In the opening months of 2019 Garcia was disqualified from a tournament in Saudi Arabia for causing damage to five greens after a mid-round implosion. His peers playing behind him complained. Since then, footage emerged of Garcia tossing a club at his caddie, brother Victor, after a stray drive during the British Open. He gouged another tee after a similarly frustrating drive at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational. Some wanted him banned for a couple of weeks after months as a walking human headline.
The past two years have been perhaps the best window into Garcia’s two-decade-long career. He’s fiery and fragile, affable and articulate, out of line and out of this world, once almost broken, yet always box office.
Sitting alongside the practice green of The Australian Golf Club half a world away from Augusta and those troubles, the Spaniard is delicately cutting up a meat pie (just don’t ask him about Vegemite) with a knife and fork. He’s preparing for his first tilt at the Australian Open next week. One of the first places he agreed to play after winning the US Masters was the Gold Coast for the Australian PGA at a time when every tournament promoter the world over was chasing his signature.
He’s now telling this audience about his day as just another tourist at Bondi Beach in the past week. He turns 40 next year and if it wasn’t for family – he and wife Angela named their first daughter Azalea after Augusta’s famed flowers and are now expecting a boy – you assume he might want to spend a holiday here until the birthday milestone.
“I’ve always said Australia is one of my favourite places in the world – it’s just a shame it’s so far away,” Garcia says. “I like the people, I like the country and the courses are great. It’s pretty easy for me to make a decision that if a good opportunity comes to take the trip over here. It’s a long trip, but it’s definitely worth it.”
The Stonehaven Cup field is studded with some of the world’s best, perhaps the best assortment for the national championship in almost a decade. Most are also here for the Presidents Cup in Melbourne next week against the Tiger Woods-led Americans, including Australians Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith, defending champion Abraham Ancer and Internationals captain Ernie Els. Even allowing for world No.14 Paul Casey, there’s something magnetic about Garcia that will have the turnstiles clicking.
Australia is one of the few countries where Garcia is yet to win – his European Tour success in Holland this year gave him a professional win in 15 nations – and, unashamedly, he wants to rectify it. With that major out of that way, he’s not done yet.
He talks about the Olympic Games as a goal as he faces a fight with compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello for the second Spanish spot in Tokyo alongside world No.3 Jon Rahm. Garcia played at Rio when golf returned to the Olympic program while others cited multiple reasons for staying away. He also wants another run at The Open, badly. The Ryder Cup is back next year where he hopes to improve on his record as the most successful points-getter in Europe’s history.
“It’s funny, you look at the game a little bit differently when you become a father and you look into the future,” Garcia says. “You never know when you get to a point where you say, ‘I just want to spend more time at home and not travel as much’. I’m sure that will happen at some point – but it’s worth it, because spending time with them is amazing.
“It’s simple [what keeps me going]. As a golfer, the great thing about golf is that you can always get better. There’s always things you can achieve. I would love [to win] The Open before I stop, that’s always been a goal of mine. I’ve had two or three really good chances and I would love to give myself another two or three good chances coming forward and see if we can do it. Because it would be unbelievable.
People say that I should’ve been more successful and I agree, I could’ve been more successful. But at the same time, I could’ve been less.
“There’s still a lot of things that you want to do and then outside of playing, I want to start a little more golf course design, kind of leave my imprint on the game worldwide – not only by playing. Then keep working with our foundation, keep helping kids that need it. So there’s always things to achieve.”
Garcia and fellow 39-year-old Scott – now the highest-ranked Australian in the world at No.18 as he enjoys a career renaissance – have been two of the healthiest players on tour throughout their careers. Both have struggled, somewhat, after winning majors they had coveted for so long. They both started a family after winning at Augusta and Garcia missed every cut at the majors in 2018, just a year after winning at Augusta. His rankings slide – he’s down to No.37 upon arriving in Australia – can be reversed in Sydney after a promising sixth at the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai.
It’s brought about a philosophical mood. He’s past the indiscretions of this year, past the Masters, past the ghosts of the past and again looking forward when it would have been easier to look back.
“I’m very thankful for the career I’ve had so far,” Garcia says. “People say that I should’ve been more successful and I agree, I could’ve been more successful. But at the same time, I could’ve been less successful. I’m just hoping to go as long as I can go.
“If I stay healthy, the good thing about that, I can keep getting some momentum. Obviously as the game evolves and more and more youngsters come out, being more prepared and better physically, hit farther, obviously it becomes a little bit tougher to stay at a really high level all the time.”
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.