AUSTIN, Texas – Even in the best of times, Sergio Garcia can be petulant, and Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was not his best moment. Although, it could be argued it wasn’t the worst in what has been an eventful career.
What had otherwise been a productive week turned in a moment for Garcia when his 7-footer for par at the seventh hole slipped past the left edge of the cup in his quarterfinal match against Matt Kuchar. Without looking up - and this part is important - he reached over and attempted to backhand his next shot from 4 inches into the hole. His ball caught the lip and spun out.
That’s when everything went wrong.
Kuchar had been standing on the back of the green some 30 feet away and never told Garcia the putt was conceded. He didn’t nod, he didn’t wink, he didn’t give a thumbs up – which are all universally accepted ways to give an opponent a putt.
“As I looked up again, I saw he had missed the next one,” explained Kuchar. “I said, ‘Sergio, I didn't say anything [regarding a concession], I'm not sure how this works out.’ I didn't want that to be an issue.”
The two huddled with the rules official with the group, Robby Ware, and Garcia admitted the mistake. This should have been simple. Golf’s silly rules strike again and Kuchar heads to the eighth tee, 2 up, after winning No. 7 with a bogey.
“He knew he made a mistake. I didn't want that to be how a hole was won or lost,” Kuchar said.
At this point Garcia suggested a wildly unorthodox solution, “You can concede a hole,” he told Kuchar on the eighth tee.
“I thought about it and said I don't like that idea, either,” Kuchar said.
There was plenty of discussion between the two as they played No. 8 and again on the 10th hole. “I would say I would try to make sure we were just on the same page,” Kuchar said.
“It's quite simple. I screwed it up, it's as simple as that,” Garcia said. “The only issue that it was, was that [Kuchar] was like, I didn't say it was good, but I don't want to take the hole. So, I was like OK, it's fine, what do you want to do? Because there are many options that you can do if you don't want to take the hole, even though I've already lost that hole. But obviously he didn't like any of the options that were there.”
Kuchar won the match, 2 up, to advance to Sunday’s semifinal frame, but it was another awkward chapter for two players who have spent the better part of this year trying to win back hearts and minds.
For Kuchar it was multiple mea culpas after the world learned he’d paid his local caddie just $5,000 following his victory last fall at the Mayakoba Golf Classic instead of something closer in line to the traditional 10 percent of the $1.29 million winner’s check. After initially digging in against mounting criticism, Kuchar eventually relented and paid the caddie an additional $45,000. He also met with the caddie last month at the WGC-Mexico Championship to clear the air.
Garcia found himself on the wrong side of public opinion when he was disqualified from the European Tour’s Saudi International in February for going all Paul Bunyon with his putter on a few greens.
He later asked for forgiveness: “I apologize for, and I have informed my fellow players it will never happen again.”
This isn’t the first time the WGC-Match Play has brought out a player’s worst self, either. At the 2015 Match Play, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez nearly came to blows over, well, a meaningless match. At least Kuchar and Garcia had something on the line.
It’s inconceivable that Kuchar purposely slow played Garcia on a putt that was obviously good, but he must say the words, “that’s good” or something to that effect. And the idea that the American somehow needed to make everything right by conceding the next hole is just as ridiculous.
That’s not the way sports work. The Saints didn’t get a mulligan from the Rams during the NFC Championship Game. UCF didn’t get a “do over” for the no-call late against Duke in the NCAA Tournament. In golf it’s called the rub of the green.
Whether he thought it was fair or not, Garcia made a mistake, which he owned. What he didn’t acknowledge is that he was equally at fault for pushing Kuchar into an awkward and patently unrealistic corner when he suggested he concede the next hole.
Garcia fielded a single question from the media following his match and when asked to clarify how the conversation with Kuchar unfolded, he declined to comment, offering instead a rebuke on the media, “You guys never want to talk to me, only on days like this,” he said.
Yes, it’s the media’s fault. It’s Kuchar’s fault for not violating the code of competition. It’s the greens fault in Saudi Arabia for pushing him to the brink.
The 39-year-old has spent more time in “time out” this year than in contention and yet somehow blame, complete and unencumbered, eludes him.