Sergio García’s relationship with American galleries is akin to his rollercoaster journey with golf itself. On Sunday evening both had come full circle. So, too, did a relationship between the latest Masters champion and Augusta National.
“Initially I felt like this course was probably going to give me at least one major,” García said. “I’m not going to lie, that thought kind of changed a little bit through the years because I started feeling uncomfortable on the course. But I kind of came to peace with it the last three or four years. I accepted what Augusta gives and takes.”
Eighteen years have passed since García was low amateur at the Masters in emphasising talent further highlighted by a handicap of plus 5.8. Only three months later the Spaniard claimed his first victory as a professional at the Irish Open. He was in the midst of one of sport’s great fairytales. At that 1999 Masters García spent practice time in the company of Seve Ballesteros; images of that understandably surfaced again as the 37-year-old donned the Green Jacket on what would have been his late compatriot’s 60th birthday.
Yet García was to prove the prime example that nothing, and certainly nothing overwhelmingly positive, lasts for ever. For all that he would routinely insist on a great life and professional fulfilment, there were lingering, dark moments. Bitterness was easy to detect. It became difficult to watch someone who burst on to the scene with such vigour carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
In golf terms, García sampled frustration that his undoubted talent level had not been even partly replicated by major success. At one stage he even publicly denounced his ability to win even one. At another he took a self-imposed absence from the game. Dr Sergio and Mr García became a stock phrase within golf; this individual, supposedly destined for greatness, was struggling for peace of mind on and off course.
Relationships with Martina Hingis and Greg Norman’s daughter, Morgan-Leigh, came and went without García being afforded off-course stability. When that finally seemed to have arrived alongside Katharina Böhm, that too abruptly ended despite rumours of engagement. When speaking to anyone who knows García now, a recurring theme is of the positive influence offered by his fiancée, Angela Akins, a former television presenter. Having worked within golf she knows the scene. Crucially she seems to be able to channel García’s emotions.
The root of indifference from crowds in the United States is tricky to pinpoint. García has encountered some vicious abuse, most notably at the 2015 Players Championship when he was audibly willed on to lose by an offensive section of the Sawgrass audience. He would never speak about it – PGA Tour pension funds are lucrative – but this was not anything like an exception.
Being a kingpin in European Ryder Cup success may have played its part. It would be simple to cite career indifference between García and Tiger Woods – including the infamous “fried chicken” jibe as offered by the Spaniard four years ago – as the key motivator if the 14-times major champion was himself universally loved. Woods, whilst a constant source of fascination, lost his invincibility cloak in the eyes of the masses after the scandals which engulfed his personal life.
Nonetheless, within the Tiger-Sergio spat was a subtle truism. Amid a dispute about Woods perhaps playing a shot out of turn, his cutting jibe towards García – “It’s not really surprising that he is complaining about something” – was as wounding as it was accurate.
Justin Rose, defeated by García in the play-off, was perfectly aware of who the Augusta patrons wanted to prevail. The feeling was palpable as the Sunday shadows lengthened. “Often Sergio feels like he’s not supported the way he would like to be here in America,” Rose said. “It was encouraging to see the crowd get behind him. I think that they realised that he paid his dues, and they realised that he’s been close so many times.”
That García was alongside Rose for Sunday’s round is important in itself. There seemed relaxation in the company of a friend. Danny Willett benefited in the same manner, 12 months ago, when Lee Westwood was his partner.
García’s win triggered congratulations from those within golf who had watched him fall at so many final hurdles. “It was only a matter of time,” Luke Donald said. If Donald truly believed that, he did so against the vast weight of evidence.
“I had a lump in my throat watching it,” said Paul McGinley, who forged a tight alliance with García at the 2014 Ryder Cup. “I had been there so many times watching him, I had felt his pain. He is an emotional person and I know how much those previous experiences hurt him. I also know how much this will mean to him. We were all worried he was going to have a career without any major at all.”
McGinley rightly acknowledged that García’s impulsive and creative nature is perfectly suited to Augusta. An indication of how wonderfully accurate the champion’s tee to green play was over four rounds comes from the fact he was 20th in the cumulative putting statistics table. He was the flag bearer in what was a hugely successful Masters for European golf.
“Hopefully I will be able to add some more,” García said before leaving Georgia. Even if the major floodgates do not open, he has at last found sanctuary. The suffering is over.