Sergio Garcia doesn't want to talk, which is unfailingly ironic, because talking too much is the very reason he's being asked to talk again on this rainy afternoon in the foothills of Georgia. It is one day after the Masters Tournament ended – and three days after Garcia’s own Masters ended, the result of a missed cut which probably isn't helping his overall mood.
He is being asked to talk because we are quickly approaching the one-year milestone of his infamous public squabble with Tiger Woods during The Players Championship, when Garcia accused him of unsportsmanlike conduct. He said Woods riled up the crowd while the two were paired together in the third round, which disrupted Garcia's shot to the par-5 second. A war of words ensued. Then there was the even more infamous comment just a week-and-a-half later. When questioned at a formal European Tour function about whether he’d have dinner with the multicultural Woods prior to the U.S. Open, Garcia answered, “We’ll have him 'round every night. We will serve fried chicken.”
It was hardly an isolated incident of speaking out of turn. Over the years, Garcia has blamed tournament officials for giving preferential treatment to Woods and the golf gods for giving preferential treatment to, well, everyone but himself.
On each of these occasions, it was talking that got him into trouble. Whereas most professional athletes own a protective filter between their innermost thoughts and spoken words, Garcia has no such filter, which serves as both one of his most endearing qualities and greatest sins. He is unmistakably honest in a role that doesn’t always reward honesty. He is coolly forthright even when his thoughts are best left unsaid.
This time he is being offered a forum. A pulpit on which to preach what he’s learned, how he’s changed and – once again – how much he’d like to echo his apology following that comment. This will be a clear-the-air moment. This will be an opportunity to counsel the world on how he’s evolved, how he understands the need for such a filter, how he’s become a stronger person since the controversy and how he’s found happiness in the wake of such remorse.
This is no sneak attack. His handlers – agents, managers, sponsors and PR wags – have been briefed on the nature of this interview. They understand that he will be given a platform on which to reiterate his thoughts and hopefully, in their minds, put it to rest forever.
Garcia doesn’t want to talk, though. He doesn’t want to relive the past, doesn’t want to answer questions about a situation he has clearly tried to place behind him. He tells the handlers he won’t be discussing this today, no matter the prior arrangement.
But this is his chance to get ahead of the story and address it in a casual setting before the one-year checkpoint, they are told.
He has no interest in recalling any of that, they answer.
But this is his opportunity to get ahead of the expected media crush during Players Championship week and maybe even defer any questions to this interview, they are told.
He knows he’ll only be asked about it again and again, they answer.
And so Garcia doesn’t speak about any of it, at least not in specific terms. Instead, he compromises. He answers questions in generalities – about his career, about his ongoing maturity, about his life.
He is asked how difficult it is to play golf when things are unsettled off the course.
“When you're going through a tough time outside the golf course, there's a lot more things to worry about,” he says. “Which is normal; we all go through those things through life. But it's nice when things are lined up nicely.”
He is asked about being misunderstood by the public.
“I like to be myself; I don't want to be two different persons. Obviously, I think sometimes you say things that either you regret or come wrong at that time. But at the end of the day, like I've always said, I try to be the way I am. I think that's one of the reasons why the people like me.”
He is asked about being too open with his feelings.
“Sometimes being too honest is not the best thing, because even though you're trying to say what you feel or what you think is right, people are not going to see it that way. … I still try to be myself as much as I can and try to present myself as open and honest as I can really be.”
In a way, he speaks about last year’s tribulations without ever directly addressing them.
That probably won’t be the case this week. With Woods, the defending champion, still on the disabled list, Garcia will arrive on the PGA Tour’s home turf Tuesday morning as potentially the biggest story. He won this event in 2008 and nearly did so a year ago before pumping two balls into the water on the par-3 17th on Sunday. Inquiring minds will attempt to uncover how last year’s incidents - particularly of the verbal variety - have impacted him and whether there remain any lingering side effects.
He still won’t want to talk about it – and maybe he won’t, continuing in his decision to not relive the past. He's not slated to give a news conference.
If he does speak, however, expect him to be honest again. This is a personality trait which has stayed with him throughout his career. It’s difficult to believe that will now change.