Tour Confidential: The meaning of Sergio Garcia’s dramatic win
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Sergio Garcia’s win, the LPGA’s upcoming major, the biggest difference at this year’s Masters and more.
Sergio! Three and a half years after his Masters victory, Sergio Garcia is a PGA Tour winner again, stuffing his approach on the 72nd hole of the Sanderson Farms Championship to edge Peter Malnati by a stroke. What’s the significance of this win for a 40-year-old who, in 2020, missed qualifying for the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the first time in his career and who also just recently had slipped out of the top 50 in the World Ranking for the first time since 2011?
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): It means a ton. Look, Sergio is no stranger to the winner’s circle — he’s got a worldwide win in each of the last 10 years, tied with Justin Rose for longest in the world — but winning on the PGA Tour in this fashion was a heck of a statement. If this signals the beginning of another run for fortysomething Sergio, nearly 20 years after his first W, that’s a good thing for golf.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@alanshipnuck): It’s great to have him back in the conversation. Few players in golf are as polarizing as Sergio, or more fun to watch. We’ll see how much grind he has left and if he wants to be a consistent contender, but for now let’s just enjoy the show. I’m sure Padraig did — an in-form Garcia would be a huge boost for Team Europe.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): Anytime you can re-prove to yourself that you’re one of the best in the world, it’s significant for confidence, alone. I’ve still got it. I’m still this good.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): After the big win at Augusta, when he finally got the best-player-to-never monkey off his back, a lot of us expected a lot more of this from Sergio. So in a way the surprise is that it took him this long to win again. But a big deal, for sure, especially for such an emotional player who has seemed to undermine himself with a kind of Eeyore gloom and self doubt. This has got to be a sweet boost for him. Funny game, right? You never know when the magic is going to strike.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I would say this win for Sergio means to him what Phil’s win at Pebble last year means to him. Nice to know you can still do it, but no real impact on your life.
Garcia turned heads this week by putting with his eyes closed. “I would love to putt with my eyes open,” said Garcia, who added he’s been employing this method for three years, including during his Masters win, “but I feel like my stroke is more consistent when I kind of try to forget about it and just kind of feel it.” (The practice worked in Mississippi, where Garcia picked up 1.79 shots on the field in SG: Putting, which was 28th best in the field.) Should more players — both pros and hackers alike — give eyes-shut putting a whirl?
Dethier: Oh, definitely. This isn’t so different from the Jordan Spieth look-at-the-hole trick that people were trying everywhere during Spieth’s run a few years back. When you’re looking at your ball, it’s easy to add a certain hitch or let fear creep in. Eyes closed? You’re guaranteed to keep it smooth. Even if golfers don’t incorporate it on the course, it’s a great exercise for the putting green just to find the feel of a worry-free stroke.
Shipnuck: Hey, why not? Whatever works.
Zak: I was personally surprised to see just how poor a putter Sergio has been for most of the 2010s. Do whatever you’ve gotta do, mate. Get that ball in the hole.
Sens: You mean, there are people who put with their eyes open? I’ve never been able to bear watching myself.
Bamberger: Does he mean this literally? [Editor’s note: he does!] I don’t recall ever seeing him putt with his eyes actually closed. Maybe cameras, TV and otherwise, don’t pick that up, but I think he means not so focused on the ball, or a line on the ball. But Johnny Miller did at times putt with his eyes closed, so who knows? I think Shivas may have, too.
Aerial photography of Augusta National captured and shared by pilot David Dobbins this weekend revealed that the course has made a remarkable transformation in just the last week, morphing from a layout with brown turf and sandless bunkers to one that seemingly looks ready to welcome the Masters next month. What do you expect will be the biggest difference between the fall Masters and all the spring editions that have preceded it?
Dethier: When we saw the first set of photos a few days back, my first thought was, “When is this going to green out?” and, well, it didn’t take long to get an answer. I think the biggest differences (besides no fans!) will be the lack of daylight and some potential chilly mornings/evenings — y’know, fall stuff. It’s gonna be a blast.
Shipnuck: The obvious answer is no flowering flora — Augusta national with azaleas and dogwoods will look quite different. As the playability, cooler temperatures and thicker grass strains means the course should play significantly longer, which is welcome news.
Zak: with that in mind, I am excited to see if certain speed slots are still in play. Like the one on 10, or 2, or 15. Or are they only in play for specific players.
