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Sergio Gives Oak Tree Identity All Its Own

2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill -- Their eyes scan from tree to tree, ultimately homing in on what seems like a nondescript old oak.
And then, spectators ask: 'Is this the 'Sergio Tree?''
Pebble Beach has its famed 18th hole. Augusta National has the Eisenhower Tree. And Medinah Country Club has an oak about eight feet to the right of the fairway near a bend and a slope along the 453-yard 16th hole.
It is about 100 years old and showing its age, with several large scars where there were branches. It stands about 45 feet tall, its trunk about three feet in diameter.
There's nothing unusual about it except its place in golf lore, because this tree was the site of Sergio Garcia's improbable shot during the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship.
Who can forget, especially with the PGA back at Medinah.
'A lot of the shots have changed since 1999,' Garcia said after Thursday's first round.
Earlier in the week, he revisited his past when he took a look at the old tree.
'I remember three or four weeks ago, before coming in here, they were telling me that the tree was struggling a little bit and they've had to overseed that little spot because everybody's been hitting from it,' he said.
As a 19-year-old competing in his second major as a pro, Garcia grabbed the lead after the first round in 1999 but trailed Tiger Woods by as many as five strokes on the final day before making a charge.
Down two on the 16th tee, Garcia seemed to knock himself out of contention when the ball sailed wide right and settled between the roots of the tree, 189 yards from the pin and near the bottom of a steep slope. The green was hidden.
Instead, he -- and the tree -- earned a spot in history.
Garcia grabbed his 6-iron and closed his eyes as he made contact. Then, he sprinted, jumped and scissors-kicked as the ball somehow made its way to the green.
It was a memorable shot, a memorable celebration.
Garcia saved par, but Woods took the title by one stroke for his second win at a major. He's going for No. 12 this week while Garcia, with 11 top-10 finishes, is still searching for his first.
Seven years later at No. 16, hole marshal Robert Bradshaw hears the question 'about once every four, five minutes.'
One spectator wonders why there's no sign marking the tree. Hey, Arnold Palmer got a plaque at Royal Birkdale for his wondrous shot nearly 40 years earlier, when he uprooted a shrub with a 6-iron.
Another fan, Ron Newman, wants to know the distance from the tee to the oak.
'Actually, it was even more (hectic) on the practice-round days,' Bradshaw says.
On those days, people asked if they could touch the tree. Bradshaw's answer: No.
'It would be nice to,' he says.
When he arrived at the course, Dudley Colton of Denver headed for the tree -- just like Garcia's shot. A national accounts manager for the Johns Manville insulation and roofing company, he's here with customers.
And he's in awe.
'This is probably like (seeing) Tiger Stadium or Yankee Stadium,' he says.
He looks at the tree, looks at the slope and shakes his head.
As impressive as Garcia's shot looks on TV, the view changes up close.
'It's more impressive,' Colton said. 'On TV, people don't see the elevation. They don't see everything he was faced with. It looked tough on TV. But to see it here, it just made it more incredible -- especially for a 19-year-old.'
Colton said he would take a drop rather than attempt a shot like that.
Ron Newman of nearby Elgin, Ill., said he would probably break his wrists if he tried, so he would punch the ball onto the fairway, instead.
Garcia was in contention at a major so he went for it. And after imitating a weekend golfer on his tee shot, he did something incredible.
Now, weekend golfers try to copy him. And a nondescript oak has an identity -- the 'Sergio tree.'
'People naturally want to go and try that shot, just for the heck of it,' course superintendent Tom Lively says. 'There are always people who have to do that.'
The ground around the oak takes a beating. Sometimes, a new patch of sod is needed because people keep chopping away.
But the tree itself? It's OK.
Lightning and wind damage killed some branches over the years, but overall, the old oak is healthy. Removing it was never a consideration.
'The leaves are trimmed and it looks great,' Lively said.
That shot simply looks daunting.
'It's probably half skill and half luck,' Newman's friend Tom McTavish says, before changing his mind. 'Probably 60 percent luck. If he was 29, he probably wouldn't have done it. He would have pitched it up, like everyone else. You're bulletproof when you're 19 -- at least that's what I always thought.'
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