Featured Golf News
Sergio Set for PGA Tour Season Start at Riviera
After spending the first part of 2012 on the European Tour, Spain's Sergio Garcia has ventured to America to make his season debut at the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open. The $6.6 million event starts Thursday at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Despite his relative youth, the 32-year-old is a seasoned veteran. Nicknamed El Nino>/I>, Garcia turned pro in 1999 after being the low amateur in that year's Masters. It wasn't long before he logged his first win as a professional, taking his maiden victory in the Irish Open in July '99.
In August of that same year, Garcia literally leaped onto the world stage with his runner-up finish one shot behind Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship. Then an exuberant 19-year-old, Garcia is still remembered for his shot on the 16th hole in the final round. After closing his eyes and taking a mighty swing at the ball - which was resting against a tree trunk in the right-hand rough, García hit a low, curving fade into the hidden green and took off running. As he got the crest of the hill, he jumped into the air to see the result and quickly became a golf icon for his youthful passion.
That same year Garcia became the youngest-ever player to compete in the Ryder Cup. In five of the biennial competitions he's compiled an impressive 14-6-4 record. Most recently, he was a vice-captain to captain Colin Montgomerie on the victorious 2010 European squad at Celtic Manor in Wales.
In 2001 Garcia won twice and through 2005 had four more victories on the PGA Tour. His seventh win in America came in the 2008 Players Championship. Between 1999 and 2011, he also accrued 10 titles on the European Tour, with two of those - the Castello Masters and Andalucia Masters, both in Spain - coming last year.
Garcia's 11-shot triumph at the Castello Masters in Valencia - his first in Europe or the U.S. since the HSBC Champions in November 2008 - matched the third-largest victory margin in European Tour history.
Garcia has played twice in Europe so far this year. He was 12th in his season opener at Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and fifth in the Qatar Masters in late January.
On Tuesday, Garcia met with reporters and discussed the state of his game and attitude coming into his 2012 American debut. Here's what he told reporters at the course he considers one of his favorite in the U.S.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Sergio Garcia into the interview room, making your first start of the PGA Tour season but coming off of a really nice finish with two back to back wins in October. Maybe just give us your thoughts on kicking off your season here at Riviera.
SERGIO GARCIA: Yeah, thanks. Yeah, I was excited to start here in the U.S. Fortunately I'm starting a little bit earlier than last year, which is a good thing, and yeah, we had a good season last year. We played a couple tournaments at the beginning of this year, obviously in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, which were pretty good to start the year with. Just looking forward to hopefully keeping the run going and keep playing well through these weeks.
Q. You had taken Riviera off your schedule for several years. Why did you want to come back here?
SERGIO GARCIA: Well, I think that it just fit this year. I like to start the year in the Middle East. They have great tournaments there to start the year with very good fields and a lot of World Ranking points. And usually it's been tough to come all the way from the Middle East to here. This year because we were in the match play and we didn't play Dubai, I had the possibility of coming here and playing LA. I love this course. It's one of my favorites on Tour. I've always enjoyed Riviera. It's a bit of a shame that I wasn't able to come and play more often.
Q. As someone who's played in both Europe and here, can you just give your thoughts on the accomplishment that Luke had last year and leading the Money List on both tours, how remarkable that is?
SERGIO GARCIA: Yeah, it is. Like you said, it's very remarkable. Well, I mean, it's never really been done by a guy that is a member of both tours and has won both Orders of Merit. So it shows you how difficult it is to do it. For a guy like Luke, which is a good friend of mine, to be able to do it, as well as No.1, too, it was great to see.
