Of them all, he is the true enigma.
“Do you think he’ll ever win one?” asked my friend the other night.
I didn’t answer at first, there was too much to weigh up.
The he in question was Sergio Garcia and the kernel of the question was whether or not Garcia would ever win a Major, which essentially is how professional golfers are ultimately judged. The Spaniard's win in the Dubai Desert Classic had once again brought him back into our thoughts as potentially/probably/possibly contending for one of golf's most cherished prizes in the coming year, a chance to finally put the icing on the cake and to rid those demons that have haunted him.
But, underneath it all, something niggled at me. There was too much history, of failure; and of near misses. What was it?
Then it came to me. It was what Roddy Carr – who'd soldiered with Seve Ballesteros as his agent and guiding light – would recall of the five-time Major champion.
“Seve,” he’d say, “had big cojones.”
In other words, he had the balls to win. And, from the outside looking in, that’s exactly the ingredient Garcia has missed through his Majors career when the going got toughest.
The images and memories of Garcia stretch all the way back to 1999 when, as a teenager and in only his sixth start as a professional and playing on a sponsor's invitation, he won the Irish Open at Druids Glen. That was July. The following month, Garcia – now nicknamed "El Nino", the kid – was tracking down Tiger Woods in the US PGA at Medinah where he played an audacious shot from beside a tree on the 16th. He raced after it up the fairway, jumping like the teenager he was to get a better view. In the end, though, he came up a shot shy. Little did we know it at the time, but that would be the story of his career . . . .coming up short in the Majors!
The great expectations of that near-miss in chasing down Tiger Woods in the 1999 US PGA raised the bar for Garcia.
For sure, he’s had a brilliant career – with earnings of $43.9 million on the PGA Tour and €23 million on the European Tour, money that can be quadrupled by his off-course endorsements – and he’s been a mainstay of Europe’s glory years in the Ryder Cup, but money isn’t everything and the absence of a Major trophy in the cabinet or on the kitchen counter is the most glaring example of what he has failed to achieve.
On four occasions through his career, Garcia finished runner-up in Major championships: two of those came in The Open, two of them came in the PGA. And, on two of those occasions, his nemesis proved to be none other than Pádraig Harrington, who demonstrated he had the balls for the fight.
The first time came at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, when Garcia led through each of the first three rounds and carried a three shot lead over Steve Stricker into the final round. He was six clear of Harrington. Of course, that championship was decided by a four-hole play-off – when Harrington triumphed by a shot – but one of my memories from that post-championship media conferences was how ungracious Garcia appeared, almost as if fate, rather than Harrington, had defeated him. One example is how he bemoaned hitting the flagstick on the 16th, the second play-off hole, and the ball ricocheting off the green.
Then, in the 2008 PGA at Oakland Hills, Harrington – eyes scarily dancing in his head like a man obsessed, which he was – was again the pursuer of Garcia. And, again, the Dubliner triumphed – helped, it must be said, by Garcia misjudging an approach shot to the 16th green which finished up in the pond. Afterwards, there was again a belief that fate had gone against him. “...things just happened his way,” remarked Garcia. Not his fault, not ever. Always a reason.
The El Nino sobriquet is one that seems dated. He is no longer a kid in any sense of the word. In fairness, Garcia seems to be a in much happier place – shortly due to marry fiancé Angela Akins – in his life, and his golf clubs ultimately did the talking in Dubai. But will that manifest itself in a cherished Major title?
It all keeps coming back to having the stomach for the fight and out-duelling opponents and winning when the going gets toughest.
Cojones! You either have them or you don’t.
I’ll answer the question: sorry Sergio, no, it ain’t going to happen.