Over the last four years, TG has quizzed Sergio Garcia about adjustable drivers, about Moment of Inertia, and about soft-insert putters. On each occasion he has been enthusiastic, helpful, and insightful. Never before, however, have we witnessed the twinkle in his eye which followed mention of two words: Ryder Cup.
We’re on the banks of the River Thames on the eve of the London Olympics and Garcia is helping his sponsors adidas promote their new Red Shoe campaign. After a Q&A session alongside American Dustin Johnson and after pitching a few balls onto a floating green on the Thames, we grab a few minutes with the five-time Ryder Cup player. Seeing TG, he probably thought ‘MOI’ or ‘adjustability’. But when we begin with a question about his likely return to Medinah as part of Jose Maria Olazabal’s European side, the sparkle returns and the glaze disappears.
“I don’t really have to tell you what the Ryder Cup means to me, I think you know,” he says, grinning from ear to ear.
Very true. Anyone who has watched Garcia at the biennial matches will have an idea of his fine record. But you might not realise quite how outstanding it is. In 24 matches since his debut in 1999 he’s won 14, halved four and lost just six. He is still to be beaten in that most difficult series, foursomes. And then you must try to gauge the positive effect on the team of his ebullience and energy.
Garcia, who took a self-imposed sabbatical from playing duty at Celtic Manor saying he needed to “miss the game a little bit”, thrives in the Ryder Cup furnace and is desperate to feel the heat again. He looked certain to play his way onto the team at the turn of this year – after twice winning at the end of 2011 – but poor form since the spring means he may need a wild card from countryman Olazabal.
The 2008 Players champion had four top 10s in early 2012 before a modest summer. But Olazabal still seems keen.
“It’s true his game has been a little off,” Olazabal said in August. “But we’ve seen him play a Ryder Cup. He’s a great team player. His spirit is always really good. And in that regard, I think he’s a great asset to the team.He’s proved he can play with anybody and he’s done well. That’s very important.”
Garcia, though, is taking nothing for granted. “First of all I need to get in the team,” he says. “It is a big goal of mine for this year, so if I manage to get in that would be great for many reasons – for making the team after not playing in 2010, and for having Jose Maria Olazabal as my captain which would be an amazing experience for me, knowing him as well as I know him and to be able to represent Europe again and have the chance to win – I’m obviously very excited.”
Garcia’s passion for the Ryder Cup was illustrated two years ago; rather than hide from the matches after deciding his game wasn’t up to coping with the event’s unique scrutiny, he agreed to be one of Colin Montgomerie’s four vice-captains. It was not the action of the surly one-time wunderkind Garcia is sometimes portrayed as.
The joy of the teenager who thrilled spectators during the US PGA of 1999 still lurks beneath the mental scars of Majors lost which could have been won. Perhaps returning to the course where he captured the imagination of sports fans worldwide with a thrilling shot at the par-4 16th on the final day will spark that joy again. On that Sunday, Garcia was chasing Tiger Woods home but his drive on 16 nestled on the base of a tree. Instead of a conservative chip out, he smashed an open-faced 6-iron... then sprinted off after the ball over the crest of a hill to see it finish on the green. He eventually lost out by a stroke to Woods, but the 32 year old has happy memories from that Major charge.
“We also played the PGA there in 2006 – the course has obviously changed a little bit but it would be nice to go back. The closing holes are very tough – 16, 17 and 18 more so than 15, but it’s like any Ryder Cup, it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be tight.
Playing in the United States is going to be very difficult because the people – most of the people – are going to be on their side. But we have just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past 10 Ryder Cups – keep our focus and play our golf; if we manage to do that, and with good pairings and the calibre of player we have, we should be fine.”
This calibre of player Garcia speaks of means the sides will be remarkably similar to last time. Players who were the best two years ago are still the best; these are men with enduring quality. Europe may have no rookies, America just three – Major winners Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, as well as Jason Dufner. Garcia – the Cup’s youngest ever player – insists rookies can prosper.
“They are going to be nervous at some point, because every round is like the last round of a Major. If they go with the right attitude of enjoying it and trying to be good team-mates, and trying to help the team as much as possible and not think about themselves too much – think about the main goal which is becoming a team and winning as a team, I think they’ll do great.”
Could he ever see himself reacting again like the spring-heeled young buck of ’99 if he is indeed to return to Medinah in September?
“Well, if I can’t see where the ball is landing and the match is tight but I know I can almost finish it right there, I probably would run up and make sure it lands on the green – but you know it depends on the situation – every situation is different,” suggests the former world No.2.
The Ryder Cup reignited Lee Westwood’s career in 2002 and Colin Montgomerie’s two years later. Perhaps it will do the same for Sergio Garcia in 2012.
Sergio Garcia's Ryder Cup Record
SG/Parnevik bt Lehman/Woods (2&1)
SG/Parnevik bt Mickelson/Furyk (1 hole)
SG/Parnevik bt Stewart/Leonard (3&2)
SG/Parnevik halved with Love III/Duval
Singles: Garcia lost to Furyk (4&3)
2002, The Belfry
SG/Westwood bt Duval/Love III (4&3)
SG/Westwood bt Calca'ia/Woods (2&1)
SG/Westwood bt Cink/Furyk (2&1)
SG/Westwood lost Love/Woods (1 hole)
Singles: Garcia lost to Toms (1 hole)
2004, Oakland Hills
SG/Westwood bt Furyk/Toms (5&3)
SG/Donald bt Cink/Perry (2&1)
SG/Westwood halved Haas/DiMarco
SG/Donald bt Funk/Furyk (1 hole)
Singles: Garcia bt Mickelson (3&2)
2006, The K Club
SG/Olazabal bt Toms/Wetterich (3&2)
SG/Donald bt Furyk/Woods (2 holes)
SG/Olazabal bt DiMarco/Mickelson (3&2)
SG/Donald bt Mickelson/Toms (2&1)
Singles: Garcia lost to Cink (4&3)
SG/Westwood halved Furyk/Perry
SG/Jimenez lost Leonard/Mahan (4&3)
SG/Casey halved Curtis/Stricker
Singles: Garcia lost to Kim (5&4)
Won 14, Lost 6, Halved 4
Singles: Won 1, Lost 4, Halved 0
Foursomes: Won 8, Lost 0, Halved 1
Fourballs: Won 5, Lost 2, Halved 3