While nobody is ever guaranteed a place in the European Ryder Cup team, it would be hard to imagine Sergio Garcia not taking his place in the line-up at the 43rd edition of The Matches come September.
Captain Padraig Harrington has three picks at his disposal and one is likely to go to the Spaniard – Europe’s all-time leading points scorer – should the 41-year-old finish outside the top nine qualification spots.
Since making his debut at Brookline as an exuberant 19-year-old, Garcia has been a mainstay in the team, missing just one edition in 2010 when he was struggling both on and off the course. He made a superb return in 2012 and last time out in Paris won three points to overtake Sir Nick Faldo’s record as Europe’s best ever Ryder Cupper with 25½ points.
So what is Europe’s secret to their domination of the competition, with just three losses in the last ten editions?
“Obviously I don’t know what goes on in their team room, but I like to think that Team Europe has more fun that week,” reflected Garcia. “We’ve always managed to have a great team atmosphere, every time, and that obviously helps very much because it allows us to play nicely and therefor to be as successful as we have been in the last 10-11 Ryder Cups.
“Our team chemistry is huge. It’s probably one of our biggest, strongest weapons when it comes down to Ryder Cup.”
GARCIA’S RYDER CUP HIGHS:
2018 – Becomes Europe’s all-time leading scorer
Repays Captain Thomas Bjorn’s faith as a wildcard selection with three points from four – including the singles win over Rickie Fowler which took his career Ryder cup points tally to 25½, overtaking Nick Faldo’s long-standing record.
2016 – Singles Birdie-Fest with Mickelson
It would have been unfair had either play emerged with a full point after a ding-dong battle and it was justifiably halved in birdies on the 18th green. All in, the pair made 19 birdies, were a combined 18 under par with a better-ball score of 58.
2012 – Plays his part in Miracle finish
After earning just one point over the first two days, Garcia digs in to defeat wily veteran Jim Furyk 1up to put Europe 13-12 ahead and on course to eventually complete the Miracle of Medinah comeback.
2006 – Dominates on opening two days
Garcia partners Jose Maria Olazabal in two fourball victories and Luke Donald in two foursomes wins as Europe opens up a 10-6 lead. The Spaniard lost to Stewart Cink in the singles, but the platform for Europe’s win was already in place and they romped to an easy 18½ - 9½ victory.
2004 – Undefeated in five matches
Only a halved tie alongside Lee Westwood in the second-day fourballs against Jay Haas and Chris DiMarco denies both Garcia and the Englishman a 100% record at Oakland Hills as Europe cruise to a record-breaking victory on American soil.
Garcia has had numerous partners in both fourball and foursomes play and his role has changed as the years progressed. In 2004 he established a successful duet with Luke Donald that carried over to 2006 and was reunited again in 2012, while more recently he has paired up with rookies Alex Noren in 2018 and compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello in 2016. And Garcia doesn’t mind who he plays with – as long as the job gets done.
“It’s an honour for me to have been able to have helped the European Team as much as I have in my career,” said Garcia. “It’s something that I’m very proud of. For me, the team spirit that we have at the Ryder Cup is like nothing else in the sport.
“I’ve always enjoyed team events and team sports, like soccer, but being a golfer you don’t get to play in a team environment that often.
“It’s always fun to be able to do that and see how the whole team kind of opens up to each other and build some amazing relationships through it. And then you add the atmosphere and the energy from the fans – it’s just amazing.” – Sergio Garcia
“But I think the most important thing about it, is that it’s a natural chemistry, because we don’t really have to work hard for it. We enjoy each other’s company. We get along well. And you know, we love opening up for our partners, for our playing partner and stuff like that. That obviously makes things a little bit easier for us to gel as much as possible when it comes down to that week.”
WIN LATE LAST YEAR
Garcia won on the PGA Tour late last year at the Sanderson Farms Championship but his performance didn’t help his Ryder Cup campaign as qualification was halted when the matches were postponed last year and began again in January.
That victory – against a slightly weaker field – only moved him up ten places in the World Ranking, but it would have caught the eye of Harrington, and recent top tens at the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic and The Players Championship have kept Garcia on the Irishman’s bubble.
This September’s Ryder Cup will mark three years since the last contest and many in the game predicted a changing of the guard taking place – but with Garcia and fellow veterans Lee Westwood and Paul Casey all playing well, there are likely to be some very familiar faces donning Team Europe colours at Whistling Straits.
“I think that you take pride in what you achieve no matter what age you are, but as you get older, without a doubt you’re proud of anything that you do, because it doesn’t get any easier,” said Garcia, who finished T9 at The Players, with Casey T5 and Westwood runner-up. “I think Lee is playing unbelievable again and it’s great to see, Obviously he’s a good friend of mine, and I always wish him the best. I’m playing quite well too, so it’s nice to see both things.”
Garcia knows there’s a lot of golf to be played between now and September and he’s got to get his scheduling right if he is to achieve his ambitions.
“It’s a big year, and hopefully I can be in good shape because I want to be a part of a lot of things,” he said. “Scheduling is a big challenge, and much bigger than in the past for several reasons. First of all, because I’m not getting any younger and the body feels it. But second of all, because of the times we live in and how the rules and regulations are different in every country you go. It definitely comes into effect, and hopefully it won’t change my schedule too much throughout year.
“I try not to stress too much because at the end of the day we are still very lucky. We have a job. We do what we love and we still live a great life.”
Garcia ensured his status as one of Europe’s finest recent exports by finally breaking through as a Major champion at the 2017 Masters, defeating Justin Rose in a memorable play-off. The Spaniard was forced to sit-out last year’s Masters due to contracting coronavirus in the lead up and he’s taking a few extra steps to avoid getting it again and missing another trip down Magnolia Lane.
“I’m not playing the week before,” he explains. “We have fans back, so you know that at any time you might potentially catch it from any one of them – not that they’re trying to give it to you or anything like that, but it might happen.
“I would love to get closer to the fans, but there’s too much at risk and at stake for us at the moment, and if we get COVID because of anything, we’re the one that pays. So we have to be very careful as the fans come back into our game – but it’s great to have them, don’t get me wrong.”
ADAPTING TO FATHERHOOD
One thing Garcia has gradually learned to adapt to is leaving his young children, Azalea, who recently turned three, and Enzo, at home while he goes to play on Tour. “It is hard to leave the house as Aza gets a bit older and starts to miss me a little bit more,” said Garcia. “But I know that this is what I do for a living and that I love doing it, and it’s nice to play as well as possible for them to see me doing my thing. So it’s a good mix, but if definitely gets harder to leave home as the kids grow and give you hugs when you’re about to leave and say ‘don’t go’ and things like that.”
While Garcia’s priorities have shifted as his family starts to grow, the combination of their constant support and his fiery competitiveness make it almost a dead cert that he’ll get to represent Team Europe once again in The Ryder Cup come September.