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Sergio Garcia's Ryder Cup Return

Dermot Gilleece applauds the return of Sergio Garcia to a special tournament

Posted Aug 21, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

sergio garcia

Where schoolgoing friends were absorbed with Cervantes, Sergio Garcia could readily quote passages from another illustrious Spaniard.  In fact his specialty was the speech delivered by Seve Ballesteros on winning a third Open Championship at Royal Lytham in 1988.  "I was 13 at the time and learned it from a friend," he recalled.  "Yes, every word."  

That was at a time when Garcia understood very little English.  So, it is difficult to imagine better credentials for a Ryder Cup player than to have had a life-long admiration for the man widely regarded as having been the life and soul of the European team, when beating the Americans meant so much on this side of the Atlantic.

Either way, Garcia is back in the Ryder Cup fold.  Having missed the victory at Celtic Manor in October 2010, he assured himself of a return to the side by capturing the rain-delayed Wyndham Championship on Monday. Skipper, Jose Maria Olazabal, could hardly have wished for a more emphatic response after Garcia had disappointingly missed the cut in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island on August 10th.

Garcia was only 19 when he made his Ryder Cup debut in the infamous matches at Brookline in 1999, but he took to the event like a natural. In fact when he birdied the 18th as a fourball partner for Jesper Parnevik on the Saturday afternoon at Brookline, they gained an improbable half with Davis Love and David Duval.  On a broader level, however, the European duo had extracted three and a half points as partners over the two days of team matches.

As it happened, this equalled the record set by the now legendary "Spanish Armada" of Ballesteros and Olazabal at The Belfry in 1989.  All of which made the reaction of European skipper, Mark James, delightfully appropriate.  "Sergio's become a replacement for the young Seve," said James. "He's a live wire.  His personality simply bubbles over. Like Seve, he's very charismatic and a force that the team has definitely felt positively."

On that occasion, Parnevik complained of feeling “really tired” as early as the Friday night. Then he added: "But for some reason, I don't know why, I had adrenaline on Saturday afternoon.  I don't know why."  The reason, of course, was quite simple. The enthusiasm of his teenage partner was so infectious that the Swede surprised himself by some of his dramatic deeds, among them a chip into the hole on the 12th for an outrageous half against Love and Duval.  And as any beleaguered matchplayer will confirm, there is nothing more irritating than opponents enjoying ample dollops of luck.

In the context of his Ryder Cup comeback, it may be appropriate to look at the early development of a player who seemed destined for stardom.  One imagined it would be only a matter of time before the Major titles began rolling in, yet one of the great conundrums of the modern game is that Garcia has so far failed to achieve that breakthrough.  His closest were being three times runner-up, in the PGA Championship to Tiger Woods in 1999, to Padraig Harrington after a play-off for the 2007 Open at Carnoustie, and to Harrington again, this time in the 2008 PGA at Oakland Hills.

Despite the wounds inflicted by Harrington, there isw an enduring affection for Garcia in the Emerald Isle, largely because of the fact that his breakthrough as a tournament professional came in the Murphy's Irish Open in 1999 at Druids Glen. And when we look back at the precocious skills of Rory McIlroy, it is no harm to remind ourselves that the Spaniard was only 10 when he broke 80 for the first time; that he shot 70 as a 12-year-old and was playing off scratch at 13.  At 14, he made his first cut in a European Tour event and was 15 when he captured the European Amateur Strokeplay Championship.  Then, as a 17-year-old he won the British Boys, the Catalan PGA Championship and the Spanish Amateur, ending the year with a stroke-average of 69.33.  And he succeeded in making the cut in 21 of the 28 professional tournaments he played as an amateur.

By way of comparison, the great Jack Nicklaus carded 51 for the first nine holes he ever played, as a 10-year=old. As a 13-year-old he won three matches in the US Junior Championship (for players aged 18 and under). He also won the Ohio State Junior Championship and the Columbus Junior Matchplay Championship.  When Nicklaus was 14, he retained the Columbus title and qualified for the US Amateur, losing in the first round. At 16, he won the Ohio State Open Strokeplay and at 17, qualified for the US Open at Inverness, where he missed the cut after two rounds of 80. At 18, he played his first PGA Tour event, finishing 12th at Firestone.

So, there is no doubting Garcia’s remarkable pedigree.  Yet it is his special regard for the Ryder Cup, however, which makes his re-emergence at this time so thoroughly fascinating.

- Dermot Gilleece

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