We were brutal on Sergio Garcia at the 2002 U.S. Open, back when he had the yips at Bethpage Black.
You should have seen us New Yorkers work Sergio as he counted sheep to sleep over every shot.
It was like bus driver Ralph Kramden watching Ed Norton dawdle over a pool shot.
“…Will you hurry up!”
Ok, I’m no New Yorker, but I felt like one that long, Long Island week.
As a reporter covering the event, I had it even worse than the local yokels who vented their spleens at Sergio.
My “inside-the-rope” privileges allowed me up-close access to Garcia’s inner re-grip struggles, with this important caveat.
We scribes were forced to squat before every shot so as to not block the site lines of the paying savages, er, customers.
Writers who did not bow to the unruly masses would get professionally hectored by the same people who booed Bernie Madoff and Alex Rodriguez.
It’s funny what you remember.
Tiger Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open to cement his standing as best golfer of his generation, arguably ever. It was his seventh major win out of the last 11 that had been played.
Yet, what I remember most are my back and legs aching as I crouched between Sergio’s yippish swing thoughts.
“Hit the F-ing ball!”
“Hey Waggle Boy, I’ve got a plane to catch on Monday!!”
And, the ever popular “While we’re young!?.”
I had to do my muttering under my breath, of course, but Sergio was red meat to these public-course subway riders.
At one point in the Friday round, Garcia flipped a middle birdie finger to a fan who had insulted him.
“Sometimes they make stupid comments,” he said later.
The daily tabloids chewed him up. He was “El Nino.”
Sergio, who was dating tennis star Martina Hingis at the time, did not endear himself with his childish petulance. He called Tiger a “lucky” golfer and maintained, during a Friday rainstorm, that play would have been halted had it impacted Woods.
Woods and Sergio were then paired, not romantically, in the final round. Tiger did not make eye contact on his way to victory. Because, as they say behind crime scene caution tape, there was nothing to see here, folks.
Isn’t it nice, though, when your golf children grow up?
I found myself genuinely happy, along with millions of others, when Garcia won The Masters on Sunday.
It was his first major title in his 71st attempt. It was, finally, thank God, his time.
Garcia has come a long way from Bethpage Black. He’s 37 now and combing his hair to combat with male-pattern baldness. He’s getting married in July.
The enmity and\or indifference most of us had shown Sergio all those years melted away when he fended off the Englishman on the first playoff hole.
What a finish it was: Spanish-Rose.
Maybe this exemplifies the general goodness, and forgiveness, in most of us. We know how hard golf is, and how good Garcia has been at it without winning a major. Sergio, from the time he was 19, running down the fairway at Medinah in 1999, had to learn some of his hard lessons on the back page of the New York Post.
That must have been hard. We cynics also tend get gooey and gushy, too, as we age.
Sergio did learn from his mistakes and Sunday was the day we all came together for a group hug. It didn’t matter if English was his second language–you just couldn’t match the story line. He won on what would have been the 60th birthday of Seve Ballesteros. Sergio won with a back-nine eagle the same way Jose Maria-Olazabal once did it at Augusta.
Garcia won with the perfect amount of grace, dignity, joyousness and, yes, humility.
It was nice, finally, to be on his side.
“It’s been such a long time coming,” he offered.
It’s too bad Colin Montgomerie, another foreigner who got bangers and mashed by U.S. golf galleries, was never able to have such a day.
Sergio got his Sunday in the sun–bueno for him.
“I know how much of a hard-headed person I can be sometimes,” he said as we all slow-clapped.
What a perfect thing to say to a stuffy crowd of blue hairs wearing green jackets.
We’ve all grown up in these 15 years.
So, from most of us in New York who torched you at Bethpage, we now salute you:
Yo, Sergio, you done good.