Great Golf Debates
April 17, 2020

Is Sergio Garcia's career a success or disappointment?

Sergio Garcia of Spain hits past a tree on the 16t

ROBERTO SCHMIDT

Golf is not so much our profession as it is our passion at Golf Digest, and often that passion translates to philosophical, analytical, ideological and, occasionally, idiotic workplace discussions about the game. During this time of pause in our sport (and in the world at large), we decided to take these office conversations online in hopes of providing a welcome distraction.

In our latest installment of the “Great Golf Debates” writers Christopher Powers and Sam Weinman tackle the pressing question: Is Sergio Garcia's career a success or disappointment?

Powers: In our very first edition of "Great Golf Debates," the question was "whose career is wildly different if Tiger Woods didn't exist?" Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson were the obvious—and correct—answers, but I offered up Sergio Garcia, who never got a "Before Tiger" period in his career. Garcia was stuck with Woods from the moment he literally jumped into the golf world's heart at the 1999 PGA Championship. That week he showed limitless potential. Multiple majors potential. The next Seve potential.

In the two decades since, Garcia has had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Despite everything, he seems to be at peace. He just had his second child, he was still playing some great golf up until the pandemic brought the season to a halt and at 40 years old, he still has plenty of golf left in him. Does that mean it's too early to ask if his career should be viewed as a success or disappointment? Of course not. Sam, have you prepared an opening statement?

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Weinman: Well, let me start by saying I welcome a discussion between two guys who drive base-model economy sedans weighing in on whether a multimillionaire and national icon should be considered a disappointment. As for timing, as a fortysomething myself who is convinced his best golf is front of him, I do think we're premature in hanging an overall tag on Sergio's career. That said, I'm sure you'll argue the squandered opportunities of his 20s and 30s have already sealed his fate.

Powers: Now all I can think about is Will Ferrell screaming "I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS" in that hilarious Dysfunctional Family Dinner SNL skit. Hopefully by the end of this debate we aren't clinking our forks and knives on our plates while remaining awkwardly silent.

I see it this way with Sergio: Much like a Phil or an Ernie or a (gulp) Dustin Johnson, yes, he should have gotten way more out of his career, but he still did okay for himself, with double-digit victories on both the PGA Tour and European Tour. Of course, the area he lacks in is the one that matters the most: Major count. Finally getting one in 2017 helped change the perception of his career, but if he does end up with just one to his name that has to be viewed as a massive disappointment. Conservatively speaking, he should have three (2007 Open Championship, 2008 PGA Championship). With 13 top 5s in majors in his career, you could absolutely argue for even more than that as well.

Weinman: Well, sure, if you look it that way. Back when you were still swinging plastic clubs in your backyard, golf hacks like me where writing about Sergio emerging as the true worthy rival to Tiger. This all based on the usual stuff: The 62 in his first PGA Tour event, winning the Irish Open, the final-round duel with Woods in the PGA. As a side note, we are both fined an undisclosed sum if we reference his eyes-closed shot from behind the tree and scissor kick at Medinah (Damn, I just did it).

The point is, we all anointed him then as the challenger to Woods, and through that prism, he has woefully underdelivered. But that premise was flawed from the start.

The Masters - Final Round

Harry How

Powers: Did you still have hair back in 1999? I kid, I kid. But you're right, attempting to crown Sergio, or any player over the last 20 years, a "challenger" to Woods was a foolish endeavor. But Woods' dominance didn't deter others from becoming greats in their own right. Angel Cabrera won two big ones, Padraig Harrington won three. Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie all got their fair share. Hell, Zach Johnson slapped his way around the golf course to two majors! Imagine if he had Sergio's talent?

I think Garcia has proven over the years that he had the game to become an all-time great. But his resume says otherwise. Let me guess what's coming next ... his Ryder Cup record?

Weinman: Oh that's right, I forgot Sergio Garcia played in the Ryder Cup. No, seriously, that does factor in as well. Put it this way, if you told European golf fans back when Sergio was a rookie that he'd end up on six winning Ryder Cup teams, including two in which he had at least four points, you'd assume he was an all-time legend (and that's not even factoring in 2010, when, immersed in a horrific slump, he served as an exuberant assistant captain). All of it speaks to a sneaky longevity and consistency, not to mention having the game and stones to come up big under team-event pressure. You would love to be such a disappointment, Powers.

Powers: I think it should factor in! It just seems like a nice fallback argument for guys like Garcia, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Colin Montgomerie. Do I dare ask how many combined majors that group has won?

(It should be noted that at this point in our conversation, the "Sam Weinman is typing..." notification went on for about 10 minutes in our Slack conversation. I'm not going to say I dropped the mic but I think we all know that's exactly what happened even though he eventually did answer)

Oh, good, you're back!

Weinman: Well like I said, Ryder Cup is only one part of the equation. As for winning more majors, I'm not going to argue that Garcia didn't have the talent to win at least as many as some of the players you mentioned. He wasn't a good enough putter, didn't have the right resolve, whatever you want to call it. But look at the whole picture. More than three dozen wins around the world, gajllions in earnings, the Ryder Cups, the green jacket. I think there's a couple par 5s between having one hole in your resume and being a disappointment. When my mom saw my 11th grade report card, that was disappointment. Sergio has never sniffed the definition.

Powers: I know this isn't great for the whole "embrace debate" angle, but you'd be surprised to believe I actually do agree. I think Garcia has had a wildly impressive career, and by arguing it could have been even better, I'm actually paying him a compliment. All credit to me.

Weinman: Wait, you're agreeing with me? Come to think of it, THAT is disappointing.


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