By Bernie McGuire in Saudi.
Sergio Garcia may not be in the European Tour good books but the leading Ryder Cup points scorer says he’s determined to be in a position that Luke Donald cannot head to Rome without him.
It came to notice ahead of last week’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic when European Tour CEO Keith Pelley revealed that Garcia and any other European who has been afforded honorary life membership is eligible to be selected to represent Europe.
That includes LIV stars Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson and Garcia in each capturing a major but it’s Garcia, a member of 10 European Teams from 1999 to 2021 and six of those on a winning side, plus having earned a Ryder Cup points record of 28½ points, who many observers believe needs to be on the charter flight to Rome.
And while Donald hinted there may be no room in his side for ‘stalwarts who are coming to the end of their careers’ the 43-year-old Garcia is determined over the ensuing seven to eight months to prove Donald of his worth to Europe if they are to win back the Ryder Cup.
Garcia said: “The thing is I can’t qualify on my own, so I have to be a pick and it doesn’t matter how well I play.
“The only thing I can do is just to try to play the best I can, and see if Luke thinks I’m good enough to be a part of the team. If not, then we’ll be home, it’s as simple as that.
“Everyone is saying Europe is going to need the best possible team if we are to win back the Ryder Cup, so we cannot go to Rome with a weak team and expect to beat the Americans, even if we’re playing in Europe.
“I am eligible to play for Europe, it’s just a matter of Luke picking me. I can’t see into the future but we’ll wait and see there’s still a lot of months to go until we get there.
“The only thing we can do is play golf and play the best we can.”
There has been good news for Garcia and his fellow Masters-winning LIV players in Phil Mickelson, Charl Schwartzel, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson and himself who have been given the green light by the green jacket officials at Augusta National to compete in the Masters.
And with Garcia revealing his delight in again receiving in the mail just prior to Christmas to his Austin, Texas abode a letter postmarked ‘Augusta, GA’.
“It was nice to receive the formal invitation from Augusta to compete in the Masters,” he said.
“At the end of the day it is Augusta National who makes the decision who is going to play, and Augusta always talks about honouring the traditions of the game and how important it is we all remember that.
“It would be weird if the LIV Golf players who have won the Masters were to be left out in teeing-up at Augusta, and also not attending the dinner.
“So, I was obviously pleased to have received the letter confirming my attendance.
“I know when I returned to Augusta as the Masters champion in 2018, how special it was for me to be honoured for my fellow champions for what I have achieved a year earlier, and that’s why it will be special for Scottie Scheffler this year when we honour him.”
And in contrast to fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm, who recently stated that there could be ‘tension’ at the former champions dinner, Garcia has echoed Patrick Reed in saying they disagree.
“There will be no tension at the dinner, at all. Each of the attendees at the dinner are Augusta champions, and you walk into the room treating everyone with respect. So, there will be no tension whatsoever.
“For me, it’s a special week unlike any other in golf where I can take the family, attend the Champion Dinner and enjoy competing in the Masters.”
Garcia was speaking ahead of this week’s Asian Tour’s $5m Saudi International featuring a strong field, headed by himself and 11 other Major winners, teeing-up on the shoreline of the Red Sea.
And Garcia is walking stronger since an operation last October on a troublesome left knee that has kept him sidelined till this week.
“The operation went well and it probably feels about 95 per cent,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me to swing anymore. Now it is just a matter of getting used to walking holes over and over and over again.
“I ice it and spray it but it is taking care of itself.”
Garcia’s new season, as mentioned, starts this week in Saudi followed by the Asian Tour International Series Oman at Al Mouj Golf in Muscat next week.
Following Oman, it’s straight into the 14-event LIV Golf Series being played in seven countries and commencing February 24th at Mayakoba in Mexico.
“I am excited about a new season after a nice break,” Garcia said smiling. “I am excited to get going and see if we can do some nice things.”
It will also mean preparations will be a bit different ahead of The Masters in Augusta in April for Garcia as he is no longer playing on the PGA Tour or DP World Tour.
“After three months off, I want to get some rounds in me,” he said. “We are going to play these two [Saudi International and International Series Oman] and then we have the LIV opener in Mexico before we head to Orlando.
“So I will have those four tournaments heading into Augusta, and it is just a matter of getting in a good rhythm and getting to Augusta in as good shape as I can.
“It is great to see how the Asian Tour is growing, not only for us but some of the young guys who are coming out are getting better and better and it is nice to see.
“It shows the strength of the Asian Tour, and if we can make it stronger, that is what we are trying to do.”
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