For the last two decades, golf fans have watched Sergio Garcia at his highs, lows, and everything in between. After a stellar junior golf career, Garcia burst onto the scene at the 1999 PGA Championship, where he dueled and narrowly fell to another rising star: Tiger Woods. Garcia’s visible passion and excitement that week excited the sports world.
On Sunday of the ’99 PGA Championship, Garcia most notably ran after his shot on the 16th hole, leaping and scissor-kicking out of excitement. After nearly missing out on his first major, the Tiger-Sergio rivalry was built up by the media, as these two young players were expected to lead the future of the game. However, since then, Garcia’s career has been riddled with head-scratching shots, close calls, and frustrating finishes in major championships.
In the next six years, Garcia recorded eleven top-ten finishes in major championships. This includes 2002, when he recorded top-ten finishes at all four of the major championships. As the years went by, the pressure on Sergio to succeed in a major continued to build up. People began to ask: when is Garcia going to win one?
In 2007, Garcia’s career took a turn for the worst. That year’s British Open Championship will forever be a defining moment in Garcia’s career. Garcia was leading by three shots after three days and was poised to go wire-to-wire to claim his first Claret Jug (the British Open trophy). However, his poor play on the final day resulted in a second-place finish, narrowly losing to Padraig Harrington in a playoff. At the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club, Sergio once again couldn’t hold onto the lead, hitting his ball into the water on the 16th hole, losing to Harrington yet again.
The Spaniard’s struggles on the back nine of tournaments only got worse. At the 2013 The Players Championship, Sergio was fighting off the likes of an emerging Tiger Woods at the top of the leaderboard in the final round. However, Sergio’s emotions got the best of him, complaining that fans were affecting his play. He ultimately hit two balls in the water on the infamous 16th hole and made a quadruple bogey. Woods again beat Garcia, proving he was on the right side of history is this fading rivalry.
Garcia’s frustrations came out in a press conference at the 2012 Masters. When asked about winning major championships, Garcia frankly conceded, “I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have. In 13 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”
Despite all of this, Garcia has still putting together a phenomenal career. Overall, he had recorded nine PGA Tour victories, including the 2009 The Players Championship, and over twenty victories worldwide. His unique swing consistently produces an effortlessly pure ball strike. He has also thrown in a third-place finish at the 2005 US Open, two second-place finishes at the British Open in 2007 and 2014, two second place finishes at the PGA Championship in 1999 and 2008, and two top-ten finishes at The Masters. After so many near-victories, Sergio, now 37 years-old, started to take a backseat to a new generation of young stars, including Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy.
However, this past Sunday, Garcia forever made his mark in golf history. Garcia played solid for the first three days of competition, working himself into contention once again. Entering Sunday, Garcia was tied for the lead with friend and Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose. After bogeys on holes 10 and 11, it appeared that Garcia would once again succumb to the pressure. However, a late eagle on hole 15 revived Sergio. In a nail-biting finish, both Garcia and Rose missed birdie putts on 18 and went to a sudden-death playoff. Garcia striped a tee shot in the playoff, while Rose timidly lost his drive right. Garcia proceded to hit a solid second shot to within ten feet. Needing just two putts to win, Garcia confidently stroked his birdie effort into the cup, exuberating the crowd. With years of close-calls in his wake, Garcia fervently fist pumped and waved to the crowd, with tears of joy running down his face. Garcia finally broke through; he is officially a major champion.
After the round, Sergio reflected on his long, bittersweet journey. He remarked, “Obviously, this is something I wanted to do for a long time … but, you know, it never felt like a horror movie. It felt like a little bit of a drama, but obviously with a happy ending.”
This victory could very well be a springboard for the passionate Garcia in future major championships.