Sergio Garcia was born on January 9, 1980. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) The second of three children, he grew up in the Spanish town of Borriol, a short distance from his countrys east coast and about an hour north of Valencia. At the time, his father, Victor Sr., was the pro at the Mediterraneo Golf Club, and his mother, Consuelo, ran the pro shop. In fact, she was working there when she went into labor with Sergio.
Golf was a passion enjoyed by the entire Garcia family. Sergios older brother by three years, Victor Jr., got the bug first. He eventually attended college on a golf scholarship. Mar, Sergio's younger sister by four years, would go on to play at the University of Arizona. Needless to say, Sergio was the most talented of the three.
The Garcia children acquired their love of golf from their father. Victor Sr. had worked as a caddy growing up in the 1960s. In those days, caddies werent allowed to play most of Spains courses. To get in 18 holes, he would sneak out early in the morning before the groundskeepers arrived, or late in the evening after they had called it day. In the 1970s, Sergios dad tried to make a go of it on the European tour, but had little success. Eventually he realized he was a better teacher than player.
Sergio began mimicking his fathers swing at age two, with a broom or feather duster. Victor Sr. cut down a set of clubs for his son when he was three. From then on Sergio was hooked. As a child, he often worked on his game on his own. Hed walk the course at Mediterraneo Golf Club and practice hitting difficult shots between trees and from uneven lies.
Borriol provided a perfect backdrop for outdoor sports. A small town of some 3,000 residents, it boasts scenic vistas and an abundance of sunny days. When Sergio wasnt on the golf course, he played tennis and soccer, climbed trees and went swimming with friends.
The Garcias lived in an apartment just a couple miles from where Victor Sr. worked. By Sergios fifth birthday, he was spending most afternoons at Mediterraneo. He became something of a fixture at the club, playing members for Cokesall the while knowing he could could charm them out of a soda, regardless of the outcome.
Sergio was a long hitter from the time he was a kid. His father taught him an unorthodox swing in which he used a steep downward movement to whip the club head through the ball. The youngster received his first set of full-sized clubsCobra irons and woodswhen he turned nine. A year later, he broke 80 for the first time. Shortly after that, he took Spains 12-and-under title. Sergio fired his first sub-70 round in 1992, the same year he claimed Mediterraneos club championship. This is when the media tabbed the 12-year-old El Nino.
In 1994, Sergio won the Topolino World Junior Championship. But his biggest thrill that season came when he played a round with Ballesteros. The meeting was arranged by Victor Sr., who was a longtime friend of Seves older brother, Baldomero. The elder Garcia asked Ballesteros if he would accompany his son during the opening round of a local tournament. Seve was happy to oblige. Sergio learned two important lessons that day: Play with purpose and get a feel for every shot. To this day, the two love it when they are grouped together in a tournament or pro-am. For Ballesteros, its like watching a little bit of himself.
ON THE RISE
Sergio began to make international headlines in 1995. That year, at the suggestion of family friends, he entered several amateur tournaments in the U.S. His first appearance came in the Orange Bowl International Junior Golf Championship in Miami. Sergio cruised to victory by 14 strokes. Several months later, he became the youngest player ever to make the cut in a European Tour event, at the Turespana Open. The tournament was held on his home course, Mediterraneo. Sergio next won the European Young Masters Championship and followed that triumph by becoming the youngest champion in the history of the European Amateur.
By the end of 1995, Sergio seriously began to consider a career as a professional golfer. This idea gained further momentum after his appearance in the 1996 British Open, at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He qualified thanks to his European Amateur title. Prior to the event, Sergio joined Ballesteros for two practice rounds. When the tournament started, he shot a 76, then improved to a 73. Though the 16-year-old missed the cut by six strokes, he displayed none of the characteristic nerves of a first-timer in golfs oldest championship.
The excitement of the British Open fueled Sergios desire to rise to the top of the game. During the next 12 months, he won three Spanish amateur events (the under-16, under-18 and under-21), the European Amateur Masters, the French Amateur, the Grand Prix de Lendes, and the David Leadbetter Championship. Sergio also claimed victory in a pro event, the Catalonian Open.
