Sergio Garcia says defending Masters won’t be easy
Justin Thomas manages to sneak in some tips from a pair of former Masters champions
Amateur Joaquin Niemann of Chile and Spain’s Sergio Garcia during a practice round at Augusta. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
And although he comes into the week on the back of a win earlier this season and three consecutive top-10 finishes, the 38-year-old is realistic about his chances of holding on to the green jacket for another year.
Asked why only three players have successfully defended the title, Garcia said: “The simple answer is it’s just difficult to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s back-to-back or just one. People don’t realise how difficult it is to win one tournament and a Major – and the Masters is even more difficult.
“It doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it my best shot, but it’s not easy to do it. This year it feels like you probably have eight or 10 guys in good form with a really solid chance of winning. At the moment it’s quite exciting.
“I feel like my game is quite solid. I’m obviously coming off three good tournaments, but every week is different, and it’s just a matter of how I’m going to feel on Thursday, how the nerves are going to be.
“This is my first time defending a Major and a green jacket, so it’s new to me. But I’ll try to go through the things that I know help me, and hopefully get off to a good start and really enjoy the week.
“But no matter what, this week is going to be amazing. And the most beautiful thing about it is that I get to play the Masters until I can’t walk. So that’s pretty cool.”
Garcia joked that if he had to recount everywhere he took the green jacket last year he would miss his tee time on Thursday, but was forced to confess it had not survived entirely unscathed.
“We went to New York for the morning shows, so I’ve had the jacket for a day and a half and I kind of look at my right arm and there’s two big grease stains on it,” Garcia explained.
“And I’m thinking, my God, I’ve had the jacket for a day and a half and I already have two massive stains on it. What am I going to do?
“So we were trying to clean it up as best we can, and then we took it to a dry cleaner and they did a great job.”
Garcia also revealed he will wear a green ribbon in his cap this week in tribute to his friend and former Augusta member Rob Chapman, who died from a brain aneurysm in July.
“He and Nick Evans were the first two members that we built a relationship with, and it was very sad to hear what happened to him. I’m so glad that I got to win last year and not this year, because he was able to see it.
“I remember the hug we had just as we finished at the 18th hole, and he was right behind me at the prize-giving and it was very special. He wanted me to win so badly, and fortunately at least he got to see that.”
A few tips
Justin Thomas also knows his way around a golf course, but that did not stop the world number two from doing his best to sneak a few tips from a pair of former Masters champions this week at Augusta National.
The 24-year-old American has a pair of mediocre finishes in his only Masters starts, and so this week arranged a practice round with four-times winner Tiger Woods and Fred Couples, who won his only green jacket in 1992.
“I pretty much would just kind of watch where they were chipping and putting from, and when they were done I would just take my balls and I would go do the same stuff,” Thomas told reporters on Tuesday.
“They know what they’re doing out here, so either they were messing with me and I just hit a lot of unproductive shots or, hopefully, I learned some stuff.”
Thomas enjoyed a breakout campaign last year during which he was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year after a five-win season that included his maiden Major at the PGA Championship. It capped a remarkable stretch for a player who joined the PGA Tour in 2015, and had many chances to win tournaments before unlocking the secret to his success.
“I think I wanted it too bad for a while. I was pressing too hard,” said Thomas. “I was trying to make things happen early in the round when in reality basically every Sunday, when there’s anywhere from five to 10 people that have a chance to win, about five to seven of them are going to take themselves out of the tournament.
“And it’s not the fact that they’re bad players, it’s just the fact that you’re not going to get 10 players and all of them play great. It’s just how it is.”
Thomas, whose best finish at Augusta National was a share of 22nd place last year, said he would enter the year’s first Major with less pressure having already triumphed in one of golf’s four blue riband events.
“Not getting questions on a day like today [such as] when do you feel like you’re going to get your first Major, or do you feel like you’re one of the best players without a Major, so I was glad to get that over with as quick as I could,” said Thomas.
“But it’s just more than anything when I get in those scenarios or when I have a chance to win a big tournament or any tournament, I’m able to look back at the PGA Championship and just remember the things that I went through and the feelings I felt, the emotions that I had, and just try to kind of learn from that and use it to my advantage.”