’s just something about The Masters that lends itself to drama like none of the others. Sundays at Augusta always offer lots of potential for heroics and disasters – it’s a back nine full of risk-reward that’s golf’s greatest stage. Nothing will ever equal Jack’s unbelievable run to glory in ’86, probably, but I’m not sure we’ve seen a more dramatic finish or a more emotional aftermath since than we did with Sergio winning today. It’s about damn time – now go win one this summer, Lee…