Sergios most junior impressive victory came at the British Boys Championship in August of 1997. After beating Swedens Christian Nilsson in the quarterfinals, he faced Nick Burrows of England. Sergio jumped out quickly, took the first three holes, then sailed to an easy win, 4 & 3. In the final, he was even more dominant. Matched against Richard Jones, also of England, Sergio rolled 6 & 5. After this win, reporters wanted to know if and when Sergio planned to turn pro. That really got Sergio thinking.
In March of 1998, he had plenty to think about at the Monterey Open, a Nike Tour event held in Mexico. Competing against a collection of former PGA players and tour hopefulsincluding Robin Freeman and Casey MartinSergio, now 18, carded rounds of 68 and 67 to take the lead heading into the third round. He slipped down the leader board over the weekend, but still managed to come in at 8-under, setting a Nike Tour record for low score by an amateur. Three months later, Sergio tied for third at the Nike Greensboro Open.
In between those performances, Sergio played a round that put him on the golf worlds radar screen. On the first day of the Peugeot Spanish Open in Barcelona, he birdied four of his first five holes on the way to a six-under 66. In the process, he blew past the likes of Thomas Bjorn, Robert Allenby, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal and his hero, Ballesteros. Sergio ended the day with a spectacular eagle on the 490-yard, par-5 ninth, which put him just two strokes off the pace. His bid to be the first amateur to win a European Tour event fell short when he posted consecutive 70s in the next three rounds.
By the time Sergio entered the British Amateur Championship, at Muirfield in Scotland, he already had wins at the Spanish Amateur, King of Spain Cup, Jacksonville Junior, European Amateur Masters and Puerta de Hierro Cup. Now he looked to join his countryman, Olazabal, as the only other player to hold the British Amateur and the British Boys crowns at the same time. Sergios chief competition was Britains Justin Rose, another teenager who played far beyond his years. Attracting huge galleries every time they set foot on the course, the two held their own early on to advance to the events match-play stages. There Rose faltered, while Garcia narrowly escaped in the semifinal with a victory over Mark Hilton. That matched him against Craig Williams in the 36-hole final. Sergio handled Williams easily, defeating him 7 & 6.
The win earned Sergio automatic invitations to several events, including the 1998 British Open. At Royal Birkdale in England, he posted a 69 in the first round, then carded three straight rounds above par to finish tied for 29th place.
Sergio made another respectable showing a month later, at the U.S. Amateur. It had been more than three decades since someone had captured the British and U.S. Amateur titles in the same yearthat someone being Robert B. Dickson. Going into the tournament, Sergio had a real shot at equaling this feat, but it wouldnt be easy. The field at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY, was tough. It included Justin Rose and Joel Kribel, the events runner-up in 1997. The favorite was defending champion Matt Kuchar. Sergio met Kuchar in the quarterfinals, with a crowd of nearly 5,000 gathered on the first tee to watch what they hoped would be an epic battle.
They werent disappointed. Both players took dead aim, and the match see-sawed all day long. On the 12th green Kuchar conceded a birdie putt to Sergio that made things all square. On 16, Sergio rolled in an eight-footer to go 1-up. He won the match a hole later when Kuchar missed a tricky 12-foot putt.
High off his victory over Kuchar, Sergio came crashing down in the Saturday semifinal against Tom McKnight. Sergio went 1-up after McKnight three-putted the first green, but the teenager never seemed to get into a rhythm. Needing to take the 17th just to stay alive, Sergio drove into a tree, took a double-bogey, and the match was over.
MAKING HIS MARK
Heading into 1999, no one questioned whether Sergio would turn pro. He was slated to play in the Masters in April, and speculation was that he would announce his decision after Augusta, prior to the Peugeot Open in Spain. In the days leading up to the Masters, some picked Sergio as a dark horse to win the tournament. The closest an amateur had ever come to capturing the green jacket was in 1956, when Ken Venturi lost to champion Jack Burke Jr. by a single stroke. Given Sergio' immense talent, it was hard to ignore the great touch and imagination he possessed at such a tender age.
