Borges: Inspirational messages behind Sergio Garcia’s Masters victory
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sergio Garcia received more notes last week than Santa Claus in December, all of them stating some form of “yes, you can,” even though throughout his career the message he kept hearing was “no, you can’t.”
On Sunday, the ayes had it. So did Sergio.
After 73 failed attempts to win a major championship, some coming in the most heart-wrenching manner, Garcia finally got the message. Or shall we say the messages.
Garcia won the Masters in a playoff, beating his friend Justin Rose on the first extra hole after they pounded each other all day, both shooting a final-round 69 that left them tied at 9-under after 72 bruising holes.
Garcia missed a makeable putt to win on 18. In the past, that would have finished him, for Garcia had become the King of the Slumped Shoulders, the Prince of Profound Posture. At some point in nearly every major, he concluded there were conspirators acting against him. The course, a tree, a leaf, a camera shutter, an official, an ill wind. You name it. He certainly did.
When such a moment arrived, as it does for every entrant in major championships, his chin would fall to his chest. He looked like a weeping willow and often sounded like one.
Now 37, Garcia has been working on that fatal flaw with the aid of his fiancee, Angela Akins, a former University of Texas golfer whose father, Marty, was a legendary quarterback at UT for whom slumped shoulders was a banned activity. Shoulders did not slump in the Akins household regardless of the score, and so Garcia’s began to stiffen from additional familial backbone.
He became aware he was not a victim, although when a winning putt lips around and out on the 72nd hole at the 2007 British Open for no good reason but bad karma and you lose a playoff to Padraig Harrington, who isn’t half the player you are, you wonder. Garcia wondered about that putt for 10 years. That didn’t help.
At Augusta, he had played 71 consecutive majors, more than anyone in golf at the moment. He’d never won. He’d played 19 straight Masters. He’d never won. He’d lost faith he ever would win at Augusta, convincing himself the course did not fit his game when the truth is no course has ever been built that wouldn’t fit his game if only he believed in it.
Then came the messages and with them forbearance. They came from friends and on post-it notes from his fiancee stuck on the bathroom mirror reminding him of Buddha’s teachings and “don’t forget to be amazing.”
But the most meaningful came from one of the few men in the world who knew what he was feeling at Augusta National Golf Club. It came from Jose María Olazábal, a Spaniard who knew what it was to win a Masters because he had twice, but also how it felt to lose.
Olazábal and Seve Ballesteros, who passed away well before his time but not before becoming the patron saint of golf in Spain and a two-time Masters champion as well, had long nurtured Garcia. Son of a club pro, Garcia began playing at 3, was club champion at 12 and at 16 became the youngest amateur in history to make the cut in a European Tour event. He was touched with a special grace around a golf course.
In 1998, he won the British Amateur and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur before turning pro in 1999 after shooting the lowest amateur round at the Masters that year.
There was great irony in that because the Masters would become a little shop of horrors for Garcia until he finally declared a few years ago he could never win there or at any major because he was not good enough. The golf world knew better, but it understood the mind is the determining factor at sport’s highest levels.
Garcia’s game took him to the heights, but often his mind defeated him. He won millions on tour and great respect from Ryder Cup teammates. Garcia was Europe’s most spirited and reliable competitor there but when the lights burned hottest on golf’s individual stage, he knew only doubt. Maybe that’s why Olazábal’s note meant so much. It had no doubt.
“Obviously Jose María’s was very special because he’s my idol. He and Seve are both my golfing idols since I was very, very little,” Garcia said not long after he’d finally dismissed the demons with a 10-foot birdie putt to win the green jacket. This time he followed it as his boyhood idol said he could.
“He mentioned you know what you have to do, just believe in yourself,” Garcia said. “He mentioned a couple of things that did kind of touch my heart a little bit. He said, ‘I’m not sharing a locker at the moment (in the champions’ locker room at Augusta) and I hope that I get to do it with you.’ So if you guys wouldn’t mind putting me with Jose, it would be great. To be able to join him and Seve as Masters champions from Spain, it’s unbelievable.”
Only to Sergio. He has long been called the best golfer not to win a major, a title no one wants. Yet such a changed man is he that he could even joke about that.
“Obviously I like where I stand now better, but it’s always nice to be recognized or seen as the best player to not have won a major because at least best player,” Garcia said. “There’s a good thing there!
“Now I don’t have to answer that anymore. Now I’ll have to answer, I don’t know, best player to have only won one major? I can live with that.”
He and Rose had played like champions and sportsmen, exchanging thumbs-up’s and “Great shots” time and again, each leading, falling behind, leading again, pushing each other to the brink.
Eventually someone had to win the 81st Masters, and this time it was Sergio Garcia. Not even Rose could feel too sad about that.