Sergio Garcia literally can’t stop smiling these days.
The elite international golfer who can’t seem to win a major, who is taken to task for everything from poor putting to sulking to his lack of Sunday nerve, who was tormented by Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington, who once walked off the sacred grounds of Augusta National and emphatically ripped himself far worse than any of his critics have ever done?
What did he lack to win a major, he was asked?
“Everything,” he spat out.
That Sergio Garcia, you say?
Yes, one and the totally chilled same. You’d be hard-pressed to find a pro athlete more at peace with himself and with life than Sergio Garcia. He doesn’t have a major title on his résumé, but he has major perspective.
That was then, and this is very different and very relaxed now. As he put it in an hourlong chat on the 10th floor of the Austonian hotel downtown last week, that didn’t mean he felt so despondent just a week after that scathing self-rebuke. And it certainly isn’t how he feels now. Quite simply, he’s grown up.
This Sergio Garcia — at a mature but still delightfully goofy and grounded 37 years old — is indescribably content.
He’s head over heels in love with Angela Akins, a former Texas Longhorns golfer and until recently a Golf Channel reporter, and he can’t wait to get married in a very private wedding ceremony in the Hill Country in July the week after the Open. Heck, they even openly talk about having kids. “Twelve or 13 of them,” he jokes.
Professionally, Garcia’s hovering around the top 10 in the world, as usual. He won in impressive fashion at Dubai last fall, making only one bogey in the tournament and holding off Open champion Henrik Stenson. He was brilliant as usual in the Ryder Cup, and his stellar 19-11-7 record has paced Europe to five wins. He’s won the Players Championship.
He’s healthy and raring to go with hopes of winning this week’s World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament at Austin Country Club and adding that to his three-win total in the state of Texas, with two Byron Nelsons and one Colonial for his first PGA Tour victory as a pro.
So, yeah, he’s very much content with his career, too.
In 73 attempts at a major, Garcia has 12 top-five finishes and four runner-up finishes. That guy’s satisfied?
Absolutely, and one has to marvel at the good-humored perspective and balanced life this immensely popular Spaniard carries with him. One of the best ball-strikers in the game and one of its finest iron players still hasn’t put on a green jacket or drunk out of the claret jug, and some question whether he has the nerve or the putting stroke to make it happen. His trademark fades aren’t well-suited for Augusta, and he doesn’t really care for playing in the rain. And maybe the pressure does get too big.
For Garcia, he deals with any demons just fine.
“I am satisfied with my career,” he says in between sips of his caramel frappuccino. “Now, winning at least one major will be better.”
Will be, he said. As in going to happen. And it very well could, despite the legion of doubters.
And he draws incredible hope from the fact that Stenson, at age 40, out-battled 46-year-old Phil Mickelson to win the Open last year. Stenson even counseled Garcia on his career-long quest when the Swede dutifully showed up in Switzerland for his Sergio and Friends charity, which raised more than $1 million and brought along the claret jug as well.
Garcia gave him a big hug. Stenson gave him a pep talk.
“I’m 40. You’re 36,” Stenson told Garcia last July. “You have 16 more majors till you’re 40.”
But even if he never puts his name on one of the four majors, he’d be fine with a career of nine PGA Tour wins, 12 victories on the European Tour and a stellar Ryder Cup history, including one of the most sensational matches ever with Mickelson at Hazeltine, where both shot 63s and combined for 19 birdies last September. Hey, Mr. Euro Colin Montgomerie was a five-time runner-up and never won a major either, and he’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“I’ve been blessed to have been fairly successful,” Garcia says. “I’ve had a great career that not many players can say. I’ve been in the top 10 probably 80 or 85 percent of my career. Obviously, I’ve seen other guys win a major but have done nothing else. I’d rather have my career than theirs. I’m healthy. My game’s still in great shape. Now, when I’m 45, 46, maybe I’ll worry if it hasn’t happened.”
He’s got time, in other words.