Q. Could you have imagined anyone doing that, and what is the toughest part about pulling that off in your mind?
SERGIO GARCIA: Yes, obviously you can do it. There's no doubt that you can. I think that I mean, there's two ways of doing it. The tough way is by playing on a regular schedule, which if you have both cards like I do, for example, if you try to schedule in a way that you play both Tours and you don't overplay, you end up playing maybe 16, 17, 18 tournaments in the U.S. and maybe 14, 15 in Europe. So to be able to do it playing that little amount of tournaments on both Tours is very difficult. You have to play very, very well on the right tournaments every time, and that's what obviously Luke did. The other way of doing it is just playing every week, both tours. But if you do that, then the next year or the year after that could be quite tough on your body, I guess.
Q. People always talk about the best par 3s in golf being the shortest ones, 12 at Augusta and 7 at Pebble and things like that. I was just curious what you've found to be the best long par 3 that you've ever played on this Tour.
SERGIO GARCIA: I don't know, I'm not a huge fan of long par 3s. I think that, for example, 16 is a great par 3 here, and it's only about 160 yards. I think that Valderrama has great par 3s, and they're not very long at all. Third hole, for example, very small green, you're only hitting a 7 or 8 iron but there's a lot of bogeys made there. I don't know, obviously of long par 3s you can think of the 4th hole here, but like I say, I'm probably not the right guy to ask because I'd rather have a shorter par 3 with a small green and a hole that if you miss - like for example, 17 at TPC, those are the kind of par 3s I like. A hole that you can make birdie, but if your shot is a little bit off, you're going to make bogey or more. Sometimes the long par 3s feel like you can hit a good shot and still make bogey, and it feels maybe a little bit unfair.
Q. More and more young guys are coming out on Tour and kind of making an impact right away, and you were one of those that hit the Tour running early. Can you talk a little bit about the challenges of that, coming out and being successful early and some of the things that go along with that as a young player?
SERGIO GARCIA: Yeah, it's - well, it's like everything. I think when you come out, you're new. There's good and bad things about it. I think that depending on your personality and charisma and stuff, you can take it in a way that's very loose and just playing and you don't care about anything and you do well. And then there's other guys that maybe put a little bit too much pressure on themselves. But like you said, it's good to see some of those young guys coming out and doing so well, and it's great to see that the game of golf is in such a nice spot at the moment with all those youngsters coming out.
Q. Which category would you put yourself in when you first came out, the guy that took it too seriously?
SERGIO GARCIA: No, definitely not. Definitely the one that was just playing and didn't really see anything out there, just wanted to play.
Q. Your thoughts on Riviera Country Club?
SERGIO GARCIA: Well, like I said before, I love this course. I think it's great. When it plays firm, it's one of the best that we get all year. I think it's got a mix of tough driving holes with some holes with small greens, small targets. And then the putting surfaces are quite difficult. When they're fast like they are as of now, they get very, very tricky. You can have some putts that if your touch is not on you're going to struggle. I think it's a great mix.
Q. Your swing is really clicking now. If somebody gave you a compliment on your golf swing, what would you most like to hear?
SERGIO GARCIA: If someone gave me a compliment? I don't know. Compliments are nice, but at the end of the day, you're the one that has to feel it. So if someone tells me, oh, you're swinging great but I don't feel it, it really doesn't mean much to me. At the end of the day, you all know how much of a feel player I am, and when I'm feeling good, I don't need anyone to tell me how well I'm swinging, and sometimes when it looks like I'm swinging good, I might not feel like I'm swinging it as well as it might look.
Q. The Ryder Cup has always had a very special place in your heart. Having been an assistant captain at Celtic Manor, wondering how much hungrier you are to get back on that European team this year?
SERGIO GARCIA: As hungry as I was before, as hungry as I was trying in 2010 and as hungry as I was in any of the other ones that I managed to qualify for. You all know how much I love the Ryder Cup and how important it is to me. It's definitely one of the goals. I would love to make that team and help my teammates retain the Cup obviously.
Q. And as a follow up, obviously with Ollie as captain, extra sweet?
SERGIO GARCIA: Yes, definitely. I think José is going to be an amazing captain. I've had him as a vice captain, and he was great. So I'm really looking forward to seeing him as a captain. I just hope that we can all play as good as we know so we can help him win it. And it's nice to see him playing better, too, which is great.
