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Sporting Life

Restoration for the athlete of lost chances

In the dark silence of a Delhi night, Sergio Garcia played on my television. In truth, he adventured on it. He led the Masters, lost the Masters, won the Masters. All in an Augusta day. He fought his past and grappled with an Englishman whose elegance as a man equalled his efficiency as a golfer. If you believe in all that quaint sporting stuff about romance and redemption, then here it was.

For the first three days of the Masters I was with my parents in a small Indian town in a home with hesitant wifi and no "live" feed. My brothers were there and all three of us, in our 50s, checked our phones and searched for one man.

Sergio.

The Sergio who once spat in a cup. The Sergio who could be immature, brash, pouty. The Sergio whose incessant re-gripping was more terrifying than Novak Djokovic's pre-serve ball bouncing. 

So why Sergio?


Sergio Garcia of Spain embraces fiancee Angela Akins after defeating Justin Rose to win his first Major. Akins, who will marry Garcia in July, left him a series of inspirational Post-It notes during the tournament.

Fate kept body-checking him and his nerves kept tripping him. Four second places at Majors, two third places, two fourth places, four fifth places. Golf was teasing him.

Maybe because Sergio comes from Seve country and an Olazabal nation. Land of great golfing men. Maybe because Sergio could turn the Ryder Cup into a duel with graphite swords and make Europe actually seem like one nation.

Maybe it was just that Sergio, 37, was talent unfulfilled and in middle age especially we understand this clearly. Maybe by now we appreciate the truth of dying dreams and the leak of time. Maybe, even as we accept that unfairness lies at the dramatic centre of sport, he had had enough of it.

Maybe we grow up believing that talent must prevail and that hard work triumphs - all the things we tell our kids - and yet it never seemed to with Sergio. Fate kept body-checking him and his nerves kept tripping him. Four second places at Majors, two third places, two fourth places, four fifth places. Golf was teasing him.

Enough, I thought. Enough, I reasoned as he let his three-shot lead slip. Enough, I wanted to shout, as his putt skidded past the hole on the 18th when victory beckoned.

  • GARCIA'S BREAKTHROUGH IN NUMBERS

  • 9

    Masters appearances Sergio García needed to get his first win - the most in history.

    12

    Top-five Major finishes in García's career before Sunday's win, his first Major victory.

    1 of 2

    Garcia's career record in Major play-offs. He lost the 2007 British Open to Padraig Harrington.

I was in Delhi for the final round and my host had downloaded the Masters app and streamed the "live" broadcast through Apple TV onto his TV. Then he gave me the keys to his bar, went to sleep and left me with a friend of his.

We barely knew each other but a kinship was built ,for you know who he was cheering for?

Sergio.

On rare days the sportswriter is allowed to go on holiday and this was one of those nights. No notebook, no objectivity. Just sinking into the spectacle. Just attaching yourself to a player and riding his errant drive into the woods at the 13th and feeling the pain of his missed birdie putt at the 16th and marvelling at his eight iron borrowed from a geometry set at the 18th.

Just relishing the unforgettable gift of sport which is to be a witness when a man's time comes. When an athlete of lost chances takes his. When he becomes whole and in a way restored. No Sergio words, no Garcia gesture, could convey the enormity of this emotion. 

Justin Rose made Sergio sweat, tapped the Spaniard's leg after a grand putt, gave him a thumbs up, hugged him and later tweeted "sport in the moment can be tough. But it's just sport". The Englishman gave us gallantry, the Spaniard something as valuable.

He told us a boy can hit a fabulous shot around an oak tree at the 1999 PGA Championship and sprint after it, but that only in 2017, wearing a greying stubble, will he finally catch greatness. As evening fell in Augusta and a champion rose, far more beautiful than the Green Jacket he wore was his brilliant coating of resilience.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2017, with the headline 'Restoration for the athlete of lost chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe