At ease with mistakes, Garcia fulfils his talent

Last year's Masters champion Danny Willett helping Sergio Garcia put on the green jacket after the Spaniard's play-off win at Augusta.
Last year's Masters champion Danny Willett helping Sergio Garcia put on the green jacket after the Spaniard's play-off win at Augusta.PHOTO: REUTERS

AUGUSTA (Georgia) • It was, he insisted, a different Sergio Garcia who walked up to find his ball nestled under a bush on the 13th in what seemed to be the latest crushing blow to his hopes of ever winning a Major.

This version was not wailing at the injustices of golf, or cursing his caddie, or feuding with American fans, or thinking how much he hated Augusta National and how it was unfair.

This was an unusually serene Garcia, at ease with his Masters fate, accepting his error in trying to shave off a few yards. So the truth of how he finally pulled off a famous, thrilling major victory after 18 years of trying, and at the 74th attempt, and just when he seemed to have blown it yet again? He first had to embrace a comfort with defeat.

"You know, in the past, I would have started going at my caddie, and oh, you know, 'Why doesn't it go through?' and whatever," he explained.

"But I was like, 'Well, if that's what is supposed to happen, let it happen. Let's try to make a great go here and see if I can put a hell of a finish to have a chance. And, if not, I'll shake Justin's hand and congratulate him for winning.'"

Through all the trials and self-inflicted torments, such equanimity and taking of responsibility has not come easy to the Spaniard.

GOING WITH THE FLOW

I've been thinking a little bit different... And kind of accepting, too, if it for whatever reason didn't happen, my life is still going to go on. It's not a disaster.

SERGIO GARCIA, who had previously missed out narrowly at numerous Majors, on his new-found calmness.

However, after a play-off victory over Justin Rose that became matchplay golf at its most compelling, Garcia explained the necessity of getting himself in the right mental state on a course that has often felt like a fiendishly impossible puzzle.

After finally rolling in the 12-foot birdie putt on the first play-off hole, he reflected on all those silly tantrums.

"How stupid I really was trying to fight against something that you can't fight," he smiled.

What made him most proud was not his recovery from that bush on the 13th, or his spectacular eight-iron on the 15th, which kissed the flag to set up an eagle, or his final, glorious birdie, but his strength of character, learning to control his emotions even amid the fluctuating fortunes of an epic Sunday duel.

How did he find this winning state of mind? Surprisingly composed as he sat in the media centre in his new green jacket, he talked of the help he had received. From a sports psychologist? Garcia has always dismissed them in the past, saying that he prefers to take his lessons from trial and error - and, boy, has he had a lot of lessons - and from those close such as his father, who stood behind the 18th green, and most recently his fiancee.

They became engaged three months ago and, as a former college golfer turned broadcaster, Angela Akins knows the game. If this is a much more contented Garcia, she is said to deserve most of the credit.

She brought their dog, Bear, to Augusta and put "a lot of cute and beautiful notes" on their bathroom mirror every morning, motivational messages from Katharine Hepburn to Buddha though perhaps the most telling turned out to be one of her own: "Don't forget to be amazing today."

Garcia said: "Lately, you know, I've been getting some good help and I've been thinking a little bit different, a little bit more positive. And kind of accepting, too, that if it for whatever reason didn't happen, my life is still going to go on. It's not a disaster."

There was also his break from the game in 2010 when he ruled himself out of the Ryder Cup, his putting demons chasing him out of golf for a short while.

He returned refreshed, with a different grip and a better mindset. He still put himself through that wobble the first time up the 18th on Sunday, missing a five-foot putt to avoid a play-off. But just when you thought that he would crack like so many times before, cursing the world, he returned to seize the day.

How the gallery, even the Americans, admired his perseverance.

When Rose embraced Garcia after the winning putt, the gracious Englishman told him: "No one deserves this more than you." And he meant it.

Garcia is finally free of the tag of best player never to win a Major.

At 37, there is no reason why he could not win another and he talked excitedly of more to come. But if he doesn't add to this career-defining triumph?

"I don't know if I'll be the best player to have only won one Major," he smiled. "But I can live with that."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'At ease with mistakes, Garcia fulfils his talent'. Print Edition | Subscribe