Hawk's Nest: Tribulation leads to triumph for Garcia


IT WAS ONE of last year’s most regrettable incidents, but in a backhanded way, maybe the fried-chicken fiasco has helped lead Sergio Garcia to the altar of manhood. Accountability was never one of Garcia’s strongest assets. His racially sensitive remarks regarding Tiger Woods, however, left Sergio with nowhere to hide. No flimsy excuse could repair the damage caused by his comments.

It’s one thing to whine about bad luck costing you a British Open. Tiger-induced crowd noise in your backswing? It’s hard to take such a charge seriously, but that particular gripe did expose the contempt for Woods that had boiled inside Garcia for years. His racial crack 10 days later was basically a manifestation of those same bitter feelings.

For all the noise that ensued, Sergio’s victory in Qatar this past weekend barely created a stir. It wasn’t the strongest field in European Tour history, but Garcia’s ability to get the job done in a three-hole playoff after shooting the day’s lowest round (65) suggests there are bigger things on the horizon.

Of course, Sergio’s horizon has always included a few dark clouds that weren’t in the forecast. Quietly, he has become one of the game’s most consistent performers, missing just three cuts in 51 PGA Tour starts since the beginning of 2011. There were six top-10s in 17 events here last year, all of them against fields ranging between good and excellent.

If you don’t win, however, you’re just a really good golfer making a whole lot of money. Call me a knucklehead, but Garcia will pick off a big W somewhere in the U.S. this year. All those failures later, I can still see him in a green jacket on a Sunday evening in April. A U.S. Open is not as ridiculous as it seems – the guy has a history of high finishes despite back-to-back missed cuts in 2006 and ’07.

Besides, the past doesn’t really matter anymore. Garcia is tougher simply by dealing with the calamity of last spring. And he clearly is happier with a steady girlfriend, Katharina Boehm, a German-born collegiate golfer (College of Charleston) willing to deal with the complexities that come with Sergio’s world.

Boehm caddied for Garcia late last year in Thailand, where he won, at which point she gave up the job. “I wanted to keep going, but she fired me,” Sergio quipped afterward. Smart girl. Working on that bag is harder than being a meteorologist in Ireland.

Having known the guy since 1999, I’m fully aware that Garcia is just a good, old-fashioned mama’s boy. His 2009 relationship with Greg Norman’s daughter, Morgan Leigh, ended abruptly, and the dude was a puddle for months. He just turned 34, so there’s plenty of time to revive his career. If you’ve got a bunch of skeletons in your closet, you just don’t open the door.

THE FIRE HYDRANT is in the rear-view mirror, so to speak, and Woods stands just four wins away from breaking Sam Snead’s all-time victory total (82). I find it rather strange that Tiger’s pursuit of this particular number hasn’t gotten more attention – his quest to pass Jack Nicklaus on the major-championship ladder seems to have obscured another landmark achievement.

Snead’s 82 wins were spread out over a 29-year stretch. Woods is a good bet to do it in about 18 years, and for those who gripe that Red Shirt stocked his trophy case by winning the same few events every year, the Slammer owned the Greater Greensboro Classic, which he won eight times.

The fact that Woods is very likely to pass Snead before his 40th birthday makes his possession of the record all the more remarkable. A majority of his starts over the years have come against premium fields, which further validates his dominance. Snead collected five victories in a season eight times, but he won just three money titles and one Player of the Year award.

He was robbed of the POY in 1950, when his 11 Ws were trumped by a gimpy-legged Ben Hogan, whose only victory that year came at the U.S. Open. My point? Snead wasn’t really a dominant player. He stuck around for a long time and played some outstanding golf at an age when other men struggle just to get out of bed in the morning.

Woods has won 11 POYs, 10 money titles and a partridge in a pear tree. He has doubled Snead’s major total despite the 5 ½-year drought. His chances of catching Nicklaus seem to dwindle by the hour, but that shouldn’t have any bearing on the magnitude of this accomplishment.

TIGER’S LAST MAJOR title came with an extra helping of drama at Torrey Pines in 2008, which I thought was one of the better U.S. Opens I’ve covered. The atmosphere was festive throughout the week. The golf course was in much better shape than many people expected. And to have 35,000 people show up on a Monday morning for the Woods-Rocco Mediate playoff completely restored my faith in the 18-hole tiebreaker.

It defies logic as to why Torrey Pines isn’t on the list of future U.S. Open venues, which have been assigned through 2020. I do recall it being in the so-called mix as a possible 2018 host, but that one went to Shinnecock Hills. No question, Torrey Pines doesn’t help itself by holding a PGA Tour event every year. Let’s just say the USGA considers itself a cut above the others.

I also know that the stress level involved in getting the South Course up to U.S. Open standards was quite high – USGA setup man Mike Davis (now executive director) was concerned about the conditions of the public facility right up until game time. All that said, Torrey Pines was a vast success. It is worthy of another shot.

“It was a great course,” Davis said in 2011. “But I would say this, and I’ve said it before: I don’t think Torrey Pines is Shinnecock Hills. It played beautifully and worked logistically, [but] some golf courses may be sexier than others.”

With all due respect to Davis, a man I know and respect greatly, I’m not sure you can get any sexier than the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean on a perfect June afternoon. Is anyone at the PGA of America reading this column?