Two years ago, Sergio Garcia spent Ryder Cup week riding in a golf cart, his ear pressed to a walkie-talkie as he received updates from around the course. The juxtaposition was profound, a proven winner in the competition seemingly in the prime of his career, yet choosing a role traditionally left to players whose best years are behind them.
It leads to one simple question which doesn’t have a simple answer: Why?
Sure, the literal explanation is easy. Garcia wasn’t playing well and didn’t make the European team. This much we know from the numbers and statistics that tell the story of his decline during that time.
But really, why? Why would a 30-year-old decide to watch his peers up close when he couldn’t join them? Why would a man with five Ryder Cup appearances and a 14-6-4 record elect to feel the pain of exclusion for an entire week?
To understand the answer to these questions, we must understand Garcia, which is often an unwieldy task. He has been an enigma for much of his career, bright-eyed and engaging at times, disillusioned and petulant at others.
On this topic, though, there are no blurred lines. Garcia loves this competition, thrives on it, feels it in his blood and in his bones. Failing to be a part of it was never an option. When he didn’t make the team, he found another way.
“It was hard, because I wasn’t able to hit any shots,” he recalls. “But it was fine. I enjoyed it, too. You know, it was a different role. I just tried to help the players as much as I could, so it was good fun. I think it was harder than playing it, though.”
We would have to peruse through the annals of Ryder Cup history to deduce whether Sergio Garcia was the youngest assistant captain ever. We would need to poll every candidate to figure out if he was the most disgruntled person to hold this position.
This much is sure, though: He was easily the most perplexing assistant to ever play that part.
Call it motivational, call it cathartic or call it just downright peculiar, but therein lies our answer to why he felt compelled to be present at Celtic Manor.
Sergio Garcia needs the Ryder Cup way more than the Ryder Cup needs him.
The two will be reunited this week, as Garcia makes his triumphant comeback to the European side after earning his way onto the roster once again. He returns a different man than the one left brooding in celebration two years ago, the piece to a team puzzle that never really fit.
Playing elite-level golf once again, Garcia finds himself fitting that puzzle perfectly now, helping to create an image that includes him with a more important role this time around that riding in a cart while holding a walkie-talkie.
“The Ryder Cup is huge, and to me, even more so,” he explains. “I’m very excited and I’m just hoping to feel good there and help my team as much as possible.”
It’s not only Garcia who is excited for this return. Much like his countryman Seve Ballesteros once did, Garcia lives for this competition – and his teammates understand the value of welcoming him back inside the ropes.
“I think it’s great,” says Luke Donald, who owns a 4-0-0 record when paired with Garcia. “Sergio is kind of synonymous with the Ryder Cup. He gets very excited, he has a lot of passion, he has a lot of energy. He brings a lot of energy to the team room, and I’m looking forward to having his energy there again.”
As if Garcia needed more inspiration, he owns a very personal relationship with Medinah Country Club.
Six years ago, he finished in a share of third place at the PGA Championship on this very site. It was the 1999 edition of that event, though, for which he will always be remembered.
Seemingly stymied behind a tree on the right side of the par-4 16th hole, the 19-year-old Garcia took a mighty lash at the ball, then enthusiastically chased it down the fairway, mounting a memorable scissor-kick in the process. Upon realizing the ball had safely come to rest, he patted his heart in exaggerated relief, the world breathing a heavy sigh of relief with him.
“I have great memories from there,” he says. “I’ve played twice, and I’ve done well both times. So yeah, I’m excited about it.”
That tree no longer exists, felled years ago by the club. It could have served symbolically for him two years ago, when he was forced to watch the Ryder Cup from the sidelines. This time, though, he can keep patting his heart. Sergio Garcia is back in the Ryder Cup, in the heat of the moment. Right where he belongs.