Sens: Maybe the course will play a little softer. Maybe. But any differences in the conditions will be microscopic compared to the biggest change. No fans. No roars. That alters the entire complexion of the event.
Bamberger: Part of the magic of the Masters is that it has represented the start of the season; this year it will mean the end. It will be a completely different experience. It can be great, and I think it will be. But completely different.
The five remaining events before the Masters will be conducted at an eclectic mix of courses, including two rookie sites: Shriners (TPC Summerlin), CJ Cup (Shadow Creek), Zozo (Sherwood), Bermuda Championship (Port Royal), Houston Open (Memorial Park). Which of those Masters warm-ups are you most intrigued by, and why?
Dethier: Memorial Park. I love a good muni project, and Houston has dived into this one under the watchful eye of Tom Doak, with an assist from Brooks Koepka! I’m excited to see how it plays, first off, and then to see how the community responds to a new gem of a city track.
Shipnuck: Seconded. Though Port Royal is really fun and funky and the views are amazing.
Zak: Personally, I’ve never seen Sherwood! Hoping to understand why many seem to like it. Or if there isn’t much there for the TV viewer who will never play it…
Sens: Count me in for some muni love, though getting another closeup look at Shadow Creek should be good fun as well.
Bamberger: Memorial Park, followed by Memorial Park. My memory of Port Royal is that it is WAY too short to contain a touring professional, so curious to see how that plays out. But as Beck always says when he’s on the British chat shows: Public golf. It’s where it’s at! I got two lob wedges and a microphone. I have no idea what that means or why he says it. But he does and he is often ahead of the curve, both in music and in golf. Sam Snead used to speak of the connection between the two, but that’s another subject for another day.
The third LPGA major of the year, the KPMG Women’s PGA, kicks off this week at Aronomink, outside Philadelphia. What storyline are you most excited to see play out?
Dethier: Nelly Korda is staking her claim as the best golfer in the world. Can she win her first major championship and grab that top spot?
Shipnuck: Yes, how she bounces back from the crushing loss at Dinah will be quite revealing. But look out for Mel Reid! Her win this week sent a jolt through the golf world. Her games sets up well for tough courses and Reid has star quality – all she needs to do is keep winning and golf fans will fall in love with her.
Zak: It’s still Lydia Ko for me. She has been ascending again, if ever so slowly. It’s fun to watch it play out over months and years instead of a one-week resurgence, a la Sergio. Ko has played well in the toughest events this year, and Aronimink will be no pushover. Would love to see her back in contention at yet another major. Won’t even get started on asking for a victory. The pursuit is too fun to watch.
Sens: Zak beat me to it. How can you not be drawn to Ko? A great fall from the mountaintop, and now clambering back up from the abyss. And doing it all with such class and grace. To my mind, she’s the easiest player to root for in the game. Not just the women’s game. In golf, period.
Bamberger: How Sophia Popov plays in another major. How these great young golfers take to an old-timey course. How the PGA of America sets up the course.
After a third-round 67 gave Korn Ferry pro Evan Harmeling the lead at the Savannah Golf Championship, he elected to wear the exact same outfit in the final round. (Why mess with a good thing, right?) Harmeling’s sartorial strategizing paid off: On Sunday he beat Kevin Dougherty in a playoff. What’s the wildest golfer superstition you’ve encountered?
Dethier: First of all, big-time props to Harmeling, a Massachusetts man and my contemporary on the New England mini-tours who used to play events like the Greater Bangor Open (he won the 2013 Charlie’s Maine Open) and now may well be headed to the PGA Tour. As for superstitions? My frequent roommate on the Canadian Tour, Brian Hughes, would frequently play entire rounds without watching either of his playing partners make a single swing, saying he wanted to avoid “bad vibes.” He’d look away, wait for the sound of impact and then play his shot. An all-timer.
Shipnuck: I love how Ernie Els discards his golf ball after every birdie, under the theory that every ball has only bird in it.
Zak: Wearing a red shirt during the final day of an event. Every single tournament.
Sens: “Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy. Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy.” That was pretty weird, but it seemed to work.
Bamberger: I caddied for a player who liked to play balls stamped with an 8. Sometimes he couldn’t get them and played with other numbers, but he wasn’t happy about it. This player was one of the smartest people I ever knew. If you want to find out why 8 was meaningful to him, you can ask Tiger’s mother.