Destiny is not a fixed target. Sergio Garcia is proof of that.
For nearly two decades on the global stage, the 38-year-old Spanish golfer’s destiny has followed parallel tracks toward very different destinations. On one vector, the energetic “El Niño” was a can’t-miss teenager – skipping and nipping at the heels of Tiger Woods toward a trophy case sure to be filled with major triumphs when all was said and done.
On another, Garcia was a can’t-win 30-something, worn down by years of heartbreaks on and off the course until he declared in frustration “I don’t have the thing I need to have” to win majors.
Last April at the Masters, those tracks converged in an azalea bush on the wrong side of the tributary of Rae’s Creek on the 13th hole. Already reeling from a pair of bogeys to start the back nine and drop him two shots behind Justin Rose in what had become a two-man Sunday match for the green jacket, it seemed pretty clear which destiny Garcia was heading toward again.
“I just think that maybe in the old days, Sergio might have thought that bad luck had jumped on his back,” said Marty Akins, the former Texas all-American quarterback and now Garcia’s father-in-law. “In the past he would have gotten so frustrated he would have just took himself right out of it. He didn’t do that this time.”
Instead of cursing his luck, Garcia took his medicine and moved on with a new purpose. He took a penalty drop in the pine straw, punched out into the fairway, wedged it to 7 feet and drained the putt to save par and remain only two behind.
“I kept believing in myself and kept telling myself it’s your time and you’re playing great; just believe it and keep going,” Garcia said. “That was meant to happen, so let’s make 5 and we have some holes coming in the way you’re playing you can make something happen so let’s keep at it. It was as simple as that. Sometimes we seem to over-think things. A lot of times just the simplest thought is all you need. Just keep believing.”
Belief had been hard to come by for Garcia as his near-misses mounted over the course of 70 consecutive majors that led him to the 2017 Masters. From the day he sprinted from behind a tree at Medinah and leapt to a runner-up finish to Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship just four months after finishing low amateur at Augusta, expectation gradually weighed on Garcia.
With 22 top-10s, 12 top-fives and four runner-ups in majors, Garcia wore the label of greatest to never win a major like a yoke. Three times he got aced out by Tiger Woods. Twice he finished second to Padraig Harrington, including a playoff in the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie after a putt to win on the 72nd hole lipped out.
The Masters – where he was so certain he’d win multiple times after sharing the Butler Cabin ceremony in 1999 with one of his childhood idols, Jose Maria Olazabal – had become an annual torture to his confidence. His spirit seemed broken in 2012 when after a frustrating Saturday round with good friend Rory McIlroy, Garcia vented to the Spanish-speaking media.
“I’m not good enough,” he said. “I had my chances and opportunities and I wasted them. I have no more options. I wasted my options.”
Growing up at the Mediterraneo Golf Club where both his parents worked, Garcia was given all the tools to be a champion. His father, Victor, taught him everything about how to play the game and remains his only teacher. His mother, Consuela, provided a nurturing shoulder to cry on when golf or his love life went astray. The emotional biorhythms of Garcia’s life often played out on the course, where he’d won 30 times around the world including the 2008 Players Championship.
But the confidence to carry him over the line at a major was missing. In 2015 he met Angela Akins, a former collegiate golfer at Texas who was a Golf Channel reporter when they met and later started dating. She comes from a family that takes its athletics very seriously. Her grandfather, father and first cousin, Drew Brees, are all in the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
“There’s a saying in our family that what you think and what you believe is who you are,” Marty Akins said. “If you think you’re gonna win and believe you’re gonna win, you’re gonna win.”
Before she’d met Garcia and accepted his marriage proposal at the beginning of 2017, Angela had heard Sergio’s surrender interview at the 2012 Masters.
“I thought he was wrong,” she said.
She didn’t accept that Sergio’s destiny was to be the snakebit loser. She waged her own confidence campaign at the Masters, posting little green sticky notes around his bathroom mirror every morning with inspirational messages from the likes of Buddha, Nelson Mandela and Teddy Roosevelt as well as a few of her own.
“It was really nice to wake up and be brushing your teeth and see ‘You’re the best’ and ‘Don’t forget to be amazing,’” Garcia said.
So when the moment came in the azaleas on 13 to roll over or step up, Garcia stepped up this time. A birdie at 14 and eagle at 15 drew him all square with Rose. Even when his 5-foot birdie putt to win in regulation stayed out of the hole on 18, Garcia remained positive with another assist from his fiancee.
“You got this,” Angela said as they slapped hands on his way to sign his scorecard before the playoff.
“She could have given me a hug and said, ‘It’s okay, baby, don’t worry, you’ll get it,’” he said in a consoling tone. “It’s more of a negative embrace. Instead of that she just gave me a low five, looked at me and said ‘You’ve got this.’ I was like, yeah, perfect. I kept going with a good attitude.”
While Rose struggled to a bogey on the first hole of sudden death, Garcia painted a perfect drive, solid approach and curled in a 12-footer for birdie. With the patrons chanting “Ser-Gee-O,” he let out a scream that exorcised the demons that had hijacked his destiny for 18 years.
“A lot of those things came through my mind,” he said. “And some of the moments I’ve had here at Augusta that maybe I haven’t enjoyed as much and how stupid I really was trying to fight against something that you can’t fight, and how proud I was of accepting things.”
With those long-awaited expectations of being a major champion finally fulfilled and equipped with a more positive outlook, Garcia wonders just how far down the track his destiny will take him.
“I feel like I’m working hard and getting better,” he said. “My game feels great. The new equipment feels great. I’m really excited to keep going and keep giving myself more chances. It is exciting and I’m hoping to stay healthy like I have for the past 20 years and see if we can play as many as possible.”
Article appears in the April 2018 issue of Augusta Magazine.