Sergio Garcia topped a ball on Friday. Stone cold topped it. It may have been the best thing that could have happened to him.
— Skratch (@Skratch) March 24, 2017
He was going to lose his match to Jon Rahm, regardless of that fateful tee shot. That shot went viral, his only way of making the highlight shows that Friday. There were likely chuckles around the world. ‘Sergio hit it just like I did!’ He’s becoming one of us.
Before the season started, Garcia was a popular pick (including by me) to finally break through and win a major in 2017. Why? He won once last year and had two top-five finishes in majors, but it wasn’t his on course comfort that had many pontificating his ultimate win. What was it?
While it took a while, have we fallen in love with Sergio? It seems as if we have. That topped tee shot would have drawn a lineup of hecklers 10 years ago. In 2017, we shrug it off and blame the conditions. We have arrived at this level of support for the Spaniard because of a gradual maturation.
Garcia entered golf’s main stage with such boldness and bravado that the golfing public wasn’t ready for him. Tiger Woods was the chosen one. No eyes-closed, leaping teenager from Spain would take him from us. He wouldn’t win in the states until two years after Medinah in 1999, giving plenty of ammunition to those who wanted to beat down his right to be there.
Time quickly softened that view. Woods became human. His former challengers were no longer unwanted. Garcia no longer threatened whatever it was we had forgotten was in danger.
Garcia has also opened his world to us. After years of fighting for privacy, while also carrying on high-profile relationships, Sergio has found his happiness in a most public place.
His engagement to Angela Akins has been an unforeseen PR investment for Garcia. Maybe it’s having the former media professional (Akins was a reporter for Golf Channel) in his innermost circle, but Garcia’s relationship is all over social media.
Guess what? It’s kind of bland. He’s just like me (Sergio is one year older). He likes good meals, pleasant company, serene sights and a glass of wine with the woman he loves. Impossible to knock that.
Happiness is an underrated component of success. It helps fuel everything else. Garcia appears more balanced, less ornery and ready to simply be the best golfer he can be. That may provide even bigger wins.
Earlier this season, while watching almost every shot Garcia hit at The Honda Classic, I saw a man raging with displeasure over simple shots that were off by a fraction. It isn’t uncommon for a golfer to expect perfection and be angry at missing the mark. Garcia, however, appeared shocked, as if his expectations were re-calibrated.
It was hard to pinpoint why that look was different, just as it is hard to pinpoint why Garcia appears to have more support than ever before. The momentum is real, even when the results aren’t perfect. Will the summer belong to Sergio?
The Other Winner
Each week during the season, I will offer up one player who, while not winning, escaped unnoticed with a big finish.
Alex Noren: Not to diminish the world standing of a man who won four times last year, but Noren needed good golf under a U.S. microscope to justify that world ranking. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
His group was manageable, and he took care of business, making it to network television on the weekend. Will it translate? Who knows, but thousands of eyeballs saw Noren for the first time. That type of association is important heading into the major season.