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Ryder Cup Icons: Sergio Garcia

Before even making his Ryder Cup debut – indeed, before even turning professional – it was quickly apparent that Europe had a future star on their hands.

Sergio Garcia had won the Jacques Leglise Trophy, a junior amateur competition between Great Britain & Ireland and Continental Europe, as well as the European Boys’ Team Championship and the European Amateur Team Championship, not to mention of course the Junior Ryder Cup.

Turning pro after winning low amateur at the 1999 Masters, Garcia was the first-round leader at the 1999 PGA Championship, ultimately falling one shot short of Tiger Woods on Sunday.

Garcia would crack the top-25 in the world, going on to qualify as the youngest player in Ryder Cup history, and the first teenager to appear at the event.

Not playing alongside either Miguel Angel Jimenez or the more experienced Jose Maria Olazabal, Garcia struck up an unlikely partnership with Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik.

Taking down Tom Lehman and Tiger Woods in the morning, before doing the same to Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, Europe took a shock 6-2 overnight lead.

More stellar golf followed as the pair beat Payne Stewart and Justin Leonard, before halving their match with Davis Love III and David Duval.

Huge underdogs going into the week, six of Europe’s first 10 points had come from the pairings of Garcia and Parnevik and Scottish duo Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie to establish a 10-6 lead going into Sunday’s singles. 

But the momentum was quickly halted with the USA winning the first seven matches on Sunday, with Garcia falling to a 4&3 defeat to Furyk, meaning the best Europe could do was clinch a Ryder Cup-retaining tie. 

It wasn’t to be, as Europe fell to a heart-breaking 14.5-13.5 defeat. What started with Garcia running and jumping up and down fairways in celebration earlier in the week, ended with the teenager in tears. 

But Garcia would be back – albeit as a captain’s pick – in 2002. The Spaniard was paired up with Lee Westwood for all four matches, winning the first three, and though he’d lose his singles match, Garcia would get his hands on the Ryder Cup for the first time.

2004 would see Garcia reunite with Westwood for four-balls, winning and halving their two matches, but he’d strike up a formidable partnership with Luke Donald.

In the more difficult foursomes format, Garcia and Donald won both matches as Europe established a near-unassailable 11-5 lead going into Sunday, with Garcia taking down Phil Mickelson in singles to end the week as Europe’s joint-top points scorer with Westwood, scoring four-and-a-half points from a possible five, and banishing the Brookline demons from 1999.

By 2006, Garcia was a cornerstone of the European team whose record playing in pairs was a remarkable 9-1-2. Twelve matches and just one defeat – and it was about to get better still.

With old partner Westwood playing with friend Darren Clarke after the death of his wife, Garcia went out with countryman Jose Maria Olazabal. As the Spanish teams so often did, they put the Americans to the sword.

Garcia and Olazabal played two four-ball matches and won both.

Garcia played foursomes with Donald again on Friday and Saturday and won both there. His combined four-ball and foursomes record had been extended to a ridiculous, unprecedented 13-1-2. One defeat in 16 matches with 14 points amassed; even the best stretch of Seve Ballesteros’s career saw him take 13 points from 16 matches.

His four wins from four matches also left him on the brink of Ryder Cup history. In the five-session era of the competition, dating back to 1975, no European had ever won all five matches, with the feat only being achieved by Larry Nelson.

History was to elude Garcia on this occasion, however, as he was just the third European to lose his singles match on the Sunday. Nevertheless, Europe recorded back-to-back 18.5-9.5 victories, with Garcia joint-top scorer once again.

While Ian Poulter would perhaps take the mantle in years to come, by 2008, Garcia was Europe’s Ryder Cup talisman.

But things came to a grinding halt. 

It’s fair to say captains can’t have too much of a positive influence on a Ryder Cup team; after all, they’re not the ones hitting the shots, but 2008 proved they can certainly have a negative influence. 

With no Donald to play with, Garcia played the morning foursomes with Lee Westwood, before being split to partner Miguel Angel Jimenez.

With Europe 5.5-2.5 down, Garcia was sat out Saturday’s morning session, before partnering Paul Casey in the afternoon. 

Garcia was then thrashed 5&4 by 23-year-old wonderkid Anthony Kim. It was a performance captain Faldo would later call ‘useless’, before softening to ‘lousy’, while citing Garcia’s bad attitude. 

While it wasn’t Faldo hitting the shots, he shouldered much of the blame as Europe – rare favourites on US soil – misfired, with Garcia failing to win a match all week.

And amid poor form throughout 2010, where he fell out of the world’s top 50, Garcia took an extended break from golf, jumping at the chance to be Colin Montgomerie’s vice-captain at Celtic Manor.

Back inside the top 20 two years later, a newly invigorated Garcia headed to Medinah with an unusually star-studded European team. With the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter and Luke Donald, the spotlight wasn’t on Garcia quite so much.

