When Sergio Garcia announced last week that he was planning to take an extended break from the game after the PGA Championship, the reaction was kind of “well close the door after you”. Tim Finchem from the PGA Tour wasn’t on his knees begging him to stay as he was with Tiger and European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie wasn’t crying into his soup either. It doesn’t really seem to matter that he has a 14-3-3 record for Europe. The general consensus is that on the golf course at least, El Nino has turned into El No-No, an angry young man. Once the Tiger of Europe, now more akin to a wild cat.
Sergio’s sabbatical announcement comes just weeks before Monty names his Ryder Cup Team. One wonders did the Spaniard have a word with his Captain about his chances of a pick and on hearing the bad news decided to announce his break. Perhaps he hoped his terrific record of five straight Team Europe appearances granted him some kind of exemption? However when asked last week if he could see Garcia, who shot 78 in the first round at Whistling Straits, on his team, Montgomerie was blunt. "At this stage it is not looking likely, no," he said.
Sergio: That look could sink a ship dude. You need a Werthers and a hug.
So just what exactly has happened Sergio? Where is the jovial fun loving teenager that ushered me onto the putting green at the Irish Open in Druids Glen gone? Back then Garcia was full of smiles, a breath of fresh air, excited to be on Tour and seemingly cut out for that lifestyle. The next time I met him in person was at The London Club ten years later; it was like meeting an inmate who had just done time in solitary confinement, and that was during pre tournament practice.
Sergio seemed to have it all. After establishing himself on the European Tour he breezed across the Atlantic and was instantly a hit, taking Tiger on head to head in the 1999 PGA Championship, and who can forget that iconic image of him sprinting up the fairway after his miracle escape shot from behind a Medinah tree. It all seemed to be going swimmingly with big tournament wins and lofty rankings, so where did it all go wrong? After all Garcia won the Player’s Championship in 2008, that’s only two years ago.
Many think Sergio’s frustrations on the putting green are at the root of his problems. When I asked Paul Hurrion, putting coach to both Harrington and McIlroy, could he help Sergio he said “yes, but he needs to want to be helped”. Hurrion never works with players unless they approach him directly, he doesn’t take appointments from managers or handlers as happened in Garcia’s case. Maybe Sergio is just too proud to admit he has a problem.
Personally I think Garcia’s downfall has been what they call the 15th club, his head. Many say his confidence took a battering after being beaten to the Claret Jug by Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie and the constant questioning of his Major temperament that followed. Over the past few years Garcia seems to have chosen the media as an enemy to be fought on all fronts, instead of using it as an ally a la Harrington or Mickleson. Morever, Garcia, once a favourite of the fans, decided to break up that relationship too. That came to a head in 2002 when he went through his several re-grips phase and impatient fans roared at him during the US Open “Just hit the damn ball Sergio”. There have been several on course outbursts since including spitting into the cup after three putting during the 2007 WGC-CA event, after which the media rightly put him through the ringer again. And as if just to prove to us why he is taking a break, his frenzied outburst when bunkered in the first round at the US PGA Championship was pretty shocking stuff.
So for now El Nino has had the wind taken out his sails. So what should he do during his two months off? A month on the practice green followed by another in the psychiatrists chair or just burn the clubs? Answers on a postcard if anyone knows just what’s going on in that head.