Q. What part of your game would you say has improved the most in the last 12 months, and how big were the back to back victories for your confidence, how important?
SERGIO GARCIA: I think that you can probably say that chipping and putting is what's improved the most. I think every part has improved. Probably mentally is what's improved the most because you go from kind of being a little bit screwed up in the head to really knowing what you want to do on the course and are willing to be there. Your thought process kind of changes a little bit. So that probably made everything else get better. And then what was the other question you said?
Q. Just winning back to back.
SERGIO GARCIA: Oh, yeah, sorry. That was - no doubt, it was very important. But like I said before those two wins, throughout the whole year, I felt like I was doing a lot of good things throughout the whole year, and it was getting better and better. And that was giving me the confidence to then end up winning twice. But the way I played at the U.S. Open, the way I played at the British Open, even at the PGA and some of the other tournaments in Munich and stuff like that, those kind of things were just buildups for my confidence and to help me with my game.
Q. How close are you to that player you were when you were younger that as you described it just went out and played and didn't let anything that was going on get to you?
SERGIO GARCIA: Well, I think I'm about 15 years away from it (laughing). Everything changes. You can't - it's difficult, but obviously you can't be the same when you're 32 as when you're 18 or 19. I think that you obviously have more experience. You know what's going on more around not only about golf but around the world and around your world, you might say, and it obviously changes you a little bit. But you know, I try. I try to be like - I wouldn't say like I was when I was 18 or 19, but I try to enjoy the game as much as I did then and just try to play it as free wheeling as I can play.
Q. Was there a time when you lost that love for the game, where it started to feel more like drudgery out here, and how do you turn that around?
SERGIO GARCIA: It did feel a little bit that way, probably a couple years ago. I guess it was a mix of what was happening outside the golf course, what was happening inside the golf course, and it did kind of weigh a little bit on me. But fortunately I managed to - not only myself but with everybody around me, all the good people I have around me, we managed to kind of find a way around it. It seems like we're slowly getting back to what we knew, what to do, and we're just hoping that we can keep it going that way.
Q. We've already seen cases this year of guys losing third round leads, guys coming from six shots back to win, Kyle Stanley with a three shot lead at the 18th and then of course winning the next week. But for some reason are leads getting harder to hold onto out here do you think?
SERGIO GARCIA: It depends. I think that - obviously I think the level of play has improved every year, so you have guys that are two, three, four shots behind on the last round, and with a good round they can win, obviously if the guy who's leading doesn't have a great round. So that's probably what you've been seeing. I don't think there's a specific way about it. I think it's just something that has happened. But obviously if you're leading by three and you shoot 7 or 8 under, it's difficult to get back. But it's not easy to do that. That's probably what we've seen, some of the things that have happened.
Q. From your own experience, what do you remember about Quail Hollow? Do you remember going in there feeling like you had no chance to lose? Were people already thinking you were the winner?
SERGIO GARCIA: No. Well, like I said before, I think that at the end of the day, I am the one that needs to feel like I'm going to win or anything like that. So no, I mean, I was feeling good. I played good through the whole week, but I knew that and Quail Hollow even more is a tough golf course, and you know that if your game is not on, you're going to struggle a little bit. And if someone else is on and starts well and then you don't start out well, they catch up, and it feels like it's harder to get things going. That happens, and that obviously happens in majors and stuff like that. But if you get off to a good start and you kind of get going, you relax a little bit, it feels like things happen easier, then also the other guys, they see that you're not backing up, and they feel like you have to try even harder to catch up.
So it's just a mix. It all depends. I don't know, for example, in Castillon last year, it was a little bit like that. I think I had like a seven shot lead, and everybody was like, the tournament is over, the tournament is over, and I was like, no, it's not. And if I would have not had the start I had on Sunday with what Gonzalo did on the front nine shooting 29, it could have been a very tight back nine, but fortunately I was confident, I played well, I got off to a good start, I made a couple birdies early on and I got going. And I didn't give him the impression that he was going to have the chance of catching me. And that relaxed me and that probably put a little bit of extra pressure on him, even though he was playing amazing.
