If his passion and his putter don’t state it loudly enough every other year, Sergio Garcia will say straight out what he, you and everybody who follows golf knows.
“Everybody knows how much the Ryder Cup means to me,” he said. “It is my favorite tournament.”
There is much to love for a player who might have won the major championship that eludes him if he only he putted and played as well for himself as he does in the clutch for Europe.
Ranked 12th in the world, Garcia arrives Monday at Hazeltine National Golf Club for his eighth Ryder Cup, his team a winner five of those first seven. His 18-9-5 lifetime record is impressive enough. His combined 9-2-2 partnerships with Lee Westwood and Luke Donald are among the most efficient in Ryder Cup history.
But would arguably Europe’s most passionate player love the Ryder Cup so much if he weren’t so good at it?
“I don’t think that has anything to do with it,” he said. “I think probably I’ve been fortunate to do well because I love it so much. It’s as simple as that.”
He calls it love at first sight when he attended his first Ryder Cup in 1995, four years before he made his debut in a most memorable one near Boston. Garcia was invited to a junior exhibition match played in conjunction with the Ryder Cup at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., then.
He was just 15.
“I was able to walk around and take pictures with the teams and feel the atmosphere that was there,” Garcia said. “I wasn’t even part of the team in ’95 and I loved it already.”
He has become the European team’s heart and soul through the years, both because of play he seems to elevate nearly every time a Ryder Cup arrives and because of his excitable nature that often stars in Europe’s team room.
“Obviously, his golf is fabulous,” three-time Ryder Cup player, 2014 European captain and Irishman Paul McGinley told the Golf Channel during its Rio Olympics coverage. “But he goes to another level when he plays in team events, when the burden of responsibility comes off a little bit and he’s part of a shared responsibility with his teammates.”
McGinley recalls Garcia playing both sessions the first two days at the 2002 Ryder Cup at England’s The Belfry. He fetched his dinner in the team room, placed it in his lap and then watched 90 minutes of the day’s highlights.
“That’s how much he loves the Ryder Cup,” McGinley said. “He’d stand up and shout to everybody, ‘Watch this! Watch this! How great a shot did I hit here?’ And of course, we all loved that. If his opponent hit a bad shot, he made sure everybody’s attention was there to see the American hit the bad shot. That’s the kind of infectious fun he brings to the team room.”
While he stars for Europe biennially, Garcia waits for a first major championship victory that longtime Ryder Cup teammate Henrik Stenson finally won this summer at age 40.
Seventeen years after he burst onto the scene at the 1999 PGA Championship, Garcia now is 36 and he said he still sleeps soundly even without a major victory.
“Maybe five or 10 years ago, it would have bothered me, but not anymore,” he said. “I understand how difficult it is to win every week; it doesn’t matter if it’s a major or where it is … If it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to change my life. I won’t go in a cave and stay there until I die because I didn’t win a major. It’s not that serious.
“But I’m not going to lie: it would be nice to get at least one.”
Until then, he’ll keep on keeping on while playing for partner, team and continent at the Ryder Cup.
“It’s the relationships you build in the Ryder Cup you don’t build in any other tournament,” Garcia said. “I’ve been able to make some really great friends, guys that I got along with but we built a really strong relationship because of Ryder Cups. Those are things you can’t buy that make it so special.”