The mellowing of Sergio Garcia

The 2015 Shell Houston Open begins on Thursday and as was true last year, it’s as much about the field preparing for next week’s Masters as it is about winning the championship of Houston. And because of that, the Golf Club of Houston is tuned up to play like Augusta National in terms of fairway mowing patterns, green speeds (12 on Stimpmeter), chipping areas and minimal rough (1 ¼ inches). Currently, 36 players in the Shell Houston Open field are scheduled to compete in the Masters.

And if there’s a major anywhere nearby, the media will naturally inquire of Sergio Garcia why he hasn’t won one yet and what he thinks his chances are this time. This ongoing scrutiny of his failures surely must be wearing thin for him, but one of the nice things that has been going on for the 35-year-old is that he wears his crown of thorns with grace these days.

It began with a compliment for his play in Houston last year and then wonderment that when he got to Augusta the following week, he didn’t hit the ball very well. Did he have a different game plan for this year (so as not to repeat last year’s failure)?

No, not really.  I think that at the end of the day every single week, it’s a new story and, you know, some weeks you play terrible and then the next week you play amazing.  Some weeks you play great and the next week you play terrible and some weeks I play great and then you play great.

So, you know, you never know what’s going to come out.  Obviously you hope and you wish that you play as best as you can. But at the end of the day the only thing I can do is go out there and play to the best of my ability and, you know, just hope that the best is good like it was here last year.

This is quintessentially what golf is about, learning to deal with the vagaries of what you do best in life. When you get to that pinnacle of the game, certainly you go in expecting the best out of yourself, but when that doesn’t happen, the good players don’t let that beat up their sense of themselves. Sergio hasn’t always been able to do that; famous as he was in his early career for his petulance when things didn’t go his way. Not so much anymore:

[Winning a major] is important but it’s not the ultimate thing, you know.  Obviously it’s something that I would love to do mainly because, you know, I would love to win not one, more than one Major because it’s one of the reasons why we practice and why we love doing what we do.

But I also said it, you know, let’s hope not, for whatever reason it comes down to me not winning any Majors when I’m done with my golfing career, I’m not going to be sad or I’m not going to be less happy than if I do.

I think that, you know, it’s not the main thing.  Obviously it’s something nice to have and if I get it I’m not going to give it back but that is not the main thing in my life.

Some might say that this attitude in a high-end competitor is capitulation, others might argue that it’s a sense of perspective…and when it comes to the things in life that matter most, a sense of proportion.

So how did this come about for Sergio?

Well, I think as you get older, as you get more and more experience, you realize, you know, the important things in life and you know, I’m not saying that winning a Major is not important, but it’s not the most important thing in the world.

I think there’s a lot of other things that you can do that cannot only fulfill you as a player but also as a person and, you know, at the end of the day the most important thing for me when I quit playing golf is to leave the game better than when I started.

So, you know, hopefully I can put my little, my little fingerprint on it and help it a little bit.

Of all his loses in the Majors, is there one that he regrets more than the others?

I don’t know.  I think probably the one that kind of sticks in my mind probably would be 2007 British Open.  But, no, I think that at the end of the day like I always said, you know, I give it my best effort and, you know when I do that like I did last year at the British Open, there’s nothing you can do.  If someone plays better than you the only thing you can do is congratulate him and keep trying.

How has this sense of perspective come to him?

I think that as you get older and you go through life and through moments not only on the golf course but outside and stuff, you kind of realize the things that are really, really important in your life and things that are important but you can kind of go through without them.

So, it’s just a matter of realizing those things, realizing what you want to do, you know, trying to do it the best way you can and then, you know, if you manage to do that and you leave the course or whatever you are with your head up, held high, I think that’s all I could do.  There’s nothing else you can do.

Given that, what is the thing he’s most proud of in his career? Once again, we hear the perspective that has had a calming influence on him:

I don’t know.  Fortunately for me, you know, even though people think opposite, I think that I’ve had a great career.  I feel very fortunate.

Obviously it all depends on who you’re compared with but against the average, I think that I’ve been very, very fortunate.  I’ve done a lot of great things in and outside the golf course.

So, I think that not only some of my wins and Ryder Cups and things like that, but some of the things we’ve done with my foundation and The First Tee and things like that. Those things are sometimes maybe overlooked and, you know, people don’t realize how great it is to be able to help people that really need it.

So, you know, a lot of great things.

But at the end of the day, has his belief in his chances at Augusta improved?

Yeah, I’d say so, for sure.  Yeah, definitely.

I feel like, you know, from maybe four, five years ago, I think it’s mainly because of the way I look at everything now.

So, you know, even last year when I missed the cut, you know, I was fine with it.  Obviously I wasn’t happy but I was — I took it much easier than I might have taken it 6, 7, 8 years ago.

I think at the end of the day, you know, I came to realize that I can’t try to force things and, you know, I just try to let it happen and if it happens to go well, great and, if it doesn’t, you know, just come back the next year and try it again.

Sergio Garcia, finally at peace with himself.

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