Golf: Garcia finds love on the greens again after engagement

Fans will be relishing Sergio Garcia's gung-ho approach to golf when he tees off for the first time at the Singapore Open.
Fans will be relishing Sergio Garcia's gung-ho approach to golf when he tees off for the first time at the Singapore Open.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Gone is the surly and sullen Spaniard of yesteryear, replaced by the carefree and chirpy Sergio Garcia that arrived in Singapore full of optimism for the season ahead.

Much of it had to do with his recent engagement to girlfriend and former Golf Channel reporter Angela Akins. And also, at turning 37 last Monday, the world No. 15 has found love on the greens again.

Golf, he told The Straits Times yesterday, had "broken my heart many times" but a 30-plus year love affair with the game is not so easily tossed aside.

He added: "I definitely appreciate it more now than in the past. As you get older, you realise how important and big the game is, not just for myself but for others."

Since his famous duel with Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship - Garcia finished second and memorably hit a shot with his eyes closed with his ball next to a tree on the 16th fairway - he has been one of golf's biggest draws, as well as a highly polarising figure.

He has won 29 times worldwide, earned more than US$43 million (S$61 million) in prize money and reached a career high of world No. 2 in 2008.

  • Background Story

  • WHEN

    Tomorrow to Sunday.

    WHERE

    Sentosa Golf Club, Serapong Course.

    PRIZE MONEY

    US$1 million (S$1.4 million).

    WHO

    Headlined by world No. 7 and record three-time Open winner Adam Scott, Spanish star Sergio Garcia, four-time Major winner Ernie Els and other top golfers.

    ENTRY

    Thursday, Friday: $20;

    Weekend: $30; Season pass: $60

    Kids: $5 (age 5-12), Free (Below 5)

    Tickets available at apactix.com

Yet, criticism of the Spaniard's ability remains, mostly owing to his lack of a Major and the host of missed opportunities - he has 22 top-10 finishes at the Majors - particularly at the 2007 British Open and 2008 PGA Championship, when he led on the final day but lost both times to Ireland's Padraig Harrington.

Garcia also came under fire for racially insensitive remarks directed at Woods in 2013.

LOVE WORKS WONDERS

I'm still going to be a bit of a goof ball like I've always been but when your personal life is going well, it definitely helps. You feel more at ease with yourself, calmer, you don't have as many worries in your head.

SERGIO GARCIA , Spanish golfer, on how his recent engagement has changed his outlook on life.

Each episode was a learning experience, part of the "ups and downs" of growing up, Garcia, who started mimicking his father - a club professional - Victor's swing at the age of two with a broom or feather duster, said.

"I've learnt how to deal better with things on and off the course... I've never been the sort of person who looks at records, if I can break it perfect but it's never been my goal," he said.

His relationship with Akins - they started dating last year - has had a positive effect.

He said: "I don't think marriage will change me. I'm still going to be a bit of a goof ball like I've always been but when your personal life is going well, it definitely helps.

"You feel more at ease with yourself, calmer, you don't have as many worries in your head."

That focus was evident last season when he won the AT&T Byron Nelson tournament in May, ending a four-year drought on the PGA Tour. Garcia also finished tied-fifth at the US Open and British Open.

He has an enviable record in Asia, where he has won five times, and is keen to add to that tally when he makes his debut at the SMBC Singapore Open.

While Garcia's last visit to the Republic was for the 2002 Tiger Skins at Tanah Merah Country Club, he had seen Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong course on television and was unconcerned about tackling it on his first try.

He will play the 6,765m set-up today and said: "It's always exciting to come here, not only for us but also for Asian fans. They don't get to see us that often, so you always feel like there's a lot of good energy around. It makes for exciting times."

His brand of golf, he calls it "suerte o muerte" (luck-or-death), is a reflection of him.

"I like to go for shots. As everyone has seen in my career, especially the difficult one. If I feel comfortable, I don't mind trying to go for it," he said. "It's always fun. That's the way I've always played and it's the way I enjoy (golf) the most."

Unsurprisingly, he chuckled and smiled as he said this. A sunny Spaniard ready for whatever storm that lies ahead.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Garcia finds love on the greens again after engagement'. Print Edition | Subscribe