By Lewine Mair
Golf fans the world over could not have been happier when Sergio Garcia won his first major. It was a dream come true for the Spaniard who is one of the game’s most engaging and likeable stars.
On the day Sergio Garcia won the Masters, the TV people were recalling how he had shown his fiancée, Angela Akins, round the new media centre at the start of the week. Apparently, this former Golf Channel reporter had been every bit as wide-eyed as the player himself when, back in 1999, he had asked if I would take him inside the previous writers’ lair.
That was Sergio’s first trip to the Masters and he had earned his place by dint of winning the previous year’s Amateur championship at Muirfield. He could not believe the hundreds and hundreds of tiered seats looking down towards the giant scoreboard. There were journalists who were busy chatting, others who were concentrating on meeting deadlines. Sergio could sense that the latter were under pressure. “It’s like an examination hall,” he said, feigning a shudder.
That’s the thing with Sergio. He’s interested in so much more than his own golf and always has been.
When Justin Rose, winner of the 2013 US Open, lost out to Sergio at this year’s Masters, he could not have spoken more sportingly of an old rival alongside whom he had been playing majors since 1998 at Royal Birkdale.
“Lots of good things happened today,” said Rose. “It was a wonderful battle and if there is anyone you want to lose to it’s Sergio. He deserves his win, he’s had his fair share of heartache.”
Rose would not have been referring purely to the many majors in which Sergio had missed out by the proverbial whisker. Almost certainly, he would have been picturing those agonising years when the Spaniard had an affliction related to the putting yips. To explain, he struggled to take the club back and there were spells when he would grip and re-grip the club as many as 25 times before he was able to get started.
Most players would turn away in embarrassed silence. Nick Price, the former PGA champion, dared to say, “It’s got to stop. If he’s like this now, what on earth’s he going to be like when he’s 35?”
(To which not too many would have answered that he would be shaping to win his first major.)
Yet there was one player - namely Colin Montgomerie - who did at least something to diffuse the situation by bringing a touch of humour to bear.
The two were having a practice round together at the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black when Garcia’s ball fell from the tee at a time when he had already clocked 16 or more grips and re-grips.
“Heavens,” cried Monty, “We’re not going to have to go through all that again, are we?”
Sergio responded with an equally humorous, “Yes, but it will be worth it.”
The renewed spate of gripping and re-gripping over, he smacked his ball down the fairway - and grinned. It was totally disarming.
That Garcia could take such ribbing on so sensitive a subject was all down to Victor. All along, Victor, who knows his son’s game inside-out, had refused to allow him to think that they were in the midst of a crisis. He said that the best way of dealing with the situation was to try for one fewer grip and re-grip at a time and little by little, Sergio brought things under control.
For years, Victor was a familiar sight at all the bigger events, walking around with his familiar prop, an old five-iron.
However, there came a stretch when he went missing. As it turned out, Sergio had turned the tables on him, encouraging him to play the competitive golf on which he had missed out in his younger days. The Senior Tour was the place for Victor and, with so many of his old Spanish amigos in the fields, he was in seventh heaven.
“He doesn’t have to win,” laughed Sergio, who was paying all the bills. “I just want him to enjoy himself.”
There was another example of Sergio’s devotion to family when, at one of his early Ryder Cups, he chose his sister, Mar, to accompany him to the opening ceremony. She looked a million dollars for the occasion and Sergio could not have been more proud.
Carlos Rodriguez, Sergio’s manager, suggests that no-one knows too much about “the other side of Sergio”.
Aside from keeping up with old school friends and family when he is back in Spain, he has always taken a genuine interest in his foundation. Teaching golf to disabled children is a big part of it and, at one point, he flew in Peter Longo, an American golf professional who specialises in coaching the disabled, to pass on his knowledge to 270 Spanish teaching professionals.
It goes without saying that youngsters revel in those occasions when Sergio attends the special classes.
“If,” said Rodriguez, “there is a shy child who does not want to join in, Sergio will go to great lengths to talk him round. He’s absolutely brilliant with kids.”
All of which, of course, is the best of news for Akins, whom he will marry this summer.
It was Akins who, on the day he won the Masters, left a note in Sergio’s locker saying, “Don’t forget to be amazing today.”
The above is an extract from the latest issue of Women & Golf magazine, on sale now. Never miss an issue click here to subscribe and enjoy W&G delivered to your door.