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Revitalised Garcia Spurs Europe’s Ryder Hopes

AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND l European TV pundits have suggested that Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter would make for an unbeatable partnership in the forthcoming Ryder Cup.
Not everyone would agree.
Firstly, it might not work if one of these big characters were to outshine the other. Secondly, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that Garcia is never better than when he is asked to take some less confident soul under his wing.
The 2002 match at The Belfry was a case in point.
Lee Westwood, at the time, was in a slump. Though he had been the No 1 in Europe in 2000, he had fallen to 50th in 2001 and was on his way down to a lowly 75th. Sam Torrance, the captain, sensed that Garcia’s passion could lift Westwood’s spirits and he was right. The pair won three matches out of four, with Tiger Woods and Mark Calcavecchia the second of their victims.
In 2004, Garcia shepherded Westwood and Luke Donald in the fourballs and foursomes before winning his single against Phil Mickelson. Overall, he bagged 4 1/2 points out of five in a week when his off-course contributions were similarly invaluable.
It was the year when Colin Montgomerie’s first marriage was breaking up and, for the first time, the Scot was at the match on his own rather than with his spouse in tow. Though there were plenty of players closer to Monty’s 40 years than the 24-year-old Garcia, the latter was the one to sense how he was feeling. More than once he was to be seen putting a comforting arm about the older player’s shoulders.
Garcia’s caring qualities are not confined to the Ryder Cup arena. When, for example, Robert Karlsson had to pull out of this year’s Open at Lytham with the dreaded yips, Garcia was the first to console the stricken Swede.
The Spaniard, of course, has had plenty of problems of his own. In a kindred affliction to Karlsson’s putting ailments, he once went through a spell of gripping and re-gripping the club as many as 26 times before he could swing. His colleagues did not know what to say or where to look.
He had a couple of much-publicised romances which did not work out and then, rather more tragically from his fans’ point of view, he fell out of love with golf itself.
At the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Garcia, who was 30 at the time, took five furious swipes at the bunker which had swallowed up his ball.
People bracketed the incident with a couple of the more petulant acts from his youth, with particular reference to that occasion when he kicked his shoe down a fairway at Wentworth. In fact, there was rather more to it than that: He was venting his spleen at his golfing lifestyle. Temporarily at least, he had had enough.
He disappeared for a two-month break, but not without summing up his predicament with the well-chosen words, “I need to miss the game a little bit.” By way of expanding, he explained how he had had 12 years of travelling from tournament to tournament in contrast to the five or so years of most others in his age group.
Seve Ballesteros used to say that he rued the loss of his childhood years to golf and Garcia, who was competing in the odd tournament on the Spanish professional scene at 14, had clearly been battling the same emotions.
He started to intersperse his golf with games of football and tennis and, when the 2010 Ryder Cup came round, he threw himself into his role as one of Montgomerie’s vice-captains. The experience shook him up and, though he was still sounding a tad miserable at this year’s Masters, the Garcia who won the recent Wyndham Championship was the Garcia of old. He was having fun.
When Thomas Bjorn, one of Jose Maria Olazábal’s right-hand men, was asked if there had been any point when he worried lest the old Garcia had gone for good, he shook his head.
“When you’ve got his talent, you only need one or two weeks where it goes right and you start finding all the love you had for the game. There have been periods, even this summer, where some of things Sergio said and some of the ways he has been acting have made you worry, but he’s got this great talent and personality.
“All along, you had to think he would start showing it again at some time – it’s just that it’s all happened a bit sooner than I expected.”
The Dane anticipates that Garcia’s return to the team could prove the prelude to a glorious new lease of golfing life: “He’s one of the finest players I’ve ever seen and he should be enjoying the game more than he has been enjoying it.”
Bjorn signed off by saying that Garcia, when he is in full cry in a Ryder Cup, “is the way a captain is.”
For sure, that remark will get another airing when, 12 years or so from now, Garcia is where he should be at that point. The man at the helm.


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