It didn’t take long for the video of Sergio Garcia hurling his driver off the fifth tee at TPC San Antonio on Friday to go viral. One caption read simply: “Bad Sergio.”
Garcia, as the video shows, had to wade into bushes left of the tee to recover the driver, which clanked off a rock. From there, he shanked a chip from left of the green and ended up making bogey on the short par 4. He ended up missing the cut by a shot—the first time in 15 years (a remarkable stat in itself) he had missed back-to-back cuts.
Perhaps Garcia’s meltdown was just the product of the pent-up frustration he kept inside two weeks ago at Augusta National when he hit five balls in the water on Thursday at No. 15 en route to making a 13. That pretty much finished any notion that he might win a second consecutive Masters.
Regardless, while no one is going to applaud a club-throw, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to see Garcia show some passion and frustration. He’s been remarkably calm so far in 2018. In fact, other than a brief swing at a gorse bush at last year’s Open Championship, he’s been almost zen-like since his victory at Augusta a year ago.
Much of it is understandable. After all, he finally won that first major championship that had eluded him for so long when he birdied the first playoff hole to beat Justin Rose and win the green jacket. After years of being the constant target of the tabloids as a famous bachelor, he got married last summer, and he and his wife, Angela, became parents in March.
When he was presented with a set of infant golf clubs just prior to the birth of Azalea (named for the 13th hole at Augusta) Garcia joked, “I hope she’s not left-handed.”
That was very like the Sergio of today: smart, mature, funny and charming. At 38, he’s come a long way from being, “El Niño,” the nickname put on him in 1999 by Ryder Cup teammates when he became the youngest player in the history of the matches. That nickname stuck for years, through various tantrums, on and off the golf course. In those days, some suggested a better nickname might be “lloron”—whiner.
Nowadays though the only Spanish name that fits is “El Hombre,”—The Man—because Garcia has become that in more ways that one. Clearly, his personal life has been on a great path since he began dating Angela Akins, the scion of a Texas football family, late in 2016.
But the transformation from “El Niño” to “El Hombre” really began in 2010, when a frustrated Garcia took a break from the game after missing the cut at the PGA Championship. He was playing poorly, had convinced himself he’d never win a major and needed to get away from golf and all the frustrations that came with it at that moment in his life.
But when Colin Montgomerie asked him to come to Wales to serve as a European vice captain at the Ryder Cup, he accepted.
“I realized two things that week,” he said two years ago. “I really missed playing in the matches. I had always loved the Ryder Cup, whether we won or lost. But more important, I realized how lucky I’d been to be able to play the game well. I stopped feeling sorry for myself for what hadn’t happened for me and began to think about how lucky I’d been to do all that I had done.”
It wasn’t as if the path to that Augusta win was always smooth. There was the 2013 dust-up with Tiger Woods at the Players Championship that led to the gaffe soon after at the European Tour Awards dinner. There were a couple more close calls—especially in 2014 at the Open Championship—in majors.
But Garcia kept grinding. He played well in the next three Ryder Cups and began winning tournaments again. In all, he has 33 wins worldwide, an admirable record that became a potentially Hall-of-Fame worthy one when he added the Masters to his résumé.
Which might explain why Garcia could be forgiven for wanting to rest on that laurel—if not literally, then figuratively. Other players who have had major breakthroughs late-in-life have done that in the past. Mark O’Meara won two majors in 1998 at age 41 and never won again. Darren Clarke won his major in 2011 at 41 and never came close to another victory.
Garcia’s a little younger and probably a better player than both. But there’s ample proof across all sports that happiness can make a player less driven.
It wasn’t surprising that Garcia spent the rest of 2017 on cruise control after the Masters win. He had one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour—at the 30-player Tour Championship where he finished T-10—and his best major finish was a T-21 at the U.S. Open.
After a lengthy break, he began this season well, finishing T-7 at the WGC event in Mexico and fourth in Tampa. He then reached the round of 16 at the WGC-Dell Match Play, which brought him to Augusta to tee it up (three weeks after Azalea’s birth) in a perfect frame of mind. Angela and the baby were even able to make the trip with him.
Then came the 15th hole on Thursday, which meant Garcia had to wait out the weekend to be around Sunday evening to present the green jacket to Patrick Reed.
Maybe that’s when the frustration began to fester. Or maybe it began last Thursday in San Antonio, playing on a golf course he helped design, when he shot a two-over-par 74.
Regardless, the brief tantrum was a show of fire that hasn’t been seen often since the 2017 Masters victory. Maybe that was Garcia’s “Serenity Now,” moment. Kramer destroyed 20 computers; Garcia hurled a driver.
Garcia’s next scheduled to play at the Players Championship on a golf course where he has won (2008) and traditionally played very well. Maybe there, he will find the form that finally made him a major champion.
The fire’s still there. And that’s a good thing.