The Sweet Smell of Sergio Garcia

Professional sport is full of fairytale endings. On Sunday, though, at the famous Augusta National for Golf’s most prestigious major event, we saw a nightmare ending forever. It was a fairytale, only because it stopped being the nightmare that made Sergio Garcia the greatest modern golf player never to have won a Major. Garcia, for a few minutes, stopped being that Garcia – the perpetual bridesmaid because of an allergy to commitment. He stopped being that Garcia – the guy who hated this course, the teenager who finished second to Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship back in 1999, and the guy who blew it at The Open so often that “pooping his pants” had become a Garcia term. 

Late into the day, 37-year-old Sergio Garcia walked with friend and Ryder Cup European teammate Justin Rose up the hill for the back nine. He was actually climbing up a mountain. They were tied for the lead. Rose had finished second to American wunderkind Jordan Spieth two years ago at this venue. He knew heartbreak, too, but just not as much as the man beside him – and for so damn long. He was a former US Open Champion. He had a Major to his name. And this was where Garcia had lost the plot so often. Nine PGA titles on tour since his debut in 1999 – this looked lopsided for a Spaniard of his talent. What the numbers don’t tell you is how close he had come so often in so many tournament, only to hand it in over the last few holes.

This Sunday, though, he felt calm. That Garcia began the last round, quickly falling two behind Rose – with viewers bracing themselves for yet another so-close-yet-so-far ending. With four holes to go, Garcia played the short of the tournament in a par 5, and sunk an Eagle to climb back to being tied with Rose. This was going all the way. Garcia didn’t care if it slipped or not. He had finished the runner-up four times in Majors, third in the US Open more than a decade ago, but had never bettered fourth at the Masters – way back in 2004, his only Top-10 finish here. 

When it went into Sudden Death on the 18th, Garcia birdied and Rose bogeyed. That was it. He crouched down on his knees. The onlookers chanted his name. He hugged Rose like a brother, and he hugged his caddie like a partner. 

In his 74th Major start, Garcia had finally won his first. It took him only seventy-three attempts over two decades. He had 22 Top-10 finishes – think about that, TWENTY TWO times when he could have won it if he were thinking better on the last day. This time, he wasn’t thinking at all. And that’s the irony. He spent close to twenty years in the top-20 of Golf’s elite, and finally broke through after ‘working hard’ for many years, as Spanish tennis great Rafael Nadal put it so succinctly on Twitter. He became the third Spanish golfer after the legendary Seve Ballesteros and Jose-Maria Olazabal to win the Masters – both of who had won it twice. 

Sergio Garcia isn’t the best player never to win a Major anymore.