Sergio Garcia conquers Europe, ends frustration with green jacket

Sergio Garcia’s Masters victory is by far the European highlight of 2017 for one simple reason: Most of us – even the man himself – had given up hope of Garcia ever joining the major club.

Nine Europeans now have won majors since the turn of this century. Padraig Harrington kicked things off with three wins in 13 months. Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Justin Rose, Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson all followed. Some wins were obviously more popular than others. McIlroy’s 2014 British Open victory at Royal Liverpool touched the heart strings. Clarke’s 2011 British Open title at age 42 was one for the ages. Stenson becoming the first Swedish male major winner was a great story.

Yet something about Garcia finally coming of age at 37 held European fans spellbound.

“It was gripping stuff because he seemed to have blown it, and we all thought ‘Well, that’s what Sergio does: He gets close but always comes up short,’ ” said former European Ryder Cup player Ken Brown, now a BBC TV commentator. “Then he makes that miraculous par on 13 and goes on to win. It was fairy tale stuff.”

Brown wasn’t alone with his initial thought. When Garcia’s ball found that little tributary to Rae’s Creek left of Augusta’s 13th fairway, many assumed Rose would be fitted for one of those coveted green jackets.

‘Rubbish to think Sergio wouldn’t win a major’

Garcia was pegged early as a future major winner when he ran up Medinah’s 16th fairway in pursuit of Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship. He lost by a stroke, but few doubted he’d push Woods over the next 10 to 15 years. Instead, he joined Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood in a select European club: great players who somehow couldn’t get the job done in the tournaments that really matter.

It was not a theory with which Ryder Cup teammate Ian Poulter agreed.

“It was rubbish to think Sergio wouldn’t win a major,” Poulter said. “Here’s a guy who’s been at the top of the game since he turned pro, and people were writing him off even though guys like Darren and (Mark) O’Meara proved 40-year-olds can do it.”

Even Garcia had signed up for the role of best European player not to win a major. Remember when he publicly announced he didn’t have what it takes to win one of the blue-chip events?

“I’m not good enough. … I don’t have the thing I need to have,” Garcia told Spanish reporters at the 2012 Masters. “In 13 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”

When asked he if meant the Masters, Garcia replied: “In any major.”

If there was a distant rumbling of thunder, it was the sound of Seve Ballesteros turning in his grave. Many couldn’t believe Garcia’s negativity.

“The frustrating thing was he was a fantastic ballstriker with a great short game that had one big flaw,” said Mark Roe, former European Tour player turned short-game specialist. “Only his putting was holding him back. That change to the claw grip was the missing link. And if he can hole putts on those greens to win the Masters, then he should now have the confidence to contend in more majors.”

All was forgiven after the green jacket.

Garcia’s 2012 woe-is-me moment was all too familiar. Acts of petulance are rare in professional golf, but Garcia has bucked that trend often. He was less than gracious in 2007 when he lost a playoff to Harrington in the British Open at Carnoustie. Garcia’s ball hit the 16th flagstick and, instead of dropping close to the hole, ended up 20 feet away. Garcia’s response didn’t surprise anyone.

“That stuff always happens to me,” he moaned at a time when he should have been congratulating Harrington.

There were many other times Garcia was less than gracious: a shoe-throwing tantrum during his rookie year in the World Match Play at Wentworth; spitting into the cup on the 13th hole at Doral in 2007; arguing with officials; storming off courses; giving the finger to unruly fans at the 2002 U.S. Open. The charge sheet is endless.

And he could turn on reporters faster than it takes to post 140 characters. I know, I’ve been on the receiving end.

Somehow the petulance, the tantrums, added to Garcia’s appeal. Athletes with edge fascinate us, and Garcia has plenty of edge. So it was almost as if European fans collectively said, “All is forgiven, Sergio” once he pulled on the green jacket. 

(Note: This story is one in a series reviewing the year in golf. It appears in the November 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

Jon Rahm’s next challenge: Figure out the majors in 2018

From Countries to Continents, Golf’s New Globe-Trotters

Travel for Rolex Series events began easily enough with players going from England to France to Ireland and Scotland. But after a stand-alone event in Italy in October, the frequent-flier miles increase in November during a brutal three-week schedule of Turkey, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

Tommy Fleetwood of England enters the World Tour Championship as the leader of the Race to Dubai, a season-long competition with points earned based on prize money, and he will win $1.25 million if he can hold off Justin Rose, the winner in Turkey. Fleetwood is competing despite the birth of his first child, a son, Franklin, on Sept. 28.

European Tour Rolex Series

Irish Open Portstewart Golf Club, Portstewart,

County Londonderry, Northern Ireland; July 6-9

Scottish Open

Dundonald Links, Troon,

Ayrshire, Scotland; July 13-16

European Tour PGA Championship

Wentworth Club, Virginia Water,

Surrey, England; May 25-28

Open de France

Le Golf National,

Paris, France;

June 29-July 2

Turkish Open

Regnum Carya

Golf & Spa Resort,

Antalya, Turkey;

Nov. 2-5

Italian Open

Golf Club Milano,

Parco Reale di

Monza, Italy;

Oct. 12-15

World Tour Championship

Jumeirah Golf Estates,

Dubai, United Arab Emirates;

Nov. 16-19

Nedbank Golf Challenge

Gary Player Country Club,

Sun City, South Africa;

Nov. 9-12

“Can you imagine if I had a week off and then lost by 20 grand?” he said. “I can’t let that happen, really.”

