AKRON, Ohio – Sergio Garcia was standing on the 16th tee when the horn blew Saturday afternoon, signaling a weather delay at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. As he shuffled off the course, longtime flame Katharina Boehm sidled up close, joining him underneath a navy blue and white umbrella.
While they walked, she placed her left hand on his back. The television camera lens couldn’t help but focus on the unmistakable diamond ring on her fourth finger.
Jump to your own conclusions, if you’d like.
Asked about it earlier in the week, Garcia didn’t exactly deny any change in their relationship status.
“No, there's really nothing that I want or should talk about it,” he said. “I think that's between Katy and myself. If we get married or something, I'm sure everybody will find out. So it wouldn't be a problem.”
We can respect that request for privacy, but likewise jump to this conclusion, too: More than any other elite golfer in the world, Sergio Garcia’s success has always been dependent on his personal happiness. Which means he must be ecstatic right now, two weeks removed from a runner-up finish at Hoylake and holding a three-stroke lead here at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational entering the final round.
Thanks to a 3-under 67, Garcia propelled himself into the driver’s seat in hopes of his first PGA Tour title in nearly two full years.
Afterward, he was all smiles.
“I'm thrilled to be as comfortable and as happy as I am now,” he explained. “The last three years have been very good. I felt like once I recovered from my little fall down or whatever, it's been nice. I've always said that I couldn't be luckier to have such an amazing family around me. They're always behind me.”
The “little fall down” that he referenced was a two-month sabbatical in 2010, a period during which he reassessed his priorities and later admitted thinking about giving up the game altogether.
Instead, he gradually returned hungrier and, yes, happier.
It’s important to note that while most players’ happiness is based on success inside the ropes, Garcia has always viewed his career through an opposite prism.
That isn’t just a generality, either. He can point to specific parts of his game which are positively affected by a peaceful mindset.
“It's easier to manage your emotions a little bit better,” he said. “It's easier to take mistakes in a better way. That probably comes down to saving shots at the end of the day, not letting mistakes affect you as much. If you make them, just kind of deal with them and move on.”
Not that he’s had to deal with many mistakes this week.
Garcia has compiled 16 birdies against just two bogeys at Firestone, a course which hasn’t been very friendly to him in recent years.
But that may underscore the main theme of his performance. This isn’t the same Sergio who considered quitting the game or shook his angry fist at the golf gods. He’s content with himself, content with his life and, as a happy byproduct, content with his golf game.
“I have a great group not only with my girlfriend, but with my managing team and everybody and my sponsors,” he said. “We've gone through bad times, tough times, but they've always made me feel really, really good.”
Other players have noticed a difference in his demeanor, too.
Rory McIlroy, a friend and Ryder Cup teammate and fellow contender this week, will share the last pairing of the final round with Garcia. He knows a thing or two about competing under emotional distress and understands how his Sunday playing partner has altered his perspective.
“I think a big thing with Sergio is you all know that emotionally he's in a really good place,” McIlroy said. “I think that's really helping him on the golf course. He's in a good place in his life right now and I'm really happy to see that. That's really coming out in the way he's playing and his whole demeanor. It's good to see.”
Explained Garcia: “He knows what I went through. I know what he went through. And I would say we're both feeling quite good about ourselves at the moment. We both feel quite comfortable where we are and quite happy.”
You haven’t needed to listen to his words lately to understand that. That happiness has been written all over his face lately, his buoyant smile flashing brighter than it has in years.
As he walked off the course for that weather delay Saturday, it may have been written all over his back, too – the secret to his happiness the focus of the television camera lens. He didn’t want to address that matter, but he still did so with a smile.