Back playing foursomes with Donald, big things were expected. But the new star of the American team, Keegan Bradley, upstaged playing partner Phil Mickelson to run out 4&3 winners.

Garcia would sit out of the four-balls in the afternoon, before errantly being partnered with Nicolas Colsaerts (where they’d lose 2&1), as opposed to Donald (who’d lose 7&6 with Westwood) the following morning.

Garcia played four-ball on Saturday afternoon with Donald, and despite nearly letting a comprehensive lead slip, Europe got back to 10-5 down, with Poulter’s heroics 15 minutes later reducing the deficit further.

But Europe were still 10-6 down and in need of a miracle.

Garcia, who’d not gone out later than second on Sunday since his debut in 1999, was sent out seventh to play Jim Furyk.

With matches above him finely poised through most of the afternoon, Garcia’s match was vital, and on a knife-edge. 

Garcia won the second hole; Furyk won the third and then the seventh; Garcia the 10th; Furyk the 12th; Garcia the 13th; Furyk the 14th.

A glance at the scoreboard suggested the USA would likely take a 13-10 lead, with the remaining five matches anyone’s guess, but Europe needing four points from them.

And so to the 16th, where everything changed. 

A see-saw match the Garcia simply could not lose. Out of the bunker to a matter of inches, Garcia was in for par with Furyk facing a 20-foot birdie putt. Tracking all the way, Furyk’s ball inexplicably, agonisingly lipped out. 

Furyk’s celebration premature; his expression pained.

Garcia could still take a point, but needed to win the final two holes. 

The Spaniard safely if not conservatively found the 17th green, but wasn’t within birdie range, while Furyk found the back bunker and left himself a 10-footer for par. Backing off three times, spending an eternity trying to get a read, his putt never even touched the hole. 

The match that had never seen more than a 1 up lead all day would fittingly be all-square going up the last as Garcia striped a wood down the fairway, while Furyk drove into a bunker. 

Furyk found the back of the green, and with three straight pars, Garcia went from 1 down to 1 up in three holes.

The rest is history.

Europe completed the most remarkable turnaround in Ryder Cup history.

In 2014, Garcia went 1-1-1 playing with McIlroy at Gleneagles, beating Jim Furyk on Sunday’s singles again to add another two-and-a-half points to his tally before heading back stateside in 2016.

It feels as though the attention on the Ryder Cup increased every two years and has for more than two decades, and in 2016 it reached another level. 

On the eve of the tournament, Danny Willett’s brother wrote an incendiary article aimed at American fans which seemed to rile up the locals more than was necessary or useful. Garcia claimed he felt ashamed for his American girlfriend upon hearing some of the taunts from the home fans, even pointing to his ear after going 4 up thru 10 with compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello on the Friday.

But it was a weak European team, left with a mountain to climb come Sunday.

Nevertheless, Garcia would play out arguably the greatest match in Ryder Cup history with Mickelson.

While Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed were the ones making all the noise in the opening match, Garcia and Mickelson played a standard not seen in the Ryder Cup.

Garcia stuck his first approach shot inside three feet for birdie, with Mickelson returning the favour on 2, albeit only for a half. Mickelson got back to all-square on 3, taking the lead on 4.

Each of the first seven holes saw at least one birdie. 

An 18-hole exhibition in one-upmanship, the match didn’t deserve a loser. 

Fittingly, it didn’t get one. A lengthy birdie putt on 18 saw Mickelson finish -10, with Garcia matching him to halve the match. 

After making 19 combined birdies, finishing with a better ball score of 58, Garcia and Mickelson took a half each, as the USA would run out comfortable victors. 

Heading to Le Golf National for the Ryder Cup in 2018, Garcia took three points from a possible four; the point on Sunday seeing him overtake Nick Faldo of all people.

Though he’d add three more points in 2021 playing alongside Jon Rahm, his place in the history books had been written back in 1999, and cemented in 2018.

This was a player who from an early age was destined to be a cornerstone of European teams, but he gives the impression he’d happily play just one match if it meant a European victory.

Indeed, Garcia recognised he wouldn’t be much use as a player in 2010 but gladly accepted a role as vice-captain, still only 30 years old. 

Upon his impending return two years later, he admitted his excitement at playing in the Ryder Cup again hampered his chances at the Tour Championship, where he partook in imaginary Ryder Cup matches against his American playing partners.

And though Garcia’s Ryder Cup career ends with him taking the most points, it was never his performances in Sunday’s singles that set him apart; Garcia finished with a singles record of 4-5-1, compared to 21-8-6 when playing in four-balls and foursomes.

As the man himself said after becoming Europe’s all-time leading points scorer in France: “At the end of the day, it’s about the team and I am happy to be able to help.” Garcia had overtaken Seve, Ollie, and indeed everyone to have ever represented Europe. 

But, true to the spirit of the Ryder Cup, it was never about Garcia, it was all about Team Europe. 

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