Sergio played his first two rounds with Tiger Woods and Tim Herron, a threesome that attracted monstrous galleries. After an opening 72, Sergio carded consecutive 75s and never was in contention. He finished with a 73 on Sunday to claim the low-amateur medal, becoming the first British Amateur champ ever to do so. When Olazabal overtook Greg Norman to win his second green jacket, it was truly a great day for Spain.
It was at the Nelson, in Texas, that Sergio served notice that he would be gunning for Woods. On the first day of the tournament, Tiger fired a blistering 61. Sergio never let him out of his sights, carding an eye-popping 62. He stayed with Woods on the second day, too, as each player finished with a 67. Sergio, however, failed to overtake the leader during the weekend. Still, he finished in a tie for third, which was good for a $144,000 paycheck.
For the rest of the 1999 season, Sergio was the talk of golf. At various times, he found himself atop the leader board, including at the Memorial, WGC NEC Invitational, and WGC American Express Championship. Sergio became the European Tours fourth-youngest winner when he took the Murphys Irish Open. That victory put him in the running for a spot on the European Ryder Cup team. Sometimes it was hard for some to remember that Sergio was still just a kid.
And sometimes it wasnt. Sergio played erratically at the British Open and Buick Open, missing the cut in each. After his poor showing at Carnoustie, he cried on his mothers shoulder during a press conference.
The highlight of the year for Sergio came at the PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club. He tied a course record with his opening-round 66, which was good for a two-stroke lead over Jay Haas, Mike Weir and J.P. Hayes. The next day he missed six makeable birdies and slumped to a 73. Sergio thenshot back up the leader board with a third-round 68. This set the stage for one of the most memorable final rounds in majors history.
The day began as a four-man race between Weir and Woodsat 11-underand Sergio and Stewart Cink, who were tied at two strokes back. By the 11th hole, Woods appeared to be in command, stretching his lead to five strokes. But Sergio birdied 13, just as Woods tapped in for a bogey on 12. Minutes later, Woods walked off the 13th green with a double-bogey five, meaning Sergio now trailed by a single stroke.
The shot of the day came on 16, after Woods had padded his lead by a stroke. Sergio, eyes closed, launched an incredible 6-iron from an awful lie at the base of a tree. He two-putted for par and then finished strong, forcing Woods to be perfect the rest of the way. The superstar barely escaped with a one-stroke victory.
Sergios second-place finish at the PGA secured his spot on the European Ryder Cup team. It also thrust him into a rivalry with Woods, who seemed to be without a worthy adversary. Sergios youthful emotions proved the perfect counterpoint to Woodss Zen calmness. And each players confidence and daring made any head-to-head battle a potentially memorable one.
At the Ryder Cup, the mood was understandably electric. Huge crowds roamed the course at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, with the majority of fans rooting loudlyand at times rudelyfor the U.S. They were disappointed on Friday as the Europeans surged to a 6-2 advantage. Sergio responded well to the pressure, winning both of his team matches with Jesper Parnevik. The pair continued their strong play on Saturday, earning another point and a half for the Europeans.
There were no tears a month later, when Sergio was invited to participate in the Skins Game. The youngest Skins player ever, he went up against Mark OMeara, Fred Couples, and David Duval in Indio, California, and left town with $120,000.
Though Sergio was running with the big dogs, he was still a pupa fact underscored by his behavior a month later at the World Match Play championship in Wentworth, England. Locked in a close match with South Africas Retief Goosen, Sergio slipped on his tee shot at the 15th and hooked his drive into the trees. Incensed at the mishap, he grabbed one of his shoes and threw it towards the gallery, glaring as though someone had distracted him. A spectator immediately tossed the shoe back, and Sergio laced it up. His concentration blown, he lost 2 & 1.
