The greatest golf player never to win a majors tournament shattered that title on April 9. Sergio Garcia, the 37-year-old Spanish professional golfer, finally triumphed at the 2017 Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta on what would have been the birthday of fellow countryman and golf pro Seve Ballesteros. In a nail-biting sudden death play-off against long-time friend and rival, Justin Rose, an emotional Garcia clinched that elusive title and green Masters jacket.
Coming from two shots down with six holes left to play, Garcia dug deep and showed true grit as he persevered towards his goal. Speaking about the match afterward, he explained that the course wasn’t one he is “most comfortable in,” but that he knew he “could still work around it…if I just accepted what was happening.” Claiming to be “very proud” of his mental approach to the match, the man nicknamed “El Nino” in his earlier pro days impressed onlookers with his resilience, not least of all Justin Rose. During the press conference after the match, Rose explained how he and the man he has played against since his teens “have a great friendship and a good rivalry…I am very pleased for him.”
Born Sergio Garcia Fernandez on January 9, 1980, Garcia turned pro 19 years later after shooting the lowest amateur score in the 1999 Masters Tournament. The winner of 30 international tournaments, including the 2008 Players Championship and a competitor at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, Garcia’s first European Tour win was at the Irish Open in 1999, his sixth tournament as a pro. He quickly came to public attention at the 1999 PGA Championship with a duel against Tiger Woods, losing out the title against the American golfer by just one stroke. His career would draw further comparisons against Woods two years later when at the age of 21 he was the second youngest player (after Woods) to win a PGA Tour Tournament at the MasterCard Colonial in Fort Worth.
The chairman of his hometown’s football team C.F. Borriol, Garcia, like many other professional sportspeople, is a keen poker player. He competed alongside former NFL player Richard Seymour at the 2017 PokerStars Championship Bahamas at the start of the year and has participated in a number of tournaments in his home country. Stating in interviews that for him poker is “the perfect way…to get away from golf for a while,” he believes the “patience, strategy, focus” required to succeed at poker has a lot in common with the skills needed to be a successful golfer.
While Garcia found that the rounds leading up to his win in Augusta tested those skills to the very limits, his performance has inspired former World No.1 Luke Donald to seek out a victory. Returning to the European Tour in mid-May, Donald, despite having six European and PGA Tour wins under his belt, has dropped in rankings to No. 77, having struggled to win across the two tours in the past five years. Despite this, however, Donald finished in second place at the RBC Heritage, which he played just after the Masters, and is boosted by Garcia’s triumph, telling the Evening Standard: “He’s probably one of the most talented golfers I’ve ever seen and this was only a matter of time. It’s hugely inspirational and motivational to try to follow that. If he can do it, I can do it.”