Breakthrough winners have captured the last six major championships, but Sergio Garcia wouldn’t mind putting an end to that string. Having won the Masters last month for his first major title allows him the luxury of trying.
It also makes him this year’s designated hopeful for the Grand Slam.
While the veteran Spaniard has assembled a splendid resume in his 17 starts in the U.S. Open, posting 10 top-25 finishes and completing 72 holes all but twice, never before has he arrived for the season’s second major as owner of a major title. It’s an identity El Nino still is getting used to after so many years of disappointment and self-proclaimed disenchantment.
A weight might have been lifted off his shoulders, but he still carries the same burden of expectations as any other top player.
Though he calls winning the green jacket “a dream come true,” he goes into the 117th U.S. Open here at Erin Hills with his eyes wide open. He isn’t sure that he is a different player. His wardrobe just got better.
“To be totally honest, I don’t think so,” Garcia, 37, said when asked early in his Tuesday morning press conference if winning a major makes a difference this week. “I think that the pressure of trying to do well and give yourself a chance is still the same. I guess inside of you there is a little spot where you’ve accomplished it already. But it doesn’t mean that if I play well and I have a chance on Sunday, it’s going to be easier.
“Like I said after Augusta, it’s a different week, and that is not going to give me any advantage when we get on the first tee. You still have to focus hard and trust yourself, believe in your ability, commit to your shots and your thoughts and then hopefully have another good week.”
Garcia has enjoyed some good weeks in the U.S. Open, finishing fifth or better three times, including his T-5 showing last year at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. That performance kicked off a run of fifth or better in three of his last four major starts. He missed the cut in the fourth, last year’s PGA Championship.
There’s a curiosity just how much passion Garcia will bring to this championship after conquering Augusta National Golf Club and his demons. Wisconsin native Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open champion, spoke here on Monday about waning motivation following his first national title in 1978. Garcia doesn’t believe he is wired that way.
“We achieved something that we’ve been trying for for so long, and it’s easy to kind of take a deep breath and relax, but I’m still working hard,” said Garcia, who was attired in a cap and shirt in the hue of Green Bay Packers green. “I’m still working on my game as much as I can and as hard as possible. To make sure that … I’ve always said it, wins are important but to me consistency is the most important thing. I want to keep being consistent, keep playing well, keep giving myself chances at winning majors and being in Ryder Cup and all those things.”
Sure, he wants to keep playing in Ryder Cups. Last fall at Hazeltine, where the USA posted a rousing victory over Europe, Garcia joked that he knew he had never won a major because the crowd never let him forget it. They can’t hold that over him any longer.
There was a time, of course, when it appeared Garcia never would win a major. He had his own doubts, which he expressed in a moment of frustration during the 2012 Masters, declaring that he simply wasn’t good enough. Five years later, he proved everyone wrong, including himself. Now he’ll tee it up with two other Masters winners, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson, at 1:36 p.m. Thursday with a chance to win two in a row, halfway to the modern slam.
Garcia grinned at the thought. Then demurred.
“I guess the guy that wins the Masters every year has the potential of doing that,” he said with a shrug. “It is something nice to have the possibility of doing, but we all know how difficult it is. I just want to go one little tournament at a time and give my best this week, and, hopefully, by Sunday night we can keep having that talk.”
Funny how he said “little tournament.” They used to be too big for him. Sergio Garcia is a different player.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.