The 2000 season would be an important test for Sergio. His fabulous '99 performance had come without any major expectations. Now all eyes would be on him at every event he played. Perhaps sensing these new pressures, Sergio failed to finish in the Top 10 in his first six starts in stroke-play tournaments. Along the way he missed the cut at the Players Championship and limped home in the Masters tied for 40th. He broke his slump with a third-place showing at the Buick Classic, but then looked lost again in his next five events.
Suddenly the same critics who had lauded Sergio's game and attitude began to question and criticize these very same attributes. They panned his swing, noting that he ranked 176th out of 177 in greens-in-regulation. They also called him immature and claimed he was all too ready to blame others for his misfortunes. Sergio fired his caddie, Jerry Higgenbottom, and hired Fanny Sunesson, the former bag woman for Nick Faldo. But the two didnt mesh, and Sergio began to wonder whether she was hurting more than helping. He soon canned Sunesson, and latched on to Glen Murray.
Before the year ended, however, Sergio was involved in a bizarre incident. At the Volvo Masters pro-am in Spain, he walked off the golf course after being threatened by a member of his own foursome. The exchange came on the 9th hole after a 50-something businessman named Luis Somoza accused Garcia of giving him wrong yardage on an approach shot.
As the 2001 season opened, Sergio made it a goal to earn his first victory on the PGA tour. He didnt get off to a good start, finishing no better than fourth in his first eight events. That 4th-place tie came at the Bay Hill Invitational, a tournament that Sergio could have won if not for a disastrous triple-bogey on a key par 5.
In April, he missed the cut at the Masters after a 76 on the second day. Two weeks later, he flew home for some R&R and the Spanish Open. But the trip was anything but relaxing. The media dogged Sergio, questioning the wisdom of keeping his father as his coach. Sergio reacted angrily. He defended Victor Sr., and shouldered the blame for his poor play. As Sergio teed it up at the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic in May, things went from bad to worse. The European Tour announced it was fining him for comments made at the Greg Norman International Open a few months earlier. Then came the news that that Sergios cousin and boyhood friend, Jose Fernandez, was in critical condition following a car accident.
The swirl of controversy and tragedy seemed to focus Sergio. After an opening-round 71, he fired three-straight rounds under 70 (including a 64-65 on the weekend) and wound up in a tie for eighth. Happy to be back on track, Sergio had his spirits further lifted when he heard his cousin was feeling better after three hours of surgery.
Sergio had a spring in his step the following week at the MasterCard Colonial. By Sunday, he was in contention, trailing Phil Mickelson by five strokes. Sergio burned it up on the frontside in the final round, shooting a blazing 29. When Mickelson labored on the back, the tournament was up for grabs. Sergio closed the deal and surged past Lefty to capture his first PGA crown.
Five weeks later, Sergio was at it again in the prestigious Buick Classic. This time, he turned the tables and proved he could hold a Sunday lead, as he fired an impressive 67 to fend off challenges from Scott Hoch and J.P. Hayes. The 2001 season was also highlighted by good showings at the U.S. and British Opens.
Sergio hoped to close out the year with a flourish, but once again he ran into consistency problems. He missed several cuts, including the PGA Championship. Those performances were juxtaposed by a win over Ernie Els in a playoff at the Nedbank Gold Championship in South Africaat $2 million, the richest winners purse in all of golf. Sergio also claimed the Trophee Lancome in France, scoring three birdies on the last four holes to outduel Goosen.
Sergios 2002 New Years resolution was to be the top money-winner on both the PGA and European Tours, which no one had done before. He took a step in that direction in the very first event of the year, the Mercedes Championship in Hawaii. After shooting a 64 in the final round, he faced David Toms in a playoff. Sergio rolled in a birdie putt on the first hole to claim the winners check of $720,000.
