‘I knew what I needed’: Sergio Garcia qualifies for U.S. Open the old-fashioned way

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Sergio Garcia at the LIV Tulsa event earlier this month.

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DALLAS – The 2023 PGA Championship represented the first major for which Sergio Garcia had failed to qualify in 24 years.

On Monday, Garcia avoided adding the U.S. Open to that short list.

With a dramatic back-nine rally at the 36-hole qualifier here, Garcia — a former Masters winner who signed with LIV Golf last year — finished at nine-under-par 132 to tie for fourth and punch his ticket to the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club next month. He shot 66 in the morning round at Bent Tree Country Club followed by another 66 at Northwood Club in the afternoon to take one of the eight spots available to the 120-player field.

After his first round, Garcia was two shots off the projected qualifying line. His destiny was still uncertain when he arrived at the par 5-14th — and eagled it.

“It was such a key moment to me,” Garcia said of his 3 at Northwood’s 14th, a demanding hole that is flanked by trees and a creek. “I hit my drive nicely in the middle then I hit a 3-iron so good, to 6 feet from the pin, and made the putt. That made the difference, but I knew I need one more [birdie] to escape a playoff.”

After pars at 16 and 17, Garcia again put his drive in the middle of the fairway on 18, then knocked a wedge shot to 3 feet and holed the putt for a closing birdie to move him to nine under, one clear of what turned out to be a 5-for-1 playoff. When the putt dropped, Garcia pumped his fist in front of a large group of spectators that had assembled by the green.

“I played well, and I knew what I needed,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in a playoff. I’ve done that before. It’s pretty scary.”

The news was not so positive for Garcia’s fellow LIV commit and former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. On Northwood’s par-3 9th hole — his last of the day — McDowell three-putted to miss the playoff by a shot.

“I love this game and I love major championships, and without world ranking points, I’m going to keep trying to get in any way I can,” McDowell said, adding that he already has registered for Open Championship qualifying.

The U.S. Open qualifier came just a day after the conclusion of the PGA Championship, which until this year Garcia had played every year since his breakout runner-up finish at the 1999 edition at Medinah. Garcia said it was tough to tune into the PGA over the weekend.

“I watched some at home on Sunday, but at the end of the day I didn’t get in,” he said. “I would have loved to get a spot from the PGA, but they didn’t have me on their radar.”

Sporting his LIV team uniform and bag at the Dallas qualifier, Garcia said he was thrilled to watch another LIV pro, Brooks Koepka, win at Oak Hill.

“Of course I was happy when Jon Rahm won the Masters,” Garcia said of his countryman. “But I’ve gotten to know Brooks over the last two years on LIV and know all he went through, so I’m super-happy for him. It shows we still are really good at playing golf and we really care about the game regardless of what some people say about us.”

Asked if qualifying for the U.S. Open paired with Koepka’s PGA victory was vindication for LIV, Garcia turned his head and smiled.

Vindication,” Garcia said. “I don’t know what that is. I’m Spanish, not English.”

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Art Stricklin