As Spaniard Sergio Garcia wins the Masters at Augusta, winning his first Major after 18 years of playing, I reflect on a sporting fairytale.
Everybody loves an underdog, and Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia certainly qualifies as one of those. Last year we had the unlikely heroes of Leicester City F.C. winning the Premier League title against unbelievable odds. It has been 12 years since the so-called Miracle of Istanbul when Liverpool overturned a 3-0 half-time deficit against AC Milan to win the Champions League on penalties.
But the individual sports, however, have an isolation, a distance to them, when compared to the team sports. It can very easily become ‘all in your head’, and what needs to be accomplished can seem so much more daunting. The most recent example in British sporting memory is tennis star Andy Murray, who took multiple attempts to win a first Grand Slam. The most thrilling sport stories of all can often be those of the underdogs, of those who have been plucky losers, or those redeeming past mistakes. There is something primal about those players and competitors who have not just come from behind, but come so close to glory and yet missed out. This is perhaps even more painful when you were once the bright young thing, full of potential.
With Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia, the case is far more acute. He finished second to Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship in 1999, and back then he seemed destined to follow very soon in the footsteps of his fellow Spaniards, the golfing giants Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. But he was repeatedly the bridesmaid, finishing in the top 10 places at a Major tournament 22 times. His form led him to say in 2012 that ‘I’m not good enough. I don’t have the thing I need to have.’ So when the 2017 Masters came around last week, you would have been forgiven for thinking nothing of Garcia’s chances.
From when he took the lead during the Second Round (tied with three others), there were whispers about whether he could do it. The Third Round came, and he ended it still tied for the lead, this time with British golfer (and current Olympic champion) Justin Rose. Heading into the final round they were toe-to-toe still, and after 72 holes it went to a play-off. In the fading light, Garcia holed a birdie putt to win his first Major title, and he roared in triumph as the ball went in. Much was made of the fact that he won on the day that his idol Seve Ballesteros, who died in 2011, would have been 60. Some said it was practically preordained to happen. Whether or not that is the case, Sergio Garcia’s name is now another that can be added to the roll call of sporting history. A nearly man so long – a nearly man no longer.
I’m not really a follower of golf, but seeing Sergio Garcia get the green jacket was a powerful moment – and one which I’m still smiling at.