In the ensuing months, Sergio played more evenly than ever beforea sign of a maturing player and a maturing game. He did not register any big wins, but was usually in the Top 10 and often in the hunt on Sunday. He finished eighth in the Masters and British Open, fourth in the U.S. Open, and tied for 10th in the PGA after a 68 on Sunday. In all four majors, Sergio was near the top of the leader board before a sloppy round derailed him. His stops on the European tour, though numbering just a handful, were marked by dominant performances
At one of those events, the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, the crowd hurled a few choice insults Hingiss way. Sergio blasted the raucous fans in the press, but reconnected with them when they began giving him a hard time about the maddening series of waggles and regrips he was performing before each shot. Sergio gave as good as he got from the denizens in New York, who loved it. Interestingly, he soon shaved noticeable seconds off his pre-shot routine.
Months later, at the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry in England, Sergio proved he still had some maturing to do. Teamed with Lee Westwood, he played masterfully in his first three matches. Charged by the pro-European crowd and not afraid to show it, he rallied Westwood, who came into the competition in the worst slump of his career. The pair posted a perfect 3-0 record entering their Saturday afternoon four-ball match against Woods and Davis Love III. They appeared well on their way to adding a fourth victory until Sergio missed a short birdie putt on the par-five 17th. Minutes later. with the match all square, both Europeans faltered on the green at the final hole. Woods and Love walked away with an unlikely 1-up win. An enraged Sergio kicked his bag in disgust.
On Sunday, Sergio lost another lead down the stretch. Two-up after nine holes against Toms, he made a questionable choice on the 10th tee box, deciding to drive the green on the short par-four. The strategy backfired when his shot hung up in the rough. Toms took the hole with a birdie. The American pressed Sergio the rest of the way and drew even by the 18th. After Toms hit a perfect drive, Sergio plunked his tee ball into the water. That was the match, as Toms parred out for a 1-up victory.
Of course, the Europeans still managed to capture the haardware, thanks to shocking performances from the likes of Ryder Cup rookies Phillip Price and Niclas Fasth. When Irelands Paul McGinley sunk an eight-footer to halve his match with Furyk, Europe squelched a dramatic late rush by the U.S. squad and avenged the bitter 1999 defeat.
Overcome by emotion, Sergio sprinted down the 18th fairway to embrace Pierre Fulke, who was locked in a tense match with Love. The scene caused such a commotion that the combatants agreed to halve their match. Love was clearly upset by the display, making him one of several Americans who felt Sergios histrionics on the course throughout the weekend were over the top.
That kind of criticism hardly affected Sergio. He did, however, recognize the need to find discipline where he once used only daring. Early in the 2003 season, Sergio displayed greater ability to think his way around the course—though his results didn't necessarily reflect it. Through the first three months of the year, he missed three cuts, including the Players Championship, and finished tied for 28th at the Masters.
Sergio scaled back his PGA appearances after Augusta. When he did play, he was never able to get into a groove. In his next three three tournaments—the Byron Nelson, Colonial and Memorial—he failed to make it to the weekend. His best showing came in the Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club, where three rounds in the 60s brought in him at 10-under, good for a tie for fourth.
A month later, Sergio put himself in position for a Sunday run at the British Open, but stalled down the stretch. Unable to summon any consistency, he limped home with a final-round 74, and then watched in shock with the rest of the golf world as unheralded Ben Curtis took the championship. Sergio entered three more tour events and demonstrated the tale-tell signs of mental fatigue. His final stats—seven missed cuts in 17 tries and total earnings of $570,641—fell far below expectations.
Sergio's struggles in '03 were due mostly to swing changes he began implementing over the previous winter, the same type of overhaul Woods went through early in his career. Most observers believed that Sergio would be a better player once he got comfortable with his new mechanics.
In fact, he showed signs of improvementwhen he beat Goosen with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a playoff to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge. The victory—the Spainard's first since the 2002 Korean Open—broke a long drought.
That victory made Sergio the man to watch at the U.S. Open. Alas, he had a lackluster showing, tying for 20th. Sergio won one more tournament in 2004, this one on his home turf, the Mallorca Classic. He was also a member of the victorious European Ryder Cup team, which defended its title at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan.
