The Loop

The story behind The Sergio Tree at Medinah

September 25, 2012

The sentimental significance attached to the most famous moments in golf history are forever linked to the courses where those moments took place.

Just mentioning the 17th hole at Pebble Beach or the 18th at Merion instantly conjures the memory of Tom Watson's legendary chip-in in 1982, and the 1-iron by Ben Hogan in 1950.

Medinah Country Club's right up there. The red oak tree that stood 10 feet to the right of the 16th fairway, known to golf fans as the Sergio Tree, was made famous for the shot Sergio Garcia hit around it during the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship. Images of a young Garcia sprinting up the fairway, then leaping into the air to see the 6-iron approach land on the green will always be linked to the site of this year's Ryder Cup. Hunting for his first major at 23 and chasing down Tiger, Garcia miraculously hit the green to keep his quest alive. Though he lost to Tiger by one, and that first major has still eluded him, Sergio's mark was made.

Sergio's now playing some of his best golf in awhile--he followed a win in August at the Wyndham Championship with a T-3, making a run at Nick Watney at the Barclays. The Spaniard will make his return to the Ryder Cup this week, making his sixth appearance for Europe as a feared foursomes competitor, having only given up a half point in nine matches.

Now he returns to the site of one of his best major chances, which also hosted the 2006 PGA. (Garcia finished T-3 here in '06.)

But as of late 2009, the massive red oak that marked one of his career-defining shots no longer guards the fairway. The Sergio Tree became too hallowed out over the years, forcing the club to remove the oak as part of a $3 million-course renovation. It wasn't an easy decision, but it simply became a safety hazard.

"We did everything we did humanly possible to try to maintain the tree," said Mike Scully, Medinah's director of golf. The removal ceremony was small and brief--Scully watched along with Director of Golf Operations Curtis Tyrrell as the historic tree came down.

"There was a little tear in the both of our eyes," Scully said. "If Sergio would've won the golf tournament, that's probably one of the most famous shots in the history of golf."

To memorialize the tree and Garcia's bold approach, Tyrrell constructed a ceremonial decoration outside of Medinah's maintenance facility. Parts of the trunk of the tree were used to make the decorative piece.

"Tyrrell's preserved some of the history for us, and the heritage of the shot," Scully said. Scully added that the membership thought "hard and long" about adding a plaque at the old tree's location, but decided to opt for the decorative arrangement.

"We were going to follow the lead of a lot of great golf facilities around the world [which were also the site of great shots], but those were all ones where the golf won the golf tournament. Unfortunately, Sergio came up a shot short."

One benefit for Medinah's loss? Scully estimated that pace of play has increased for members by at least 20 minutes. Members and their guests would routinely stop to imitate Garcia's shot whenever they reached the 15th. There's no longer the risk of breaking your wrist attempting the shot, either.

Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP/via Getty Images