ORnly 54 men have won the Masters, which tells you everything about the exclusivity of that particular club. Boyhood dreams are made of a Sunday evening drive along Magnolia Lane with the Green Jacket in hand.
It is testament to Sergio García’s talent level that, for many observers, the long-awaited fulfillment of his major ambitions at Augusta National in 2017 was not enough. No sooner had the Spaniard ended his major drought – at the 74th time of asking, after a famous battle with Justin Rose – than people started asking when García would become a multiple champion. He had prepared himself for the narrative.
“I knew this was going to happen,” says García. “When I didn’t have any it was: ‘What if he is never to win a major?’ Back then I said: ‘At the end of the day, obviously yes, winning a major makes your career better,’ but I already felt like my career was a great career. You can ask a lot of guys out here and they’d be very happy having a career like I had, even to that point.
“It is obvious that the more majors you win, the better your career gets but that doesn’t mean that now, because I haven’t won a second one, my career is suddenly bad again. I don’t ever look at it that way. “
García’s sentiment actually ignores the fact that so many within golf were willing him to win a major. It felt appropriate. Those with two majors to their name include Ángel Cabrera, Lee Janzen, Zach Johnson and Retief Goosen. García should take it as a compliment that there is a widespread sense he should, at the very least, be in such company before he retires.
Golfers throughout history have insisted their professional lives have been more than satisfactory, only to admit an element of bluffing when finally entering major-winning territory. It is somehow perceived as a form of weakness to reveal major frustrations. García is interesting in this context because he was adamant at the time of glory in Georgia that the difference to him would be minimal. He stands by that very point, five years on.
“I was proud of doing it, of course I was,” says the 42-year-old. “It’s obviously a special week every time I go back there and it’s special to be called a Masters champion for the rest of your life. But like I said, I was very happy with the career I had before so it wasn’t a case of: ‘If I don’t win one of these, I can never be happy about what I have achieved.’ Winning it makes things better but it wasn’t like a gamechanger for me. Earlier in my career, it would have made a bigger difference. “
García’s Augusta experiences post-2017 rather sum up what has been a rocky relationship between player and venue. Indeed, at times before victory – and even when in promising positions – García would give the impression he thought himself more likely to win Miss World than the first major of the year. García laughs when asked if he does actually love Augusta National. “Yes, I do,” he says. “It has obviously changed a lot from the first time I went there in 1999 but it’s still an amazing championship and a special place.
“It is a course which has delivered a bit of both for me. There have been some good things, some not so good things. I always go there excited and hoping things go well but you never know how things might turn out. “
He missed the cut in 2018, 2019 and 2021. The European Ryder Cup icon was forced to sit out the 2020 staging of the Masters after testing positive for coronavirus. What Augusta gave, it has duly taken away.
“I don’t feel like there is one reason for that run,” García says. “There has been a combination of things. Right after I won there was a change of equipment and that didn’t really work out. That didn’t help me. Last year even though I didn’t start well, I should have made the cut without doubt but missed by one. It seems like things haven’t wanted to happen there since I won, if that makes sense. But you keep going back, keep trying and wait for things to change a little bit. Hopefully that will be this year. “
Case in point: the 15th hole during round one of Garcia’s title defense. With just 200 yards left to the green on the par five, Garcia fired his second, fourth, sixth eighth and 10th shots into water. An eventual 13 meant he was virtually guaranteed to exit at the halfway point. But is such an incident easier to take when one is already the Masters champion?
“I see the point of how that could happen and perhaps a little bit, but at the same time we are competitors,” García says. “We do not ever like it when something like that happens. Even more so, when you hit what was probably two or three good shots that ended up in the water. I think of my first and second shot that way. You can look back and say: ‘You know what, that was meant to happen,’ or whatever but it could never be fun having an experience like that. You want to make birdie or eagle there. It still got me badly. It maybe lasts a little bit less because you have won there but it still gets you, for sure. “
García has spent the buildup to the 86th Masters admitting improvement is needed if he is to compete for that second win. His iron play di lui has been typically accurate but he has averaged more than 28 putts per round on this PGA Tour season and his driving di lui has been occasionally wayward. He may, then, arrive at Augusta more in hope than expectation; a policy that has not done García much harm in the past. It would be no surprise at all to see him feature in upcoming Masters discussion.