Garcia receives hero's welcome at The Players

By Ryan LavnerMay 10, 2017, 7:23 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Heckled for much of his PGA Tour career, Sergio Garcia received a hero’s welcome Wednesday at The Players.

During a nine-hole practice round, he soaked in the endless adulation of the fans, acknowledging each and every cheer of “Sergio!” and “Congratulations on the Masters!” with a smile or a wave. The rope line between the 17th green and 18th tee was jammed with kids, and Garcia patted their heads and grabbed their hands and tenderly touched their faces.

Everyone loves a winner.

Garcia is returning to work 31 days after his life changed in unimaginable ways. No longer is he the best player without a major. No longer is he the petulant brat who waits for the worst. No, he’s now the proud owner of the green jacket; a competitor whose résumé now includes a major among his 31 career titles; and a man who is proud of his career-long perseverance and yet humbled by the outpouring of support from his peers.

“They were so pleased for me,” Garcia said. “It almost feels like they wanted me to win it more than I did.”

Sure, there have been some incredible, pinch-me moments over the past few weeks, none better than when he was part of the ceremonial kickoff for El Clasico, the Spanish League match between his beloved Real Madrid and Barcelona, where 90,000 delirious soccer fans chanted his name. But the part that touched him most was when he realized how popular his victory seemed to be, both around the world and inside the locker room.   

Garcia’s reputation among his peers has always been at odds with how the general sports fan viewed him, their perception perhaps tainted by scenes of the Spaniard spitting into the cup or whining about Tiger Woods or blaming the golf gods. Here at TPC Sawgrass, where Garcia has a win (2008) and four other top-5s, the treatment toward him has been particularly brutal, with spectators coughing in his downswing and delighting in his occasional misery. Indeed, for as much credit as his sublime ball-striking deserves, his best quality has always been his resilience – his willingness to put himself in position to get his heart broken once again.


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“The only thing I could do,” he said, “was wait for the right time to get it done.”

That moment came Sunday at the Masters, of course, when he birdied 14, eagled 15 and made birdie on the first playoff hole to put away Justin Rose and complete the best kind of sports story, one of redemption. Overwhelmed, Garcia unleashed a primal scream and punched the green with his fist and blew kisses to the crowd.

Back at his rental house in Augusta, McIlroy, one of Garcia’s closest friends, was moved to tears.

Watching the winning putt, fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm had goosebumps.

“To see the emotion and satisfaction of getting it done,” Rahm said, “you could see it on his face. When I watched it, I could sense it: Finally, the wait is over.”

Jordan Spieth was one of hundreds of players to reach out to Garcia via text. His message read: Welcome to the Masters club. We’re proud to have a great champion in our locker room.

No, he couldn’t relate to Garcia’s 0-for-73 start in the majors, to his years of torment. (After all, he had won in his ninth Grand Slam appearance.) But he could imagine the relief Garcia must have felt.

“That’s got to be one heck of a feeling,” Spieth said. “To go through that, the chip on his shoulder for so many years … he’s got to walk around with a smile on his face for the next couple of years, just like, I told you so.” 

Spieth has seen firsthand the abuse that Garcia has absorbed over the years – the jeers at the Ryder Cups in the States, the jabs at the majors.

“There’s a lot of haters that were put down with that win,” Spieth said. “That’s not why we do what we do, but it’s kind of nice to have that, I’m sure, from his perspective.”

Garcia has little interest in revisiting those uncomfortable moments, mostly because he’s moved on, because it doesn’t matter now. His on-course attitude, how he responds to adversity, continues to improve – a shift that can largely be attributed to his fiancée, Angela Akins, whom Garcia is set to marry in July.

For years, Garcia was a sports psychologist’s dream, a megastar who would sulk and blame others for his misfortune. Now, he seems completely at ease, as if a 73-pound weight has been lifted. All throughout the round Wednesday, he posed for selfies and laughed and smiled easily. He clearly was relishing his first week as a fan favorite.

“You see his happiness level is through the roof,” Rahm said. “He’s accomplished a lifelong dream, and it’s something you can’t copy or imagine. You have to see it and experience it yourself. To see it in him, it’s a game-changer for his life.” 

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.