Major victories like Stenson’s at the Open over an aging Mickelson and 37-year-old Jimmy Walker’s at the PGA rightfully encourage Garcia in this day of young lions Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Ryan Moore, Patrick Reed and others. In fact, last year’s majors went to four first-timers.
“Phil almost won last year,” he says. “I still have a lot of chances.”
In addition, England’s Danny Willett tried on the green jacket at Augusta just a week or so after his wife, Nicole, gave birth to their son, Zachariah. So, too, have current No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson and his fiancée had a baby. Jason Day, who won last year’s Dell tournament and reached No. 1, has a family that travels with him.
Garcia has seen the careers of golfers having families go both ways, as either a comfort or a distraction.
He and Akins took an instant liking to each other and have had a one-year courtship, but Garcia admits to a case of the nerves before asking for her hand in marriage at a New Year’s Eve party among a dozen or so friends at her parents’ ranch west of Austin.
He’d already asked for permission from her parents, including former Longhorns All-America quarterback Marty Akins, but he hadn’t popped the question to Angela until that night. It wasn’t quite the same kind of anxiety he might feel over a 5-foot putt to win.
“I was a little nervous; I’m not going to lie,” Garcia says, chuckling. “If she hadn’t said yes, it would have been interesting. OK. Happy new year, everybody.”
Garcia admits his strong play often parallels the comfort level in his private life, and his recent success on the course mirrors his happiness off it.
“The better things are off the course, usually the better they are on the course,” he says. “You don’t have extra worries.”
The two are very much alike, although she doesn’t share his taste in movies. Garcia will watch every horror movie that comes out, while Akins prefers romantic comedies. They’re movie junkies, what with all the travel. Garcia’s a lot neater than Akins, who can be a little messy.
“You’re not OCD,” she tells him.
“But I’m close,” he says.
He’s always loved the NFL and is so bit with the soccer bug, he’s president of a Spanish soccer team. He’s made Akins a Real Madrid fan, and Akins has converted him into a Longhorns fan. He flashes the “Hook ’em, Horns” sign on command.
They sat in her parents’ luxury box at Royal-Memorial Stadium for the disappointing loss to TCU in last year’s finale. But they watched Texas’ double-overtime upset of Notre Dame in the season opener from their hotel room in Boston. “We were both jumping up and down on the bed,” she said. “It was awesome.”
He’s leaving the details of the wedding to Akins and wedding planner Samantha Rosenberg, a Texas A&M grad. Akins says they have taught their 9-year-old black Pomeranian a special trick. They’ll ask Bear if he’d rather be dead or an Aggie. “He’ll roll over and play dead,” Akins says, “but we love the Aggies.”
And people love her fiancé. He vaulted himself into the national consciousness and the warm embrace of the golfing public the instant he hit the fairway iron in the PGA Championship at Medinah and scissor-kicked in midair. Never mind that he lost to Tiger Woods by a stroke. Fans still jump with joy for him as one of the most popular and well-liked players on the tour, but many are up in the air about whether Garcia has what it takes to win a major.
Garcia would like to think his candor breeds a bigger following and connects him to his fandom.
“I want to be true to me,” he says. “I think that’s why my fans love me. I’m truthful. I say what I think. That doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to say at the time, but there’s no mask. I feel like I’m not hiding anything.”
What’s to hide? The guy’s fun to be around. He signs autographs. He wears his emotions on both sleeves. That’s part of the reason Akins was attracted to him.
“He doesn’t take himself too seriously,” she says. “He’s very funny, very goofy. But serious when he needs to be.”
Like on the 72nd green of some major in the future. He’s played well at Royal Birkdale, the site of this year’s Open. He’s not played Quail Hollow since the PGA Championship course was renovated, but he once lost a Wells Fargo tournament in a playoff there. He’s not seen Erin Hills, the almost 8,000-yard tract in Wisconsin that will host the U.S. Open.
“Never played it,” Garcia says with a wink.
Yeah, he’s content.
DELL MATCH PLAY
Wednesday-Sunday, Austin Country Club, Golf Channel (Wednesday-Friday), Golf Channel/NBC (Saturday, Sunday)