Let’s take a page from Sergio García’s playbook.
He won the Sanderson Farms Championship Sunday while putting with his eyes closed, something he said he’s been doing since his career-defining victory in the Masters more than three years ago.
If that’s true and nobody noticed before last week, perhaps that’s because other players now attract the attention García once did.
But back to the eye-closing thing.
Close your eyes and think about Sergio García for a moment.
What do you see?
One of the best players of the last two decades?
A Hall of Famer?
A guy who has sometimes been his own worst enemy?
A 40-year-old with one more extended run of success in him?
Time will tell.
It was 21 Augusts ago when García chased his shot up a hill at Medinah as he was trying to beat Tiger Woods for the 1999 PGA Championship, charming us with his boyish enthusiasm and dazzling us with a swing that has always been as reliable as peanut butter and jelly.
García didn’t win that day, but he arrived, the next Spanish star following the lineage of Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal. Beyond his game, García had sparkle.
The first time I saw him in person, he was practically tap-dancing on the low railing of a bridge near the ninth green at Muirfield Village Golf, a perfect image for El Niño and the seeming joy he brought to the game.
García, the kid who now has flecks of gray in his stubble, is the married father of two children and, from afar, he seems to be in love with the life he has away from golf.
Catch glimpses of García with his family at tournaments and the sweetness radiates, like when he looked into the camera Sunday after winning with a 72nd-hole birdie and told his family he loves them. That is the Sergio the world loves.
When García won the 2017 Masters, there was a genuine outpouring of affection for him. He had played 73 major championships without a victory and his biography was set to include the caveat “but he never won a major.”
Augusta of all places, a spot that tormented him at times, turned out to be the one he won.
Though García won on the European Tour last year, his profile had dimmed on the PGA Tour as he fell out of the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time in nearly a decade. He wasn’t peppered with questions about why his game had gone flat.
“I really wasn’t that frustrated because nobody was really talking to me. They had other guys to talk to,” García said Sunday evening.
Had this been a normal year, the Ryder Cup would have been played the week before the Sanderson Farms Championship and García almost certainly would have been someplace else. Instead, García found what he’s been chasing in an unlikely spot.
It raises the questions of whether this was a one-off, like Pádraig Harrington winning the Honda Classic out of the blue a few years ago. Or is García still capable of being as good as he once was?
More likely the latter.
When García’s head is in a good place, he’s been a brilliant player. But García can turn stormy quickly and his career has been marked by ugly moments that have, at times, overshadowed his talent. Those things don’t just go away.
Still, across the past two decades, it’s hard to find a player who’s been a more consistently excellent ballstriker than García. That part of the game has always come naturally to him.
The other parts – putting and mindset – have been more elusive.
You don’t win 36 times around the world (11 on the PGA Tour, 16 on the European Tour with others scattered about) without being able to get the ball in the hole. But there have been times when García has looked defeated on the greens, surrendering the fight. The game can do that to a player.
“With an average or just above average kind of putting week, if I’m playing the way I played this week, I can give myself a chance of winning almost every week.” – Sergio García
Is putting with his eyes closed the secret that has eluded him through the years?
It works well enough that García trusts it and that’s a huge part of the process. But he’s been doing it for three-plus years, so it doesn’t take the mystery out of putting. It has, however, put García in a different place.
“The great thing for me is that when I’m feeling it, I don’t feel like I even have to putt too well to have a chance at winning, or to win,” he said. With an average or just above average kind of putting week, if I’m playing the way I played this week, I can give myself a chance of winning almost every week.”
That’s how good García has been and still can be.
Has he been everything we thought he would be 21 years ago?
No, but he’s still built a résumé that will earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame down the line.
It’s good to know he’s not done yet.
Top photo: Matt King, Getty Images
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