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The Ryder Cup needs Latin Spark

Dermot Gilleece talks to Sergio Garcia

Posted Oct 31, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

segio garcia

It was a reply which appeared made to order.  After European skipper, Jose Maria Olazabal had talked optimistically about having Sergio Garcia in his Ryder Cup side at Medinah last year, his often-troubled compatriot delivered back-to-back victories.  And Garcia immediately talked about the importance of the biennial showpiece in his golfing life.

“Ryder Cup years are always special for me and, hopefully, we can make that (2012) team,” he said on Sunday, after becoming the first Spaniard to gain a strokeplay victory at Valderrama.  Even at this early stage in the qualifying campaign, he can hardly miss the 12-man line-up, given the headstart he has achieved over his rivals.

In chats I’ve had with Garcia about the Ryder Cup, he has left no doubt about his affection for it, as if determined to maintain a wonderful Spanish tradition set by his great compatriot, Seve Ballesteros.  "Tell me," I once asked him somewhat mischievously, "do you really enjoy being a pain in the neck to Americans during the Ryder Cup?"   A broad, equally mischievous smile indicated I had pressed the right button. "The Ryder Cup is always amazing, whatever the Americans may say about it," he replied.  "It is all about competing and I love competition.  And it's about team-mates, all pulling together."

It reminded me of the Omega European Masters at Crans-Sur-Sierre in 2005 when he made another impressive start to a Ryder Cup campaign. Yet before launching what proved to be a winning surge, he was surprisingly negative about making the 2006 team at The K Club by right. "No matter who you are and what you have done, you might not get picked,” he said, my way of emphasising the importance of leaving nothing to chance.    

In truth, the event has always been to the forefront of his competitive thoughts since a sparkling debut at Brookline in 1999, when he and Jesper Parnevik combined for a remarkable three and a half points out of four on the Friday and Saturday.   Later, he saw fit to defend it against accusations by Americans Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco about how it had degerated into gamesmanship and talk of hatred.

This was followed by bitter reflections from Fred Funk about the Saturday morning at Oakland Hills in 2004, when Garcia and Lee Westwood were pitched against DiMarco and Jay Haas in the top fourball.  "That was one of the few occasions in the matches up to then, when the Americans got on top," said Funk.  "And when DiMarco started winding up the crowd, Sergio objected.  Sergio of all people!"  As it happened, the match ended in a half.  By way of response, Garcia insisted he had never seen anybody deliberately putting an opponent off in the Ryder Cup.  "Of course there's this determination to win because you're playing not only for yourself but for your team and your continent," he said.  "That's not gamesmanship."  He went on: “I guess the American players have their reasons for saying these things.  Maybe they like the President's Cup more because they win it more often. It's easier for them than the Ryder Cup."  The latter statement was accompanied by a knowing grin.

Then he added the cautionary note: “I'm not going to say you shouldn't show emotions when you make a putt.  Sure I get worked up.  It's impossible to do otherwise. But after what happened in 1999, you don't want it to get out of hand by doing extra things outside of playing.  Like working the crowd when you're walking down the fairway.

"We have to be careful to respect the traditions of this great competition.  However excited I may become, I'm not going to build up the crowd so that they would be rude to my opponents.  Unfortunately, we can't deny that this has happened.  And I don't think that's fair. I don't think that's the way the game was meant to be played. So, in many ways, the events of Brookline in '99 were good for all of us to see.  It made us realise what can happen if things get out of hand.  And I think the great atmosphere in the last two Ryder Cups proved that lessons have been learned."

Garcia was missed at Celtic Manor last October.  Granted, Europe triumphed in his absence, but one suspects his latin enthusiasm would have made victory all the sweeter.   In the event, he has already ensured an added sparkle to the long build-up to Medinah.

- Dermot Gilleece

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