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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sergio Garcia – A two-decade pro career packed with Spanish emotion

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It is an understatement in remarking much has happened over the past two decades in the professional career of Sergio Garcia.

His first appearance in this week’s Australian Open in Sydney will bring down the curtain on two decades as a professional.

At age just 15-years and a few days, he made his European Tour debut as an amateur at the 1995 Turespana Open Mediterrania.

After an acclaimed amateur career that was highlighted in capturing the 1998 Amateur, a victory that earned an invitation to compete in the 1999 Masters, and then after shooting the lowest amateur score that year at Augusta National, he turned professional.

I was fortunate to be present at Druids Glen when in July that year, this fresh-faced, didn’t have a care in the world 19-year old captured a first pro career title in winning the prestigious Irish Open. I then followed him three months later to Cologne where he clearly shocked Padraig Harrington and Ian Woosnam in defeating the duo in a play-off to be handed the Linde German Masters.

It was a few months earlier at the 1999 PGA Championship where at still aged 19-years, he first achieved worldwide prominence with a duel against Tiger Woods, where he eventually finished second, losing by one stroke to Woods

Late in the final round, García, with his ball up against a tree trunk in the right rough on the 16th hole, and the green hidden from view, swung hard with his eyes shut and hit a low curving fade that ran up onto the green. As the shot travelled, he sprinted madly into the fairway and then scissor-kicked, jumping to see the result.

The result was good enough for Garcia to become the youngest player ever to compete in the Ryder Cup while last September, he pulled on the European Team colours for a ninth occasion in helping steer Europe to a Versailles victory.

If there is an ‘individual’ highlight in Sergio’s 35-tournament winning career, it came in a 19th Augusta National appearance when he defeated fellow European Ryder Cupper, Justin Rose to win the 2017 Masters; a first Major victory after his clear and apparent frustration 12-years earlier in letting slip Open Championship glory to Harrington.

World Ranking-wise, Garcia reached a high of World No. 2 in capturing the 2008 WGC – HSBC Champions in Shanghai while currently, the World No. 35, Garcia has not been outside the top-50 since his 2nd place finish at that 1999 PGA Championship won by Woods at Medinah.

Of course, and to be fair in this piece, there’s been a controversial side to the Spaniard but I’m not here to dwell on that. His private life also had plenty of ups and probably more downs though life could not be sweeter now, married and with a second child due next April.

And with Garcia competing this week in Sydney, I took the opportunity to ask if he could, and not in any great depth, look back on the past two decades of his golf career.

“It’s been fun. I think what it tells me, it’s quite simple. It shows me how lucky, how fortunate I’ve been to be able to do what I love for this long and do it at a fairly good level I would say,” he said.

“I look back to that 1999 Irish Open win and remember how excited I was to win on the European Tour but at the time, of course, not thinking for a moment as anyone would, that standing here I would have won so many golf tournaments around the world.

“So, I’m just thankful for that.

“I’ve represented my country as an amateur and I was proud to represent Spain in four World Cups. I’ve played in a handful of Seve Trophy events and been a member of nine Ryder Cup sides, winning six. So, that’s a pretty good record.

“I’m very proud of some of the things that I’ve been able to achieve, not only professionally but personally and hopefully I can keep working hard on my game and see if I can have another good amount of years going forward.”

Sergio? It has been some ride but here’s to the last 20-years and also to next two decades.

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