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An Open Letter to Sergio Garcia & His Detractors
As Sergio Garcia's putt to win the Open Championship in regulation lipped out, an enormous cheer went up from the group of cart boys, starters and golfers that were gathered around the bar of a Maryland daily-fee golf course. It was a disgusting, unprofessional, puerile display. It sickened me to watch and listen, and believe me I let a few people know about it.
"I don't like him because of what he did to Tiger" said one fellow. "And I think his clothes are ugly. He dresses like a Euro." I'm sorry, I must be confused. Where is it written that we all have to look alike?
"I don't like him because he's arrogant - he and all his little hot girls running around. Who does he think he is?" groused another.
"Ha ha!" laughed another, mimicking the voice of "Nelson" from The Simpsons. "He blew the British Open. He'll never win a major and he's second class."
I wanted to retch at this ethnocentric, vulgar, juvenile and petty display of supposedly grown men. They looked and acted like the quintessential "Ugly Americans." I wonder if they would have behaved the same way if they were in Madrid . . . or even Scotland. If so, they are clearly missing a few crucial lessons about grace and class.
You know what? Yes, Sergio has had moments where he's not been gracious or gallant. Maybe he's defiant. Maybe he's built a stereotypical image of himself that is larger than life. But the jingoistic, unsavory reaction heaped upon him in the press and from the rank-and-file golf fans at the course I recently visited has gone overboard.
Golfers do not root against others of their ilk. It violates the ethos that burns in the soul of true golfers - as opposed to those who merely "play golf." There are eight virtues in this world - courage, honor, loyalty, wisdom, fortitude, temperance, justice and compassion. Think long and hard about people you admire in your life and see how many they embody of these virtues and why.
What's virtuous about wishing ill of a player? What's virtuous about laughing as a man's life-long dream is in pieces at his feet? Is there any courage in that act at all? Any wisdom? How about temperance?
Yeah. I thought so. There's not one shred, is there?
Do you want to know how Sergio feels right now? Well, pretend for a moment you went to work today and your most important issue - a legal case, a critically ill patient, a college final, whatever - was ruined and everyone laughed at you. If you were a policeman or CIA agent, imagine you were about to capture Osama Bin Laden with the whole world watching, but he escaped under your clutches and everyone looked at you and began making jokes. If you were a doctor, imagine being selected to operate on a president, a monarch or a senator . . . and, horribly, your moment of triumph was dashed and the executive dies on the table.
If you're a sportswriter, imagine you did a huge story and suddenly it turns out you were horribly wrong and now must not only pay the consequences, but that people scoff at your failing and hold you as a cautionary tale. If you're a teacher, imagine a student you spent all year tutoring to help pass a crucial exam, only failed, and everyone glared at your failure. It's akin to being deeply in love with someone. When you ask that one person you've loved all your life the big question, she or he says they're marrying someone else.
That's not very funny is it? Now you see how tittering behind your back or laughing like a donkey at someone else's failure is despicable. We need more compassion in this terrible world, not less. More wisdom and temperance are sadly lacking.
You want a pound of flesh for the horrible "crimes" of Sergio's criticizing Tiger, his spitting in the cup and dating hot women? Here it is. Sergio's life-long dream lies in pieces. Everything he's worked for during his relatively short life has been dashed by an erroneous 4-iron and balky putter. Garcia must feel that each swing Harrington took landed right in his stomach. That should be punishment enough. If you've ever finished second in anything important, you may well know how much pain Garcia is going through.
As for his post-tournament press conference, yes, Sergio was neither gallant nor gracious. He sounded a "Why me?" whine that seemed to pervade his moments with the press. But how would you have handled it? Maybe better, maybe not. The pressure did not subside when Harrington's putt went in, but it increased. The reality crushed Sergio with its finality, his golf mortality creeping over him, despair running through his veins.
You can stamp his sins "paid in full" - almost. Yet still the media circle like vultures. After the tag had disappeared for a while, the worthless talking point of "Best player never to win a major" reared its ugly head and was thrown at him. Ridiculous. The BPNTWAM is still Colin Montgomerie, not Sergio. Go look it up. Check their career records. Monty has many more years of close calls and agony - albeit, more tournament wins and Ryder Cup appearances.
Now a personal note to Garcia himself: There is a small glimmer of good from all this. To turn this calamity into a happy story, three things need to happen. There must be communication, forgiveness and redemption. Sergio, there is a serious block between the American golf fans and media and yourself. You must do something to quell the public perception of defiance, arrogance and ingratitude. Americans actually like their heroes to be humble. So I'll bet you anything that if you called a press conference before the PGA Championship and addressed these issues with grace and humility, a lot of pressure would ease and you'd win the respect of both the casual fans and diehards.
Simply be candid and sincere. Yes, there are many who act thuggishly like those disgraceful Marylanders I met - especially the ones on duty at the golf course. But for every lowest common-denominator lunkhead who merely "plays" or "likes" the game, there are 10 good-hearted, upstanding souls who understand the Victorian soul and selfless ethos of a True Golfer (yes, that's capitalized). These are souls who will be touched to see your innermost feelings, to hear how you're suffering, who will be inspired to hear you say - in your lowest moment - that introspection has helped you find a silver lining and that you're working on self-improvement in life, not just golf.
Turn your detractors into friends. If they won't turn, then just remember that and prove them wrong through hard work and perseverance. Your successes will provide ample crow for them to eat.
To the detractors - COOL IT. Act your age. Stop and think. Pig-piling is for high school kids. Act like Ladies and Gentlemen (again, capitalized). Act like humans, with heart. The world needs more courage yes, but it also needs more temperance, wisdom and compassion.
I take no solace in Sergio's grim defeat this weekend and neither should you. It's just a game to us, but it's life to him. The "S" stands for Sergio, not Superman. If you cut him, he bleeds. He's young, yes, but is also mature enough to make requisite changes to get to the next level. That's upon him. If he doesn't learn from his mistakes and makes more, then be it on his head. But hating him for loud clothes? Because (gasp!) he criticized Woods? Because he dates Greg Norman's daughter, models and tennis stars or whomever may be hotter than people you dated? That's not golf and you know it.
Sergio is not perfect and he needs to make changes. Nevertheless, let's see if terrible loss and repeated mistakes make him a better, stronger and more humble man. It's happened before. Crushing Sergio under the weight of this loss purely for sport makes us look much worse than any petty crimes you may perceive he has committed.
As the legendary Bear Bryant once recommended as a universal precept: "To have class, to always have class."
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.