Q. What's the closest he got to you that day?
SERGIO GARCIA: I don't know. He probably got within six or something like that. But obviously he shot 7 under on the front. If I shoot - I think it was like eight behind me or something like that. If I shoot even par, he's one behind. But I was fortunate enough to shoot, I think, 5 under or something like that. So I kept him away from me.
Q. Back on the Ryder Cup, back in Wales you got to celebrate victory, but it was different in that you weren't as big a part as usual. What was the swing of emotions with that?
SERGIO GARCIA: It was different. Like I said there, it was great to be a part of the team in the way that I was. But at the same time, I said that, too, I would not like to do that again because even though you try to help as much as you can, you feel like you're useless. You can't do anything. You can't say anything. You can just be there and support them and keep it up and this and that, but you can't help them with any clubs, you can't help them with any putts, you can't help them with anything. So it feels like you kind of have your hands tied behind your back. But I'm just hoping that I'm able to be on the other side of the draw, I guess, and I'll be playing and I'll be hearing the support from other vice captains instead of myself.
Q. When you come into a tournament, do you think about a certain player, somebody you like to beat? Would it be the defending champion like Aaron who won it last year or Phil Mickelson who just won a tournament this past week? Is there any particular player that you're gunning for, or do you not even care about that?
SERGIO GARCIA: Not really, no. Pretty much when I come into a tournament like this, stroke play tournament, I'm just seeing how I feel, just trying to get the best sensations possible for me, and knowing that if I play well, hopefully I'll have a chance of winning. If someone else comes out and plays better than me, then so be it and congratulations. Obviously in a match play tournament it changes. Next week I'll be thinking about beating the first guy I get to play and then the next one and the next one and the next one. But on a stroke play tournament, myself, I just try to feel as best as possible and then just try to play my best golf.
Q. The difference in your putting when you're putting well versus when you're struggling, is it mostly mental, or does it tend to be something physical?
SERGIO GARCIA: Well, the main difference is that when you're putting well, the balls go in, and when you're putting bad, they don't.
Q. What makes them go in?
SERGIO GARCIA: No, I've always said it. I think for me putting well is not all about making putts. That's the end result. But for example I mean, I can give you an example. Last year at Qatar, I was playing great, putting great, got really going. I was 6 under through 12, and then I three putted 13, hit a good putt that lipped out, and from then on, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, I hit five good putts in a row and I didn't make one. But it's funny how momentum kind of changes. If I make my putt on 13, probably things started going and I'd probably made a couple birdies coming in and probably end up finishing second or third, something like that. But then you miss one and then all of a sudden it seems like sometimes you're not able to recover from it. Even if you hit good putts, it seems like the ones that were dropping in, they're just burning the edge. At the end of the day, it's probably more mental than anything, just seeing that you're going to make it, and obviously if you put a good stroke, then you have a better chance. But you know, that's pretty much about it.
Q. As you enter this stage of your career, early 30s, and this is usually heading into most players' prime, how would you assess your career up to this point?
SERGIO GARCIA: I think that - I've always said, I'm very happy with the career I've had. It always depends on who you compare it against. But for myself, I feel good about it. I obviously think that I could have won many more tournaments, but I probably could have lost some of the ones I won, too. You know, I don't feel like - I feel like I've had a very successful career so far. I'm hoping to make it even better. But if I had to quit golf tomorrow, I wouldn't be - I would not be unhappy about it.
Q. You just said it always depends on who you compare your career to. Do you compare yours to anybody in particular?
SERGIO GARCIA: No. No, I compare it to myself. You're the guys that like to do those things (smiling).
MODERATOR: Sergio, thanks so much. Good luck this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.