How a new family helped Sergio Garcia finally face down his major nightmares

James Corrigan
Sergio García’s with his fiancée Angela Akins - Rex Features

Sergio García once declared there were “outside agencies” at work in his long quest for a Masters title. So perhaps it was appropriate that, in his moment of glory, the 60th birthday of the late, great Seve Ballesteros was being credited for his win – not to mention a few eerie omens such as the Spaniard’s caddie wearing the same number – 89 – as Danny Willett’s last year.

Hours later, however, and in the glorious light of the Georgia morning, it was easy to see that the most powerful influence on the 37-year-old was slightly closer to home: a strong partner – and a lucky dog called Bear.

Without Angela Akins arriving in his life, it must be doubted if García would ever have broken his major curse at the 74th time of asking, a truth he acknowledged in the hours after his play-off win over England’s Justin Rose.

García’s fiancée was with him in New York as he went on the Augusta winner’s traditional tour of the US chat shows and it became yet more obvious how greatly he relies on her.

Sergio Garcia celebrates with fiance Angela Akins Credit: REX FEATURES

If any cynics are dismissive about the significance of Akins, 31, who he will marry the week after the Open in July, then they should consider the impact on his game of prior affairs of the heart. García has had a string of relationships, including with the former world No 1 tennis player Martina Hingis. Yet it was the split with Morgan Leigh-Norman in 2009 that showed just how connected his swing was to his soul.

García had just won the Players’ Championship – the biggest title of his career thus far – and had risen to a career-high world No 2 when he was with Greg Norman’s daughter, but when she called it off, he spiralled into a tailspin. “I felt I had to stop playing the game for a while,” García said. He missed the 2010 Ryder Cup and fell out of the world’s top 80. Unlucky in love, unlucky in major golf.

Yet while the locker room has always warned ‘a happy Sergio is a dangerous Sergio’, Akins and her family have given him something more than “the inner peace” of which he spoke throughout the week.

Credit: REX FEATURES

Angela’s father Marty is a former All-American college quarterback, while her grandfather is Ray Akins, a legendary high-school gridiron coach who also happens to be the grandfather of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In short, they are not a family who hold much stock in victimhood.

Martin was a big figure in attendance at Augusta and has clearly become one in García’s life. “We’ve instilled in our kids that what you believe is who you are,” Marty said as the celebrations began. “If you believe you’re going to be a winner, you’re going to be one. If you don’t, you won’t.”

How very un-Sergio, how very unlike this most maverick of talents who in 2012 stood outside the Augusta clubhouse after yet another shortfall and announced: “I’ll never win here, I’m playing for second.” 

García can spot the self-sabotage now on a record sheet which contained 22 top 10 in 73 majors. “I can see how stupid I really was trying to fight against something that you can’t fight against,” he said. That was the Akins affect.

“They’ve definitely helped, there’s no doubt the whole family has,” García said. “Marty is a very, very positive, very, you know, outspoken and a very, very confident kind of guy. Angela is the same way. They are all very competitive.

Sergio Garcia and Angela Akins Credit: REUTERS

“It’s quite simple. When good people are telling you things you need to get better at, and they are telling you from heir hearts, you listen – and that’s what I did. Sometimes they tell me things I don’t want to hear and it’s not easy, because I know how much of a hard-headed man I can be. But it’s been great.

“I didn’t think I would be able to change this quickly but I’m glad I did. It turned out to be an amazing week in a place I love but where I’ve had some tough times. To be able to deal with those emotions and accept the good and bad things was something that definitely gives me a sense of extra pride.”

For her part, Akins – as a former reporter for the Golf Channel, who felt obliged to walk away from her job because of being compromised by her relationship – did not want to become the story and was quick to divert the attention to the already famous motivational message sent by José María Olazábal, as well as to assorted figures including Audrey Hepburn, Budda and their pet dog.

“We were at the house and he got Jose’s text and he read it to me,” Akins said. “It was pretty special. I put post-stick notes in the mirror in the bathroom – positive things, different quotes from Hepburn and Budda. Our dog was there with us, too. Bear is now ‘two and O’ on the road. The last tournament he came to was the Byron Nelson. Sergio won that, as well.”

Sergio Garcia and Angela Akins... and their dog

It is tempting to think that one of the Hepburn quotes Akins used was her most famous – “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’ ”.

Certainly, there seemed no self-doubt when he made par from a bush on the 13th, just when Rose appeared on the brink of taking a four-shot advantage.

Neither did he allow the missed five-footer for the win on the last hole of regulation destroy his focus. Indeed, he went and birdied it straight away in sudden death.

And as the player who, more than any other, previously denied García his major destiny – at the 2007 Open and 2008 US PGA, Padraig Harrington could only watch the euphoria and grin

“I maybe created some of that emotion, so I will take some credit,” the Irishman said with a laugh. “It’s Angela who has been a big difference to him. I saw it in the team-room at the last Ryder Cup. When he holed the winning putt, she didn’t come running on to the green. She waited to let him enjoy it. She is the big driving force.”

Paul McGinley agreed. “I think Angela has added the extra vital dimension,” he said. “It’s not like he was miles away; he was just one per cent away from being a major champion. She has that bit of steeliness about her and I think that has permeated through to Sergio.

“There is a good team behind him, a real belief and with the monkey off his back I wouldn’t be surprised if it led to major number two, three or even four.”

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