In 4th decade of playing the Ryder Cup, Garcia is still going strong | Sports
Sergio Garcia wasted no time in emphasizing the importance he places on the Ryder Cup.
He was a teenager – at 19, still the youngest player in Ryder Cup history – and just over five months of being the Masters little fan, when Garcia and Jesper Parnevik defeated Tiger Woods and Tom Lehman in a quartet at Brookline.
It was his first point. It was just the beginning.
With more gray than dark brown in his stubble now, the 41-year-old Spaniard is set to contest his 10th Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits to extend a remarkable race defined by the numbers.
He is one of only four players to have competed in Ryder Cups over four decades, the first in 1999, with no reason to believe this will be the last.
Garcia has won 25½ points (winning 62% of his matches), which is already the most in Ryder Cup history. That’s as many points as this American team combined. He is two wins away from breaking the Ryder Cup record held by Nick Faldo, which would be nice for other reasons.
Perhaps most telling is the list of Americans who lost to him – Woods and Phil Mickelson (four times each), Davis Love III and David Duval, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.
“Sergio Garcia loves the Ryder Cup,” said European captain Padraig Harrington, a rare occasion where the Irishman didn’t feel the need to elaborate.
Garcia was on stage a few weeks ago with Collin Morikawa, the 24-year-old Californian about to make his Ryder Cup debut. They took part in a question-and-answer session at the Payne Stewart Award ceremony in Atlanta, and with NBC Sports’ Dan Hicks as the host, the Ryder Cup had to be mentioned. Hicks asked Garcia if he had any advice.
“Share the secrets,” Morikawa said with a laugh.
“I didn’t really do that well anyway,” Garcia said, laughing with the audience. “No, you’re going to have fun. It’s incredible.”
The Ryder Cup is everything to him, as much as that green Masters jacket he won in 2017 for his first major tournament. And yes, he finished well. But if he contributed to the points, that’s not how Garcia scores.
He was part of six winning teams as a player, including one as a last minute vice-captain in Wales.
“To be the top scorer in Ryder Cup history has never been my goal,” said Garcia. “This is something I never thought of because I was always focused on winning the Ryder Cup as a team. I never thought, ‘Oh, even if we lose, if I win 3 or 3½ points, I had a great Ryder Cup. ‘ No, that doesn’t do it for me.
“I’ve always said I can win five matches, if we don’t win the Ryder Cup it’s not a good Ryder Cup for me. It’s not the way my brain works and it’s probably one of the reasons I’ve been lucky enough to be on so many teams and do so well.
The passion he brings is reminiscent of Spaniards from another generation, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, Garcia’s last four-ball partner in 2006 (they won each of their matches at K Club).
It’s tied with Ian Poulter, another European whose legacy is the Ryder Cup.
“I definitely had it in my heart that Ian and Sergio were the soul of a Ryder Cup team,” said Harrington, who used two of his three captain’s picks on them.
Those three losses Garcia suffered during the Ryder Cup sting.
Garcia and Parnevik were undefeated at Brookline, then Furyk beat him in singles in a decisive game that set up the United States’ superb comeback in 1999.
In 2016 at Hazeltine, Garcia did his part to avoid an inevitable defeat. He birdied his last three holes, the last two to tie Mickelson’s birdies, and got a half. Garcia and Mickelson combined for 19 birdies that matched and each got a medal of 63.
Then there was 2008 at Valhalla, with Faldo as captain, the only Ryder Cup in which Garcia failed to win a game (he did two halves). Six years later, on the Ryder Cup telecast, Faldo said on air that Garcia was “useless” that week due to physical and emotional issues.
European Gleneagles players have joined Garcia. He and Lee Westwood had never missed a game until that year – Westwood had gone 12 straight games unbeaten – and Faldo sat them both down on Saturday morning.
“I would say Sergio was pretty useless… because he couldn’t play,” Graeme McDowell said.
Garcia has had 11 partners over the years, only three on this team – Westwood, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy. Over the past two Ryder Cups he has been called upon to nurture newcomers like Rafa Cabrera Belo at Hazeltine and Alex Noren last time in France.
Europe has just three rookies this year, a shortlist that includes Bernd Wiesberger, whom Garcia describes as one of his best friends on the European Tour.
“Sergio loves that he will be coaching rookies, at least one of the rookies, and he loves the job,” said Harrington. “It’s very important to have your recruits… the enthusiasm, the passion that they bring. Yeah, you wouldn’t want to be here without them.”
It was Garcia a long time ago, coming off the fairway, sprinting and leaping into his partner’s arms with boundless energy. All these years later, it never really left him.