Sergio Garcia Comes Full Circle at the Byron Nelson Classic

    Sergio Garcia made his PGA Tour debut at the Byron Nelson classic as a 19-year old in 1999. As debuts go, it was as good as it gets in Thursday’s first round. Garcia shot a 63 and ended up finishing 3rd at one of the most prestigious tournaments on the PGA Tour.

    For a while, it seemed like Garcia was just getting started. For most of the golf world, he first came on our radar at the 1999 PGA Championship. Still 19, Garcia took Tiger Woods to the brink on Sunday afternoon, finishing just a shot back of Tiger who was just beginning his dominant run that ended with the “Tiger Slam”.

    Garcia hit an especially audacious shot that afternoon from the base of a huge tree on the 17th hole. The television camera captured his closed eyes at impact and look of anxious hope on his face. The shot came out perfectly and Garcia, the picture of youthful exuberance, raced uphill, skipping in an effort to see where it landed.

    At that point in time, it seemed like the proverbial sky as the limit. Tournament wins, big money, major championships and Ryder Cup fame would surely follow.

    The wins came and the money along with it. And, Garcia proved to be a chip off the old Spanish block in the Ryder Cup, channeling legends like Ballesteros and Olazabal. Through the 2014 Ryder Cup, Garcia’s record is 18 wins, 9 losses and 5 draws (Ballesteros’ career record was 20-12-5; Olazabal’s is 18-8-5) and he’s been a member of 5 winning Ryder Cup teams.

    Garcia has been especially effective in the two-person team matches (Foursomes and Four-ball) where he’s teamed with a wide variety of European players (Olazabal, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Jesper Parnevik among others) to at times totally dominate their American counterparts.

    What didn’t come were major championships.

    Close brushes in majors came, and with a fair degree of consistency. Garcia seemed to be doing his Greg Norman imitation where majors would slip away through poor play, bad breaks or opponents pulling rabbits out of hats. But, Norman of course did win – two Open Championships (1986 and 1993) – were sprinkled in between heartbreaks at Augusta National and Shinnecock and many more storied venues.

    For the past five seasons Garcia has played some of the most consistent golf in the world, he just wasn’t winning many titles, let alone majors. Now, with his win at the 2016 Byron Nelson, speculation is renewing if this is Garcia’s time to capture his first major championship.

    Garcia’s detractors will say that he backed into his win at the Nelson. 3rd Round leader Brooks Koepka faded during the final round of play and made 3 costly bogeys getting to the clubhouse.

    Still, you can ask anyone on tour or who’s played on the PGA Tour – it’s tough to win, especially in the past decade as the fields have become deeper, great athletes attracted to golf through the huge purses created by superstars, led of course by a now idle Tiger Woods.

    Of the three majors left, Garcia has contended in all of them. The U.S. Open demands straight tee shots and Sergio has become one of the more consistent drivers in the game. His strength, spot on iron play, especially long irons, also comes in handy on a typical U.S. Open venue.

    Garcia’s closest multiple calls with a major have occurred at the Open Championship. Obviously, being a European, every young player’s dream is to win the Open and don the moniker – “Champion Golfer of the Year”.

    Garcia’s most heartbreaking loss at a major occurred in the 2007 Open Championship where a couple of 7-10 foot putts cruelly caught the edge of the cup and wouldn’t drop. Garcia lost in a playoff to Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.

    Garcia has obviously contended at the PGA Championship as well. Now, on the wrong side of 35, Garcia has a major objective to check off his to-do list. Perhaps this is the summer he gets it done.