Sergio Getting Conservative and Thats Scary


They say you dont really become a golfer until you stay away from what can hurt you, as well as run towards that which can help you. With all due apologies to Arnold Palmer, of course, who is still going for it at the rather advanced age of 71, thats the ticket for a long and fruitful career.
Well, the jury is still pretty far out, but maybe ' just maybe ' Sergio Garcia is getting this through his noggin at the tender age of 21. Thats 50 years younger than Palmer. Of course, Arnie still hasnt conceded that sometimes less is more ' sometimes you win at sundown by being prudent when the sun is up. In other words, sometimes its best to be, ahem, conservative.
Master Sergio seems to be learning that characteristic, even though he should be finishing up his college years instead of winding up his second year as a professional. Tiger Woods was just getting through his first year as a pro when he was 21. Thats a risky game to play, admittedly. Tiger has progressed by light years in the ensuing four seasons. We dont know how well Sergio can progress in the next four years, but it is hardly fair to believe he can make up ground like Tiger can. No one else in history has.
But Sergio is on the right track. On the course, he may still do stupid things. He may get mad at a referee in Australia and make some totally asinine comments. When he was younger, just 19, he did this little shoe-kicking thing that got him in hot water in Britain. But on the course, he is showing signs of maturity, and that doesnt bode well for the gents who play the PGA Tour.
He just won his first tournament here in the States, and it was a doozy. The MasterCard Colonial didnt have Woods, but it had just about everyone else. It had Phil Mickelson, the worlds second-ranked player, and Mickelson was ahead by three shots in the last round.
Garcia had missed the cut in a couple of stateside outings, the Masters and Hilton Head, and he went back to his home in Spain to do a little thinking. He hung out a little with friends, he played the Spanish Open, and then he came back to play the Byron Nelson.
You had the feeling something was about to happen in the Nelson, where he went 63 and 64 the last two rounds. It did ' at the Colonial, where he had a 64 and 65, caught Mickelson, and in the process won by two strokes.
He has been listening a lot to 36-year-old Jesper Parnevik, himself a pretty free spirit in days past. And Garcia mentioned his friendship with Peter Jacobsen, who is now an ancient geezer 47 years old. Those two older gentlemen must have had for him some pretty good advice. And Master Sergio, bright kid that he seems to be, must have taken it.
In the final round, third hole, hes behind by five shots. Hes got 165 to the pin. A young man would hit whatever would get him to the hole. A wise old bird might think differently. Listen to Garcia:
Im between 9-iron and wedge. I cant hit 9-iron because its going to be too difficult from this rough to get it up-and-down. So I was just trying to play conservatively, knowing that I was putting well. If I didnt hit it well, if I didnt hit it to eight or 10 feet, if I hit it to 20 or 25 feet, I was still going to be able to make the putt.
I did that, hit the wedge to 25 feet ' and then I made the putt.
And, theres more.
I did the same thing on 8 ' I was between a 5 and 6, and the right club to hit was probably a 5. But I was putting the back so much in play that I decided to hit it 15-to-20 feet short and try to make the putt. I did.
On 10, he didnt feel confident on the drive. A year ago, he would have tried to gas it anyway and probably hit it in the rough. This time, he purposely aimed a little further left where he had more room. On 12, he lacked a little confidence again and hit it further right. On 13, he watched carefully while Glen Day hit his putt, then Sergio played just a hair more break. It went in for birdie.
By the time it was over, they tallied up his strokes and he was two better than Mickelson. He picked his times to be aggressive ' and the times to lay back. And he made plenty of birdies when he was laying back.
I played really well, but I played smart, too, he said. Thats what you learn when youre around here.
Sergio raised a few eyebrows with his play the last day. Hes learning this game, indeed. Tiger would be proud. So would Parnevik and Jacobsen. Arnie would have been proud of the results. The kid ' kid? ' had won.