LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Golf’s most tortured soul has endured enough torment lately to send him screaming to the asylum. Runner-up finishes in each of his last three PGA Tour starts should have him scratching at the padded walls, muttering uncontrollably about what could have been.
Instead, he smiles and says this: “I try to always look at the positive side.”
If anyone has seen The Golfer Formerly Known as Sergio Garcia, please return him to the nearest major championship immediately.
On second thought, forget it. We like this guy better.
This can’t be the same Sergio who has spent the majority of his professional career whining about bad breaks and making excuses for himself.
It can’t be the same Sergio who once flipped a middle finger to fans at Bethpage Black for heckling his impulsive waggles. Or the one who once spit into the cup after missing a putt. Or the one who once blamed the imperious golf gods for not winning a major.
And yet, here he is on the eve of the PGA Championship, fresh off a few heartbreaking losses, drinking from a glass half-full while admiring the silver linings.
“Finishing second is not the greatest, but only the guy that loses is the one that has a chance of winning,” he explains. “I'd rather finish second and lose than be 50th and not have a chance.”
Sergio sounds like the byproduct of a Deepak Chopra-Bob Rotella revival, but maintains about any mental guruism, “I've never really believed in it.”
He does believe in his personal contentment. When he’s happy, he’s confident; when he’s confident, he plays better; when he plays better, he’s happy.
These days, his world keeps spinning ’round and ’round.
Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than the transformation in his disposition is the general reaction to his image.
Just over a year ago, Garcia was Public Enemy No. 1 following racially-tinged comments about Tiger Woods and a fried chicken dinner. Without much of an emphasis on public relations – he never sat down on Dr. Phil’s couch for a good cry or whatever it is that apologetic celebrities do these days – his reputation has been restored to beyond its previous default setting.
Instead of the intolerant malcontent, he’s swiftly become viewed as a lovable loser; instead of drawing ire, he’s drawing sympathy.
All with good reason, of course. Just last week, he pulled a tee shot into the left gallery on the third hole at Firestone during the final round. His ball knocked the diamond out of a woman’s engagement ring, and a search ensued in the rough.
The old Sergio might have blamed her for getting in the way of his tee shot, maybe even used the time spent looking for the diamond as an excuse for why he didn't win.
This guy, though, this new and improved version of the man, asked for her phone number and promised to purchase a new diamond if it wasn’t found. You could almost feel the collective support shift in his favor.
The reality is that Garcia has plenty to be curmudgeonly about. The first half of his career was shrouded in the Tiger Woods Era, the game’s biggest star piling up major trophies while its biggest enigma underwent various metamorphoses of maturity. The second half of his career appears set to be ensconced in the Rory McIlroy Era, of which Garcia has already gotten a strong whiff, finishing second to him at each of his last two events.
And yet, he appears comfortable in the knowledge that there remain situations beyond his control. The middle fingers and spitting and whining have been replaced by thoughtful contemplation.
“So many things happen in your life and happen in golf where you feel maybe that you should have gotten something better, so why look at it that way?” he says. “Just try to enjoy the good moments as much as possible.”
As it turns out, time is a hell of an antidote to immaturity. Sergio has realized this already and now the rest of us are starting to realize it about him.
Golf’s most tortured soul is grinning and laughing and nonchalantly whistling a happy tune.
“I just want to play as well as I can,” he says with yet another smile. “The future will tell me where I should end up.”