State of mind: Garcia comfortable in Texas


IRVING, Texas – Castellon, Spain, is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the east and the mountainous Sistema Ibérico area to the west. It's known for its production of citrus and vegetables.

There is little that would remind one of Castellon in Texas, and yet to Sergio Garcia the Lone Star state feels like home.

“Texas has always been good to me,” the Spaniard who was born in Castellon said with a shrug on Thursday at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Following a bogey-free 63 on Day 1 at the weather-delayed Nelson, Garcia referenced the traditional winds players face when the PGA Tour visits Texas and conditions that are normally hard and fast.

“I've always enjoyed these kind of golf courses that usually are a little bit firmer than today,” Garcia said. “It's always a little bit breezy and you have to place the ball in the right spots and I've always enjoyed that kind of golf.”

Never mind that TPC Four Seasons Resort was neither hard and fast nor windy on Thursday, which led Garcia to give the ultimate compliment.

“It just kind of brings me to my comfort level,” said Garcia, who started on No. 10 and scorched his second nine with four birdies and an eagle to grab the early lead.

As unquantifiable as that may seem, it’s the only way to explain Garcia’s record in Texas.

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In 1999, El Nino – whose weather system namesake was blamed for Thursday’s early storms that delayed the start of play by more than two hours – played his first professional event at the Nelson to set an early standard.

He opened with a 62 on the old Cottonwood Valley layout and finished the week tied third. Five years later he recorded his fourth victory on the PGA Tour in Dallas.

“Shooting that round and finishing third to kind of get my career started here was, it was unbelievable for me,” Garcia said of that first exposure to Texas golf. “It gave me a lot of confidence, it relaxed me a lot. It made my year a lot easier.”

That victory in ’04 was made even more special by one of the players he beat. Tiger Woods held the outright 36-hole lead that week but faded on the weekend and finished tied for fourth.

There is certainly something to the theory that Texas golf suits Garcia’s style of play, a ball-striker who normally gets better as the conditions become more difficult.

On Day 3 in ’04, for example, Garcia fondly remembered doing something “a little bit stupid,” on his way to victory at the Nelson, hitting 13 of 14 fairways and finishing the day a perfect 18-for-18 in greens in regulation.

But mostly he remembers being congratulated by Nelson, the longtime host who died in 2006 after being a fixture at the Dallas-area event for nearly five decades.

“I remember Byron taking a picture with me and some great memories,” he said. “I actually saw the picture this week in my room. I have my trophies, my Byron Nelson trophies at home. Every time I see them it reminds me of this place and Byron and the kind of legend he was.”

But then Garcia’s Lone Star affinity goes beyond Dallas. Two of Garcia’s eight Tour titles came in Texas, including his first triumph on the PGA Tour in 2001 at Colonial, and he’s earned $3.095 million of his $41.5 million in career earnings in Texas events.

Being a Ryder Cup year will always provide extra motivation to play well for Garcia, a staple for the European team and a thorn in the American squad’s side since 1999.

He’s also been trending in all the right directions in recent weeks. He finished third two weeks ago at the European Tour event he hosts in Spain and dropped a close decision to Adam Scott earlier this season at the Honda Classic where he finished a stroke back.

“I have been playing decent and obviously I still feel like I can play better but, hopefully, I can keep this momentum going and have a good solid week before the U.S. Open,” he said.

Still, Garcia is nearly four years removed from his last Tour title and his lone victory in the last year came in December on the Asian Tour, so if he chooses not to overthink his record in Texas it’s perfectly understandable.

“I’ve done fairly well pretty much every time I played here,” he said simply.

At this point in an eventful career it’s best to keep things simple, if not understated. Exactly what you would expect from someone who feels at home in Texas.