In May of 2005, Sergio looked like a lock to win the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, NC. He held a commanding six-shot lead after three rounds and shot a 72 on the final day. But Vijay Singh and Furyk ran him down with 66s, and Sergio fell in the ensuing playoff. It was one of the worst "collapses" on record.
Sergio managed to earn one PGA vicotry in '05, the Booz Allen Classic. He shot a nifty 65 on the final day to capture the tournament preceding the U.S. Open for the second year in a row. And for the second year, he fell short at the second major of the season. Sergio played well but finished in a third-place tie behind Mike Campbell.
Sergio came up empty in 2006, failing to win a single event. That got some to begin questioning his reputation as one of the game's elite players. Despite finishing in the Top 5 at the British Open and Players Championship— and again helping the Europeans to victory in the Ryder Cup—Sergio seemed unable to summon the clutch shot when he needed it most. Putting was his biggest problem. He often rolled the ball well on Thursday and Friday and then lost his touch on the weekend.
A PGA victory eluded Sergio again in 2007, as his frustration grew. He did have a marvelous opportunity at the British Open, enjoying a four-shot lead early in the final round. But he let his lead slip away with three bogeys on the front nine. Sergio then had a chance to win on 18, but he hit his approach into the bunker. A putt for par and his first major championship just missed the cup. Padraig Harrington was the benficiary, and the two paired off in a four-hole playoff. Harrington won by a stroke. It was a nice finish for Sergio but bittersweet considering where he had stood a few hours earlier.
Sergio did not fare as well in aany of the other majors. He missed the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open and was disqualified after the third round of the PGA Championship when he signed an incorrect scorecard.
With the pressure building, Sergio ended his PGA victory drought with an impressive showing at the 2008 Players Championship. The tournament was open for the taking after Woods dropped out due to knee surgery. Sergio opened with a 66, but then shot a pair of 73s to bring the field back to him. On Sunday, battling tricky winds all day long, he continued to pound fairways and hit greens in regulation. But it was his putter that made the difference in the final round. Sergio sunk a 45-footer on 14 for birdie and made he sunk a crucial 7-footer on 18 for par. Minutes later, Paul Goydos missed a par putt on the final hole to win.
In their sudden-death playoff, Sergio struck a wedge perfectly on 17 to within four feet. Goydos followed by plunking one in the water. Sergio had his first win in three years—in an event that carried all the stress and strain of a major.
As he accepted the Players trophy, Sergio thanked Woods ... for not playing in the tournament. The crowd got a good laugh.
The time when Sergio might have become a foil for Tiger has passed. He may not even qualify as the "Next Ballesteros" anymore. Still, it seems the best is yet to come for Sergio. He possesses the intangible of overcoming obstacles (no matter how many years after he encounters them), and money woes will never distract him from his development.
Sergio’s maturity may be the final piece in the puzzle. He was fun as "El Nino." He could be awesome as "El Senior."
SERGIO THE PLAYER
The dark side of Sergio’s game is that he can still lose it in the blink of an eye. His swing, which is often compared to Ben Hogan’s, is not one a pro would teach to a new student. It incorporates a lot of movement, particularly on the downswing, where he drops his hands to get to the ball. Sergio can pull off his swing because he’s so wiry and agile.
Sergio is one of the best drivers in the world. He normally works the ball from right to left with amazing control. Even on tight courses, he isn’t afraid to hit woods off the tee. This is partly why his performance in majors, where fairways are skinnier and the rough unforgiving, can run so hot and cold. The areas he needs to work on are his iron play and putting.
Sergio is an emotional athlete. He has, however, learned to channel his anger, his excitement, and his adrenaline in positive ways, and obviously he adores the pressure of the big stage. Sergio’s temper is his Achilles heel, but he is learning to downshift when it begins to affect his game. He’ll never be a robotic golfer, though, for in the end it is emotion that fuels his game.
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