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Sergio Garcia answers his critics

Sergio Garcia could have mentioned 1.71 million reasons why it meant so much to win The Players Championship, but he is not motivated by money.

Or he could have mentioned 53 reasons, one for every PGA Tour event he had played since his last victory three years ago.

But when asked Sunday evening the best part about his playoff victory in golf’s richest event against as strong a field as can be assembled without the world’s No. 1 player, Garcia revealed the depth of frustration at going so long without winning.

“Not having to listen to you guys,” Garcia said.

Laughter came from everyone in the press center except the guy doing the talking.


“Yeah,” Garcia said. “I was dead serious.”

The trouble with Garcia is that when anyone asks him about a weakness, especially putting, he takes that as criticism. He said he doesn’t read stories about himself, rather he judges the media by the questions they ask.

“You heard yesterday, didn’t you?” he said.

That was a reference to NBC’s Jimmy Roberts asking Garcia three questions after the third round, all related to his putting—whether it was frustrating to hit the ball so well and not make many putts; if he would go straight to the putting green; and if he could identify the problem with his putting.

Garcia supporters, including some PGA Tour officials, thought the interview was over the line. Then again, Garcia had just taken 34 putts in the third round — that’s a lot—to fall three shots behind.

And with something to celebrate Sunday—a crystal trophy with his name engraved—Garcia conceded that it is frustrating to play so well and get so little in return.

“I know when I’m putting badly and when I’m putting well,” he said. “So nobody else needs to tell me.”

There is no denying that the shortest club in the bag has been his biggest problem, which explains why someone who hits the ball so pure and with so much control can go three years without winning.

The bigger issue for the 28-year-old Spaniard is his emotion.

Few play with so much passion. That’s what sent Garcia sprinting and skipping up the 16th fairway at Medinah in the ‘99 PGA Championship, and what made him celebrate as if he had won a major when he beat Tiger Woods in a “Battle at Bighorn” exhibition a year later, the start of a relationship that turned sour.

The emotions that deliver dynamic golf are the same ones that make Garcia sound like a sore loser, whether he blames a rules official (Australia), the weather (U.S. Open) or the golf gods (British Open) when someone else wins.

Through both ends of the spectrum is a young Spaniard who is ultra sensitive.

Winning The Players brought some perspective.

“You’re going to criticize probably the best player in the history of golf, so how are you not going to criticize somebody else who is much smaller than that?” Garcia said. “I guess it’s part of your job. The only thing I can do is try to keep getting better so I make your job harder to be able to criticize me.”

This time he was smiling. But then, he had just done what he pledged to keep doing.

How can anyone find fault with someone who poured in par putts from 7 and 10 feet on the front nine when he could have tumbled out of contention, and who made a do-or-die par putt from 7 feet on the 18th hole that eventually forced a playoff?

Paul Goydos, who lost in a playoff when his wedge didn’t reach the island green at No. 17, was raving about Garcia after the first round, and the compliments didn’t stop even in defeat. He referred to the second round and four crucial numbers—in 25 mph wind, Garcia hit 16 greens and had to settle for a 73 because he took 34 putts.

“By virtue of being such a good ball-striker, he’s going to have a lot more 20- and 30-footers, and therefore, it’s not going to look like he’s putting as well as a guy who is hitting eight greens and chipping it to 5 feet and making them,” Goydos said. “When you say he struggles with his putting, you need to put it in the context with the rest of his game.”

Earlier in the week, Goydos put it into context perfectly.

“Once he gets his putter going, he’s going to win a lot,” Goydos said Thursday after Garcia opened with a 66, the best score of the tournament. “This guy is going to win 80s times. He’s going to win the British Open.”

The 80 victories is Goydos-speak for someone who is really good, and no one disputes that. The reference to a British Open is that Garcia will win majors, and it would be foolish to bet against that.

The key for Garcia is that as much as he burned inside when someone dared to question his putting, he knew it himself.

That’s one reason Garcia turned to someone other than his father—putting guru Stan Utley. Asked to rate his progress with the putter on a scale of 1 to 10, Garcia gave himself a 7 1/2 , leaning toward 8.

“There’s still room for improvement, which is good,” he said.

The great ones are never satisfied.

Garcia moved up to No. 10 in the world ranking on Monday, and while he is still a galaxy away from No. 1, he is among the few players good enough to win even if he’s not making a lot of putts.

“It is a little bit frustrating, but the game of golf is not only about hitting the ball,” Garcia said in another concession to what holds him back. “That’s the beauty of it. You’ve just got to work on every single aspect of your game.”

Putting remains a work in progress. So does control of his emotions.

Once he gets the latter sorted out, Garcia could become the threat to Woods everyone expected from him all along.


May 13, 2008

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