They grapple more openly with their demon doubts.
They make public confessions about the battles waged between their ears more than most professional golfers dare.
Sergio Garcia and Yani Tseng are such different personalities, but they are so much alike in how they will bare their souls to the world in sharing their struggles. Whether you’re endeared to the honesty, or think it weakness, there’s no denying we’re more intimately connected to the kind of struggle the game presents its top players because these two have intimately connected us.
They let us into their pressure-packed worlds between the ropes in ways we don’t normally have access.
They make winning and losing more visceral, maybe even more human to the rest of us.
That’s why there was something so compelling in the way the stars were aligned over golf last week.
Garcia and Tseng were linked to the same disappointing fate. Though they played on opposite coasts, some 3,000 miles apart, they endured the same agonizing experience. They blew chances to win. They took 54-hole leads into the final round and collapsed.
Their demons beat them.
That’s the thing about both of their losses. Garcia and Tseng didn’t look like they got beat so much as they beat themselves. That’s not to take anything away from winners Henrik Stenson and Suzann Pettersen. It’s just that Garcia and Tseng never gave themselves a chance with their wayward final-round starts.
It was gut-wrenching, because they both looked so poised to break out of funks.
First, on Sunday at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., Tseng, 24, looked shaky from the start. She made double bogey at the second hole, then bogey at the third and another bogey at the fourth. A day after shooting 63 to take a three-shot lead, the former Rolex world No. 1 stumbled to a 78.
Tseng’s winless spell now stretches over 37 LPGA events.
Then, on Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Garcia, 33, was doomed by his own shaky start. He bogeyed the second hole, the fourth and made the turn in 3 over for the round. He was never a factor with players going low on the soft TPC Boston setup. He shot 73. Nobody who finished T-35 or better shot a higher score in the final round.
Garcia hasn’t been the same since he got himself in trouble with his racial crack about Tiger Woods in late spring. He made the remark after tying for eighth at The Players Championship in May, and hasn’t been a factor in an event since, not until Boston.
“I just wasn’t comfortable,” Garcia said of his Monday stumble “I just wasn’t able to trust myself as I did the first few days. It was hard, but I tried.”
It was difficult to watch, because Garcia looked so ready to win after shooting 65, 64 and 65 in the first three rounds. Same with Tseng, who shot 67 and 68 before her 63 leading into the final round.
In so many ways, these two players wear their hearts on their sleeves. There’s no hiding what they’re feeling. It makes them both fun to watch when they’re at their best, but almost as compelling when they’re struggling. They are like open books, easy to read, their body language so colorfully articulating what their hearts are filled with.
And that’s really the question looming over their games in the wake of their final-round failures. What are their hearts filled with these days? The promise that came in the way they got themselves into contention? Or the self-loathing that can come with blowing a chance?
Tseng’s heart took a beating in her slump and free fall in the world rankings. She confessed early this year that the pressure to meet expectations as the Rolex world No. 1 overwhelmed her. She said the criticism and second guessing when she began to swoon hurt her.
“Everybody wants to be No. 1, but nobody understands how hard it is,” she said earlier this year. “I looked at the media, what fans were saying, and it drove me crazy.”
Back in April at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, on the night before Stacy Lewis ended Tseng’s 109-week run at No. 1, Tseng confessed she welcomed shedding the burdens that go with the top ranking.
“It will be a good release for me,” Tseng said back then.
In Portland last weekend, Tseng was asked about the challenge of shaking her slump.
“It’s a really long story,” Tseng said. “I go through a lot of things, and my life has been really tough. It’s not just about golf.”
Garcia told the whole world back in ’09 that his heart was broken by his breakup with Greg Norman’s daughter, Morgan-Leigh. His game swooned so much that he announced he was taking a break from the sport and didn’t play in the Ryder Cup in 2010.
At the Masters last year, Garcia’s frustration in failing to win a major got the best of him when he shot himself out of contention in the third round at Augusta National.
“I’m not good enough,” he famously said. “I don’t have the thing I need to have. The conclusion is I need to play for second or third place.”
It was a low moment, but the words have dogged him because they so powerfully revealed the nature of the demon doubts that challenge him.
You’ll hear golfers talk about how winning is often about a player’s ability to get out of his own way. Nobody embodies that more than Garcia and Tseng these days. They seemed to get in their own way in those final-round failures, blocking and frustrating themselves.
Winning, of course, is tough at the highest levels. There’s ridiculously so much more losing than winning in golf. It has to be the sport with the most scarred athletes, albeit scars you can’t see.
The game beats players up, but Garcia and Tseng are still in there fighting, looking to beat their demons as soundly as they beat fellow competitors. They manage to make that fight more meaningful in the way they’ve drawn us into the struggle with them.