PGA Tour

Sergio Garcia’s Ballstriking Carries Him To The History Books

We had all seen this movie before.

It was the one we knew by heart–the tear-jerking tale of Sergio Garcia, Best Player to Never Win a Major, doomed to come close enough to taste victory only to fall apart at the crucial moment.

On Augusta’s iconic 13th hole, well left of the wide and sloping fairway, the movie was playing out once again. Garcia’s towering, corner-cutting drive had clipped a tree and dropped into the pine straw, coming to rest in an unplayable lie beneath a bush. In years past, the mercurial Garcia would have shaken his fist at the gods, lamenting his place in the cosmic tapestry. He would have tried a miraculous recovery and failed, or dumped a wedge into the water short of the green, or three-putted for triple.

But on his Sunday, on (everyone together now) what would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday, Garcia did none of these things. He rewrote the script. He took his medicine, hooked a runner towards the front of the green, and got up and down for a par that felt even more like a birdie when Justin Rose’s 5 footer slid past. After this roller-coaster ride, as Garcia saved par from a flower bed and Rose settled for 5 from the middle of the fairway, a friend texted me: “That’s what’s incredible about golf. That Rose & Sergio played that hole in the same amount of strokes.”

Incredibly enough, the drama was only beginning.

14

A difficult driving hole for the fade-hitting Garcia, the 14th bends slightly right to left and sheds tee balls towards the trees down the right hand side. Every highlight package of this Masters will begin with Sergio’s pin-seeking eagle at 15, but the 14th hole was just as pivotal.

Even after the fraternal twin pars at 13, it seemed like disaster was looming for Sergio. Garcia had gone bogey-bogey-par-par on Augusta’s second nine, and as everyone knows, The Masters doesn’t start until these very holes. The mental fortitude necessary to shake off a wayward drive on 13 and produce the 305-yard bullet that he did on 14 is something that fans aren’t used to seeing from the fate-cursed Spaniard.

Rose and Garcia took different routes up the fairway, with the Englishman’s ball coming to rest near the left side and Garcia’s sitting in the first cut, 15 yards further up on the right. The primary defense on this bunkerless par 4 is the wildly undulating green, and Rose’s indifferent approach left him with a 35-foot bender for birdie. After Garcia’s highwire act at the 13th, he stepped up from 150 yards and gave all of us a front-row ticket to the stripe show. His approach was inch-perfect, landing 15 feet left of the flag and trickling down the slope towards the cup. His 6-foot birdie putt left him one shot back, and fans began to question whether this was, in fact, that movie they had seen so often.

15

Jim Nantz’s call on Garcia’s approach into 18 in regulation was too late. I hate to criticize Mr. April, but Nantz’s “The shot of his life!” should have been spent three holes earlier, when Garcia fired this dart of an 8-iron into the shallow 15th green.

After a mammoth, lag-filled, traj-happy 330-yard drive to the center of the fairway, Garcia was left with only 192 yards into Augusta’s final par 5; his last chance for a momentous eagle. All Sergio did was come within a foot of holing the damn thing on the fly, his approach clipping the pin and finally settling within 15 feet.

Then he did this.

Rose didn’t have a bad hole himself, leaving a cross-green eagle try a few feet short and settling for birdie. With both players tied at -9, the crucible of 16 awaited.

16

Sergio had the honor, the pin was at the bottom of the hill in that traditional Sunday spot, and the Spaniard made no mistake. His sky-high iron shot pounded the green and settled just six feet behind the cup. Rose again rose to the challenge (sorry), catching a bit of luck as his ball released off the spine of the side bunker and trickled down to eight feet.

Rose’s birdie putt mirrored Garcia’s eagle from a few minutes earlier, tipping over the front of the cup on its final revolution.

And then, again, Sergio missed a big putt. While his approach was stiff, it was on the wrong side of the hole, and attempt fell off weakly to the right before reaching the cup. Was the heartbreak still to come? Had 14 and 15 been the hero’s last stand, a bizarro Rocky reboot where the punch-drunk protagonist staggers off the ropes and starts bludgeoning his opponent, only to be felled by a vicious uppercut?

17

Asked by Dottie Pepper which shot Rose would most like to have back, the Olympic gold medalist thought for a moment, then answered, “the putt on 17.”  It was a par save, set up by a gorgeous long bunker shot. Had Rose made it, he would have come to the final hole with a one-shot lead over Garcia.

But this article isn’t about Justin Rose’s missed putts, it’s about Sergio Garcia’s laser beams. And Garcia hit two more on the penultimate hole of the tournament, just as Rose was floundering.

Another fairway hit, and another green dented by a flushed iron. Rose could only find the front bunker from his position in the right hand trees, and Garcia’s approach left him 30 feet straight up the hill for birdie. Two putts, and a crucial miss from Rose, and the two Ryder Cup teammates were striding to the 72nd hole all square.

18

Sergio Garcia has long been known as one of the best ballstrikers in the game. It’s evident in the way he holds his follow through on iron shots, sometimes including an extra tug of the club past his left shoulder, as if he’s trying to anchor his twisted body deep into the turf.

With the driver in hand, Garcia produces a swing that could garner an NC-17 rating. It fairly drips sex appeal.

Study the Masters champion's unique (and powerful) swing. Turn the volume UP!

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Look at the outrageous amount of lag that Garcia creates between the shaft and his left arm. He’s mentioned that one of his swing thoughts involves him pulling a heavy chain downwards from the top of his backswing, and that massive downward force allows him to produce the two tee shots that he hit on 18 to win this tournament.

Both players pounded drives toward the two fairway bunkers on 18, Sergio’s running out 15 yards further. Rose caught a huge break on his approach as it kicked off the shoulder of the front right bunker and trundled down to 15 feet. And then Sergio hit Nantz’s “shot of his life,” a wedge from 134 yards that covered the flag and stuck just six feet away.

Because it’s Sergio, and because this could never be easy, he missed the birdie putt that would have won him his first major championship.

Playoff

It was the 14th hole all over again. A mini meltdown threatened to turn into a 5-alarm fire, the kind of tournament-changing moment that Sergio-haters could look back on with smug satisfaction and say that There, right there, was the stone-cold proof that this man didn’t have the mental toughness to win a major.

Golf is unique among sports played with a ball. It plays out over the largest area, competitors battle the course more than each other, and as Babe Zaharias once said, “That little white ball won’t move until you hit it, and there’s nothing you can do after it has gone” (DJ at Oakmont notwithstanding). But the most unique thing about the sport is its demand for repetition. Players spend countless hours hitting balls in hopes that, in the moments when their emotions and nerves threaten to overwhelm them, they can make a swing that’s the carbon-copy of the one they’ve grooved on the range.

With untold maelstroms swirling through his mind and his nerves, Sergio Garcia did just that.

Yes, Justin Rose had finally blinked, driving right into the trees to set up a bogey 5. But the story was the Spaniard. Finally, improbably, after long years of heartbreak. Finally, he took advantage of the one skill that hadn’t wavered since his days as a skip-jumping teenager in 1999.

From the 14th hole through to the end of his first major win, Sergio Garcia hit all but one fairway in regulation. He hit every green in (or under) regulation. He out-drove Justin Rose on every hole, and he stuck his approaches inside Rose’s every time.

When the pressure was highest, Sergio Garcia played some of the best shots of his life. He took the script that we had seen so often before and slashed it with red. And he finally joined the ranks of the major champions. Vamos. 

 

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