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Sergio's Off-Again On-Again Romance With Golf

When Sergio Garcia took five swipes at the bunker which had swallowed up his ball on the Thursday of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he was venting his spleen at his golfing lifestyle rather than anything else. 

Temporarily, at least, he had had enough. He disappeared for a two-month break, but not without summing up his predicament with the words, “I need to miss the game a little bit.”

By the end of the recent Dubai World Championship, the 2008 Players champion had a clearer picture of what was going on in his head, even if the old spark was still missing. He was not about to deny that the breakdown of his romance with Morgan-Leigh Norman, daughter of Greg, had contributed to his tumble from No. 2 to 68th in the world. But he was impatient for people to get to grips with the fact that his failure to win a major has absolutely nothing to do with his present situation.

“For almost as long as I can remember,” he began, “everyone’s been saying, ‘When are you going to win a major?’ The truth is that whatever people might think, it’s not something that’s ever kept me awake at night.”

As he sees it, his problems have less to do with what he has or has not won than the length of time he has spent on the PGA Tour and European Tour. Though still only 30, he has had 12 years of traveling from tournament to tournament in contrast to the five or so years of most others in his age group. 

Seve Ballesteros has more than once publicly rued the loss of his childhood years to golf, and Sergio, who started playing in assorted Spanish professional tournaments as a 14-year-old, has clearly been tangling with similar emotions.

To cite just one illustration, he said he was fed up with the kid-glove treatment he has known all his days. Genuinely appreciative though he is of what the game has done for him, he indicated that he yearns for the kind of adventures embraced by his less-privileged peers. Adventures beyond the football and useful tennis he plays in his spare time.

“Being a golfer,” he protested, “is not what I’m all about. For years, I’ve had to listen to people saying, ‘You can’t do this and you can’t do that in case you injure yourself.’ But the more I think about it, the more I’m feeling so what if I get hurt? If it happens, I’ll mend. 

“People continue to give me advice and a lot of it is very good. I’m genuinely grateful, but the thing is that no one, not even my father, can help to sort me out. I’ve got to do it for myself.”

The good news is that Sergio’s golf in Dubai – he finished just outside the top 20 – gave him a glimmer of hope. “For me to have shot two 70s over the weekend,” he ventured, “is good news.”

And not just for him. 

A tournament without Sergio is the poorer for it. Quite apart from the fact that he makes for great watching, this winner of 14 assorted titles on the PGA Tour and its European equivalent is one of the game’s real characters. He is not afraid to voice his opinions, even if he ruffles a few feathers along the way. In his teenage days, he got off on the wrong foot by being too young and confident – even brash – for the liking of some of his older and more sedate rivals. His twenties, too, were peppered with some admittedly less-than-seemly incidents.

Who, for instance, will forget the day he slipped on the 13th tee at Wentworth before kicking his shoe down the fairway, with the missile coming close to clipping the ear of a tournament referee some 30 yards down the fairway? On a not too different tack, he did not exactly add to his fan base when he spat into the hole after three-putting at the WGC-CA a few years ago.

Yet, when Colin Montgomerie was in shreds during the breakup of his first marriage, it was Sergio who knew instinctively what to say and when. Ernie Els and Luke Donald are two more who have always contrived to see the good in the Spaniard as opposed to his shortcomings.

Also in Sergio’s favour is the huge respect he has for his family. Where some others would sooner their parents kept well out of the way, Sergio had the guts to ask his mother to partner him at the opening ceremony at each of his first two Ryder Cups. And when it came to his third appearance, and his mother felt enough was enough, he took his sister instead.

In 2006, Morgan-Leigh was the girl on his arm.

That romance may be finished beyond repair. However, plenty of fingers – including this correspondent’s – are crossed that Sergio’s love affair with golf will be rekindled in time for the 2011 season. 


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