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In Memory of Seve... the demons are finally laid to rest

April 11, 2017 by Stuart Barber

On a wild wet and windy day at Royal St George's in 1996 when the only sensible thing to do was sit in the club house and have a dram or two with friends, I first met Sergio Garcia.

When I say met…. That year the Brabazon Trophy was being played at Sandwich and I was collecting scores by the 10 th tee and radioing them into the Press Office…. A wet, bedraggled Sergio gave me, equally soaked and cold and wishing we were anywhere but out on the course, his score, which meant he would be lucky to break 100 for the round and disconsolately went on his way.

History and my memory do not recall what befell Garcia in that Brabazon. However also playing at Royal St George's that day was England's Justin Rose.

The winner in 1996 was Peter Fenton who then turned professional but without much success. Channel 4 Racing discovered him and he became a good commentator and pundit, before going on to found Swingform.

The talent of Garcia became apparent when 1998 saw him win The Amateur Championship and reach the semi – final of the US Amateur. I also had the privilege of watching him at close quarters that year when he won the Canon European U21 Championships at the Hertfordshire Golf and Country Club an event inspired and run by my good friend Andy Hancock and myself for Canon Europe. Again Justin Rose was competing having won the event the year before when Canon were not the sponsors. The following year Sergio was the low amateur at the Masters and then turned professional.

A glittering career beckoned but somehow he never achieved success in the majors, although he came close when losing a playoff for The Open to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie in 2007. He joined the European Tour in 1999 and has 13 wins to his credit – that same year he joined the US PGA Tour where he had 9 wins until yesterday's Masters. He has also been a mainstay in Europe's Ryder Cup teams having played in every match since 1999 except for 2010.

Hardly a catalogue of failure but he had acquired a reputation of choking at major tournaments, though certainly not at Ryder Cup matches where he inherited the pride and fervour of Seve Ballesteros – Sergio's idol. So how fitting it was that his win yesterday was on what would have been Seve's 60 th birthday. Now he becomes the third Spaniard following Ballesteros and Olazabal to don the Green Jacket.

Yesterday's golf was enthralling, exciting, and riveting to watch. The other players in the field never really threatened to distract from the main attraction of Rose and Garcia trading putts, birdies and eagles it was -for me - like turning the clock back to 1977, Nicklaus and Watson, and Turnberry.

The broadcasters, the press, and the watching world must have thought –“Oh no not again” when Garcia playing the 10 th and level with Rose bogeyed to go one behind. The 11 th he was saved from a poor drive by a sound recordist's chair which stopped his ball disappearing into the bushes. Then at the 13 th he had to take a penalty drop but manged to get up and down from short of the green to save par. This was, perhaps the turning point, as faced with a two shot swing if he missed his par and Rose safely on the green in two holed for birdie. History reveals that Garcia holed for par and Rose missed for birdie.

This seemed to steady the ship for Sergio, and now only 2 behind a birdie at 14 cut the deficit to only one. Nip and tuck a majestic eagle at 15 put the pair level when Justin could only birdie. Like Nicklaus and Watson back in 1997 the rest of the field seemed like a supporting act even though some fine golf was being played. Kuchar holed in one at the 16 th and all credit to Rory McIlroy that he sank his putt for a birdie amidst the whooping and hollering that was going on – a situation which Kuchar and the marshals did little to stop.

Following behind Spieth and Fowler – Justin Rose birdied 16 to go one up when Sergio could only make par – then drama on 17 when Rose missed his par putt and Sergio was level again.

Both made the green in 2 on 18 – Rose a shade lucky with the bounce of his second and Garcia with a beautiful iron was perhaps 2ft nearer the hole. One fancied Rose to make his but to his complete consternation when the ball seemed to be going straight into the hole, it moved away and slid past. Now it was Garcia's turn and without spending too much time considering it the putt was a touch tentative and slid past.

So to play-off time and this time it was the drive of Rose that found trouble – a punch out and a third to the green from only a few feet beyond Garcia's ball. Garcia then struck a true Masters iron to the green and that was that. His joy was unbounded but there was time for a bonding between Justin Rose and himself – then it was with Justin's wife and an emotional one with his soon to be wed Angela Akins and then it was off to the Butler Cabin, where last year's winner Danny Willett, who had missed the cut, was there to do the honours. It says much for the power of Augusta that unlike most players who miss the cut and can't get to the airport and away soon enough that Danny – son of the preacher man- had to cool his heels for 2 days for the privilege of putting the Green Jacket on Sergio. Funnily enough he almost looked more pleased than a year back when he was the one to receive it!

I wonder if he will follow Seve's footsteps and watch this year's Masters, particularly that last round over and over again. My family and I had the pleasure of Seve staying with us just after he had won his first Masters and was playing the PGA Championship at Sandwich. When he was not learning how to play darts he was teaching my 2 boys to play floaters and chip shots. He then watched his every shot at Augusta with vivid descriptions of how he had struck each shot!

I am certain that last round yesterday will live with Sergio for a long time and how well he deserves it.

I'll sign off with the tweet (We really live in a world of tweets whether it's launching scud missiles on Syria or winning the Masters!) from Rory McIlroy

“@McIlroyRoroy – 2 Unbelievable players and 2 great friends. But I couldn't be happier for @TheSergioGarcia. You deserve it all amigo!”

And so say all of us except perhaps as the Sky Telecast showed another Irishman who beat Sergio in the play off at Carnoustie for The Open Championship!

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