- Dave George Palm Beach Post Sports Columnist
With a fashion statement like the green jacket, not much else needs to be said.
For anyone who ever doubted that Sergio Garcia would win one of golf’s major titles after 73 unsuccessful attempts, there are numerous pictures of him wearing the signature garment of Masters champions over the past year, and wearing it always with a smile that seems to stretch from one golf-crazy continent to the next.
At his wedding reception in Texas, dancing with new bride Angela Akins, who is due in March to deliver their first child. At Wimbledon, taking in the tennis. At a huge soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in his Spanish homeland, where Sergio was chosen to do the honorary kickoff in the jacket he earned as champion of the 2017 Masters.
“Everywhere I’ve been, it’s been amazing,” Sergio said on a practice day for the Honda Classic, his first appearance of the 2018 PGA Tour season. “Every event that we’ve done, the excitement you see when you look at the people, it looks like their eyes kind of sparkle when they see the jacket. They touch it and they get a feel for it.”
Well, maybe they get a glimpse of Augusta National’s glory, but to get a true feel for what that jacket means to a seeker like Sergio, not very likely.
The guy has been a winner all his life, taking 10 PGA Tour titles, 14 more on the European Tour and 31 worldwide, including the Singapore Open last month.
Going winless in the Masters, the British Open, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship was a major pain, however, and it built and built to the point where people seemed to forget how Sergio came within a stroke of pushing Tiger Woods into a playoff at the 1999 PGA, and he did it at the age of 19.
Last April at the Masters, however, came the headline nobody could argue. First Sergio missed a 5-foot putt that would have won it in regulation and then, in a playoff, he beat Justin Rose and, at the age of 37, finally closed the deal.
Danny Willett, another one-time major winner, slipped the green jacket onto Sergio’s shoulders at the trophy ceremony but this was different. This was Sergio, a superstar in full and not just a sensation. A major talent, confirmed on the most classic and lasting of stages.
“To be totally honest, I don’t want to say that I’m glad it took that long,” Sergio said. “I wish it would have happened earlier, but there’s an aspect of it that I’m really happy about, which is that now after waiting that long and trying so many times, I realize how much more important it is.
“I probably appreciate it even more than if I would have won the PGA in ’99. It would have been amazing, but I don’t think I would appreciate the major win as much as I have last year and this year at the Masters.”
Garcia would have gotten his first major a lot sooner if not for Padraig Harrington. The Irishman beat Sergio in a British Open playoff in 2007. Then, in 2008, he shot 66 twice on the weekend to edge Sergio by two shots at the PGA Championship.
The difference is immense, or at least is perceived to be, even though these single weeks of fiery competition are often a matter of timing and circumstance.
Harrington, for instance, has three major titles in his career and says that now, at 46, “I’m more relaxed about the way I go about things. I want to win, but I know that wining isn’t going to change my legacy in golf.
“There’s no point in me thinking, ‘Look, winning a fourth major is going to make any difference to my first three. Three is pretty damn good.”
Sergio, on the other hand, won his first PGA Tour title at 21 and was second only to Tiger in the Official World Golf Rankings at one point. On top of that, Sergio had 22 top-10 finishes in majors before finally breaking through at Augusta National.
Being close in so many majors should have boosted his reputation immensely, and on another planet, one that isn’t steeped in snarkiness, it might have.
Instead, he was criticized and marginalized, with each emotional near-miss seeming to carry more weight than the majors in which he missed the cut. His legacy had a doughnut hole that only that sweet Masters win could fill.
This week’s Honda Classic is played on The Champion course, as cruel as any major. For Sergio to begin his 2018 PGA Tour schedule here, with the winds gusting over 20 mph and a field featuring defending champion Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Tiger, too, is another test of his new self-confidence.
“The most important thing is to be proud and happy about what you’re doing,” said Sergio, the 2016 Honda runnerup in a tense, Sunday duel with Adam Scott. “Enjoy it.”
Check that box, now and forever, because no major champion has ever reveled in it more.