Is Sergio growing up at last?
Ten years ago, a dashing young Spaniard stood in front of a full-length mirror in the locker room at Southern Hills and spent an inordinate amount of time adjusting his hat so it looked just right.
Some of his fellow competitors rolled their eyes as they walked by, but Sergio Garcia, then just 21, didn’t care.
He was getting ready for his close-up.
Coming off his first tour win in the US, he was one shot back going into the final round of the 2001 US Open in Tulsa and felt sure he’d become the youngest Open winner since the immortal Bobby Jones.
But that Sunday at Southern Hills would go the way all the Sundays in majors have gone for Sergio: ending in heartbreak.
After rounds of 70-68-68, he limped home in 77.
Afterward, he complained about not getting any breaks.
It was a curious, even juvenile outburst but many forgave him as he was just 21 and was, naturally, disappointed.
In retrospect, forgiveness was the wrong approach.
What Garcia needed most then wasn’t a cuddle but a stern reminder that champions make their own luck.
Jack Nicklaus finished runner-up in 19 majors but he’d shake the hand of the man who’d beaten him and offer his congratulations.
The motif of Garcia’s career has been this rather sad idea that he’d have won so much more if only he’d been the one to get the good bounces.
It’s a convenient explanation because a mysterious force denying him his due naturally absolves Garcia from any actual responsibility for his own fate.
Nowhere was that more evident that in the aftermath of another Garcia Sunday majors meltdown.
In 2007, he led the British Open — his favorite major — after each of the first three rounds at Carnoustie.
Early in the fourth round, his lead stretched to four shots, Garcia began to stumble.
In the end, he needed a par on the last hole to win.
He was unable to get up-and-down from the greenside bunker, then lost in a playoff against Padraig Harrington.
His news conference after that loss was remarkable, for all the wrong reasons.
Not once did he acknowledge Harrington, instead blaming the delay he faced on the 18th — right down to accusing the bunker rakers of taking too long — and, of course, the golf gods for conspiring against him.
“I should write a book on how to not miss a shot in the playoff and shoot 1 over,” he said.
“It’s the way it is. It’s guess it’s not news in my life.”
Garcia bemoaned the fact that he hit the flagstick with an iron shot in the playoff, but that the ball caromed and he didn’t make birdie.
“It’s funny how some guys hit the pin and go to a foot. Mine hits the pin and goes 20 feet away,” he said.
“You know what’s the saddest thing about it? It’s not the first time. It’s not the first time, unfortunately.
“I’m playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field.”
Garcia can be effervescent, charming and engaging.
But as he’s gotten older he’s become more prone to being sullen and sulking about how life’s not fair, how his putts lip out while Tiger’s lip in.
“In many ways Garcia is the Linus van Pelt of golf,” a former colleague, Mark Reason, once wrote.
“The character from the Peanuts strip cartoon was eternally attached to his security blanket and believed that the Great Pumpkin flew around the world delivering toys to children. Garcia seems to be similarly insecure and delusional.”
Perhaps as it inevitably would, the burden of fighting these unknown forces out to get him became too much and, coupled with the sadness he felt when Greg Norman’s daughter, Morgan-Leigh, ended their relationship in 2009, Garcia lost whatever love he’d felt for golf.
He went through the motions last year, the worst of his professional career – slumping from a career-high second in the world rankings to 78th – and took an extended break after missing the cut at the PGA Championship.
The time off seems to have done him some good.
He’s made the cut in all seven events he’s played his season and had a couple of chances to win, most notably at the Byron Nelson.
He’s not yet at the point where he can put four rounds together but it can be a long road back from burnout.
“You can call it burnout, but it was mainly just becoming a little fed up,” he told me at The Players Championship.
“Not feeling like playing. Even though I was trying my hardest out there, I couldn’t get into it too much. My head wasn’t in the right spot. Obviously, when your head isn’t in the right spot, your body doesn’t react the way it should be. That’s always a losing combination, I guess.”
I don’t know if Sergio’s looked in the mirror 10 years after Southern Hills and realized he needs to grow up, but it showed me something that he went out to qualify for the US Open in Memphis on Monday.
He hasn’t had to qualify for a major since he turned professional in 1999.
He made it in a playoff and next week at Congressional, Garcia will play in his 47th straight major.
It’s probably coincidental but another man who seemingly couldn’t get over the majors hump, Phil Mickelson, finally broke through on try No. 47.