And yet, 11 eligible players for the Turkish Open, including the Spaniards Sergio Garcia, ranked No. 3 in the Race to Dubai, and Jon Rahm, ranked No. 4, passed on the paycheck there; it’s yet another measure of how lucrative the pro circuit has become that some players chose to bypass it. Twenty-six golfers, including Dunne, competed in all eight of the Rolex Series events.

Dunne has his own incentive to keep playing. As of Nov. 13, he ranked No. 15 in the Race to Dubai and should he remain inside the top 30, he will earn a place in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland.

Dunne said losing his suitcase for four days in Morocco was a small price to pay for the winnings he’s amassed this season, 1.6 million euros, or about $1.8 million, so far. Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, a 22-year tour veteran, estimated his golf bag gets lost two-to-three times a year. Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand said he felt fortunate that his clubs only went missing for a matter of hours in Turkey while Haotong Li of China ignored the highlighter-orange luggage tag that denoted his clubs weighed more than 60 pounds and warned baggage handlers in Turkey, “Please bend and use your legs.”

Flight cancellations, missed connections, lost luggage and bouts of food poisoning are par for the course on the European Tour. The toughest challenge for Dunne during his five-week odyssey, he said, was managing his sleep pattern. When he arrived in Turkey after nearly 16 hours of travel from Shanghai, he spent the majority of the day in bed.

“I was in a coma,” he said.

Pelley said the tour tracks the mileage between its tournaments and tries to factor travel into the equation when making up the schedule.

“Would it be better if they were two hours away or we had an airplane that just flew a little faster? Well, sure, but that’s not the reality we live in,” Pelley said. “We do the best we possibly can, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.”

Beginning in 2016, when the tour sandwiched back-to-back events in Antalya, Turkey, and Sun City, South Africa, it enlisted an overnight charter between destinationss. Of the 72 players in the field at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last week, 57 took advantage of the flight, which has been known to include England’s Danny Willett and Andy Sullivan serving drinks to help pass the time.


Tommy Fleetwood of England enters the World Tour Championship as the leader of the Race to Dubai

Peter Morrison/Associated Press

Pelley joined his players on the trip last year. Top players also regularly receive comped hotel rooms as an incentive to play and that package of incentives increases at Rolex Series events, the European Tour deputy media communications director Steve Todd said.

There will be no complaints from Matt Wallace of England regarding his arduous journey to play in the Rolex Series, which has a total purse of $57.5 million. At the Turkish Open, there was no 36-hole cut to worry about. A year ago at this time, Wallace flunked out of the second stage of European Tour Qualifying School and only had limited status on the Challenge Tour, the European Tour’s development circuit, for the upcoming season. He had dominated the Alps Tour, a minor-league circuit the equivalent of AA in baseball, where the largest winner’s check he cashed amounted to €5,000. That meant splitting expenses.

“We’d have one rental car with five sets of golf clubs,” Wallace said. “We stayed four- or five-deep in an Airbnb.”

Winners of practice-round matches got pick of the rooms. It taught Wallace how to take his game on the road. “I feel comfortable going anywhere,” he said.

Wallace won the Open de Portugal in May, which earned him €90,000, full status for two years on the European Tour and entry into the Rolex Series events. He played the first seven and parlayed the opportunity into even more money. He held the 54-hole lead at the Italian Open, and his fourth-place check for €297,121 was the largest of his career.

“I paid my caddie that week half what I earned the entire year when I won six times on the Alps Tour,” Wallace said.

That professional golfers will continue to chase the almighty dollar is as sure a thing as the jet lag they experience in their far-flung travels. “Whoever can develop a pill for jet lag will make a fortune,” Gallacher said.

Dunne will not even be done when the season concludes in Dubai. Next week he will be in Hong Kong for the start of the 2017-18 European Tour season. When Dunne finally gets back to Dublin he will have flown well over 36,000 miles in the past five weeks.

“It’s what we do,” said Dunne, with a shrug of his shoulders.

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Lee Westwood and Chubby Chandler, once close friends, formally part ways as client-agent

It went public just before the Open Championship in July. After more than 24 years together, it was announced that 10-time European Ryder Cup player Lee Westwood would no longer use International Sports Management founder and agent Andrew (Chubby) Chandler to handle his business affairs. And now, after four months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the formal split between these former close friends is complete.

“Lee and I concluded the legal stuff this week,” Chandler says. “Everything that has to be signed has now been signed. A short statement is all that will be said publicly about that. There is a confidentiality agreement in place. Now we all start again.”

Understandably, long-held emotional ties may take a little longer to heal. Speaking exclusively to Golf World, Chandler expressed some sadness at what has come to pass. Westwood, the 23-time European Tour winner who is now represented by IMG, wasn’t saying as much, but it is understood that the relationship between the two men is all but non-existent, or “less than zero” as one figure close to the situation put it.

“There has been an emotional aspect to all that has happened,” says Chandler, who has also seen former Masters champion Danny Willett and New Zealander Ryan Fox leave ISM over the last few months. “It has been tough. I’ve sat on the edge of my bed a few times and wondered what the hell is going on. But we all react to different situations in different ways. Lee has taken decisions in the way he sees fit. And I’m fine with that. I wish him well and we all move on.”

It remains unclear specifically what transpired that led to the separation. Neither side has stated publicly a cause. At the time of the original news, Westwood described it as “a personal matter” but refused to comment any further.

Looking ahead, Chandler is determined not to repeat any mistakes of the past. “I didn’t realize until all this happened how drawn I was to Lee and Darren [Clarke],” said Chandler, Westwood and Clarke being two of the original clients he took on when starting his company in the early 1990s. “Even though it never showed and they are great mates, there was always a little bit of competition for my time. I now have dinner with a bigger variety of people. I got so close with Lee and Darren that it was Where are we having dinner? every night. Without realizing, I was neglecting some of my other clients. I should have been eating with more of them more often. But that has changed now. The dynamic has changed.”

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

In contrast with the Westwood scenario, Willett’s departure was more of a slow-burner than a rapid-fire exit.

“We had one meeting with Danny where we decided to give it to the end of the year to see how things were going,” Chandler says. “Then we had another where I came away thinking it wasn’t going to work. Once the feeling isn’t right, things are never going to work. I realized we weren’t talking to each other much. There was no input into what was going on. So while I’m sad and don’t think he has made the right decision, I respect the fact that he has made that decision.”

Going forward, Chandler remains optimistic. As so often in life, from darkness comes light.

“The good thing about all that has happened is that, although it has been tough, it has highlighted to me how lucky I am to have some really good friends around me,” he says. “Darren has been brilliant. He’s been incredibly supportive, especially as this whole thing puts him in a very difficult position. But he’s been a rock.

“Friendship and business is a hard thing to mix, so this feels like a divorce. I’ve had some interesting phone calls and some interesting texts. But one came when I was right at the bottom emotionally, maybe three weeks ago. It was from Ernie Els. He was brilliant. All he did was ask me what the ‘f—’ was going on. He cheered me up a lot.”

RELATED: My Shot with Andrew (Chubby) Chandler

One thing that hasn’t changed amidst all this turmoil is Chandler’s propensity for coming up with new and innovative ideas. By way of example, next year’s European Challenge Tour is expected to feature an event that Chandler has a hand in in which par will be every player’s “friend.” In a bid to finally win the seemingly never-ending battle with slow play, every competitor will be banned from putting for par. As soon as a birdie has not been achieved, it will be ball-in-pocket and on to the next hole.

“It won’t just be that par doesn’t count. The players will be banned from putting out once they haven’t made a birdie,” Chandler says. “That way they will all be round in three hours. We will have two points for a birdie, five for an eagle and eight for an albatross. That’s been done before. But no putting for par, which counts as zero. So you can’t knock it out of a bunker to four-feet and putt for par. Not allowed. And that’s where things will speed up.”

Players will also get double points if they hole-out from off the green, and all points will double on the last three holes. “Everybody is in with a chance right to the end,” Chandler says. “That might all turn out wrong. But it could also be really exciting. We’ll see. We’re not changing the game that much. We’re just making it quicker and getting rid of the dull bits. No one really gives a bleep about eight-footers for par.”

As far as the European Tour is concerned, Chandler sees much change ahead in 2019 and beyond. As the PGA Championship’s move from August to May will surely affect the PGA Tour schedule, the same will happen in Europe—to the eventual and mutual benefit of both circuits.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Chandler chats with European Tour chief Keith Pelley.

“I think [European Tour chief executive] Keith Pelley’s next move will be to create another level of tournaments,” Chandler says. “He has tested the water with the Rolex Series. They have worked well. And I can see things changing again 2019. There will be maybe half a dozen really big events in Europe then, ones the top guys will all play in. I think Pelley believes he can achieve that.

“I can see the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth going to a really big number in 2019. I think the Turkish Airlines Open will do the same. I think they will match anything they see elsewhere. Suddenly we will be seeing $10 million events. Which means there will be maybe three levels of tournaments in Europe. There could be a ‘super series’ at $10 million, another at $5 million and another at $2 million. That model, which is used by tennis, isn’t bad. The top players seem to have embraced it anyway.

All of which, Chandler is convinced, is just another step towards the formation of a World Tour. “I can see the PGA Tour and the European Tour working that out eventually,” Chandler says. “I can see [PGA Tour commissioner] Jay Monahan and Pelley sitting down to work out whether the broadcast rights would be worth more as a whole rather than separate bits as they are now. Would Europe get more money from television if they were lumped in with a bigger deal? My guess is they could do.”

All of which is typical Chandler-speak. Even as his heart has been aching, his head has been working.