Garcia navigates through challenging times

August, 22, 2009
08/22/09
11:21
AM ET

In many ways, Sergio Garcia's performance at the recent Wyndham Championship served as a microcosm of his career.

The man known as "El Nino" began the final round in a share of the lead, then grabbed sole possession of the top spot with three birdies in his first seven holes. From there, it was a slow, downward spiral into disappointment, as he played the final 11 holes in 3-over-par, failing to reach a playoff when his last-ditch birdie attempt from a greenside bunker stopped agonizingly short of the cup.

Sergio Garcia

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sergio Garcia's near miss at the Wyndham Championship last week left him just a shot out of what was a three-way playoff. He hasn't won on the PGA Tour since his victory at the 2008 Players Championship.

Instead, Garcia, 29, remains stuck on seven career PGA Tour victories -- more than any other player younger than 30, but largely considered a letdown based on his prowess as a teenage phenom 10 years ago. Still seeking his first major victory, the five-time Ryder Cup competitor has experienced an interesting professional career to date, equal parts success and failure.

On Monday, Garcia sat down on the ESPN.com Hot Seat to discuss that elusive first major triumph, last year's Ryder Cup loss, his recent breakup with the daughter of a legendary golfer and so much more.

Q: Your final shot from the bunker on 18 for a spot in the Wyndham playoff nearly went in but missed by inches. From where you were below the hole, could you see how close it came?
A: Yeah, I could actually. When I hit it, I knew I caught it really well. It was a little left of the pin, and I knew it was going to break a little to the right. It looked to me like it had a chance, but it always seemed like it was struggling to get there and unfortunately it just stopped about half an inch short. But at least I gave it a shot, which was good.

Q: I know you weren't too pleased with your game heading into the week. Does it help your confidence, faring so well, or does it only hurt, knowing you were so close to winning?
A: Well, it definitely does help. Anytime you play and contend and come close to winning a tournament, it obviously helps. I didn't feel great on Sunday, didn't feel that comfortable, and it showed a little bit, unfortunately. But the other three days it was pretty good, so it's slowly getting there. It's still not there, but we're getting close.

Q: You've been working hard on your swing recently. What exactly are you working on?
A: I'm working on getting through the ball, just before contact and just after contact. Sometimes I get a little bit stuck; my body gets a little behind and then the club gets stuck behind my body, and I have a hard time controlling that. So when I seem to flow a little easier and get through the ball a little easier, be a little bit more on top of the ball, it makes it better for me to control my golf club.

Q: How about the putter? You and the flatstick have had a volatile relationship over the years.
A: Well, there are times when I'm putting really well and some others where I struggle a little bit, but we're working on it. That's pretty much the only thing you can do, and hopefully it will keep getting better.

Q: What's the biggest difference between Sergio Garcia as a 19-year-old and today at age 29?
A: I'm 10 years older [laughs]. Just a little bit more mature, I guess. Obviously, when you're 19, you don't think about things and everything is beautiful and you don't care about anything. As you get older, there's a bit more worry in your life, but I'm still the same guy. Just a little bit older, I guess.

Q: Did you have more fun playing golf back then? Has it become more of a job over the years?
A: No, not at all. I've never considered golf a job. I do make a living with it, but I never consider it a job. I enjoy it -- that's why I play it -- and I just hope to keep it like that for the rest of my life.

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Q: You burst onto the scene for most fans, especially here in the U.S., when you finished in second place at the 1999 PGA Championship. Ever since then, have there been some unrealistic expectations on you?
A: By other people? I don't know. Maybe. But I know what I'm capable of doing, and that's the important thing to me. So at the end of the day, the only thing I can do is keep believing in myself, keep trying to get better as a golfer and as a person. If I manage to do that, when I'm done with my career, I'll be happy.

Q: Do you think that generally young players in the past 10 years have been given these expectations because they are playing in the Tiger Woods era?
A: Probably a little bit. Everybody has been trying to find the next Tiger Woods, and that's a very difficult thing to do. He's one of the greatest golfers ever, if not the greatest, so you don't get those kinds of players that often. There's a lot of young players out there who can really play the game of golf and are doing good things. Because everybody is compared to Tiger, everybody's career looks like a little bit of a downer after seeing his, so I think it should be a little bit different.

Q: Ten years ago, right after the PGA, you were asked about a potential rivalry with Woods and said, "To have Tiger around me, playing against me, that makes me improve my game." Is that still the case?
A: Definitely. But not only mine; he's pushed everybody to a different level, not only in the game, but physically and mentally. He's definitely improved the game of golf so much. We should be very happy about that.

Q: If I said you could win either the Ryder Cup or a major next year, but not both, which would you choose?
A: I don't know. It's a tough question. Wait -- I have the answer. I'd rather win a major and we win the Ryder Cup. That would be my choice, rather than just me winning the Ryder Cup.

Q: Trying to find a loophole in that question, huh?
A: Yeah [laughs].

Q: You're well on your way to breaking Nick Faldo's record for most Ryder Cup points. I know it's a team competition, but how would it feel to hold such an honor?
A: It's something extra, but it's never been my goal. I mean, I don't go to the Ryder Cup thinking, OK, I've got to win three points this Ryder Cup so I can get closer to Nick Faldo's record. That's never been my goal; that's never been the way I approach it.

I go there to try to help the team, try to win as many points for the team as possible, and hopefully that helps the team achieve the main goal, which is winning the Ryder Cup. The rest is obviously a bonus that would be nice to have, but it definitely would never be my first choice.

Q: Speaking of Faldo, what was your take on how he captained the team last year?
A: I think he did OK. Unfortunately, we didn't perform as well as we should have, and the American team just played extremely well. He did well. He tried his hardest. That's pretty much all you can ask for as a captain.

Q: How important is it for you to win a major championship?
A: How important? It's important, but it's not the main thing in my life. If I don't win a major championship, it doesn't mean that I'm going to be unhappy or less happy than I will be if I do.

Q: Just curious: What is the main thing in your life?
A: Well, the main thing in my life is to keep growing as a person, to keep helping people, obviously to play golf and play it as well as I can. But I think that because of how fortunate we are, we have an opportunity to help so many people, and that, at the end of the day, is what's going to make you grow as a person and make you really, really happy to see that you've made a difference in the world.

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Q: Who's the best player out there right now without a major?
A: I don't know. I think there's a good bunch. You have guys like Adam Scott, who is a great player. He might be struggling a little bit, but he's a wonderful player. Henrik Stenson is a very good player. Luke Donald. So you have a good amount of strong players that should be in that category.

Q: Where are you on that list?
A: Where am I? I don't know. You tell me.

Q: I think you're right up there near the top.
A: Well, thanks. I'll do my best to change that [laughs].

Q: If you could have your choice, which major would you most want to win?
A: I think the British Open.

Q: How come?
A: I've always loved that event. I've always loved that championship. I like that it's obviously played on a different kind of course, the history it has and it's pretty much where golf was born. And being European, it feels like it's closer to you. I also love the crowds there, so all of those mixed together add up.

Q: We're now entering Year 3 of the FedEx Cup playoffs. What are your thoughts on the format so far?
A: Well, we're about to start, so I'm looking forward to it. It's changed a little bit this year. I'm looking forward to having a couple of good weeks and getting myself out there. But we'll see. It should be exciting. There are a lot of good players out here trying to do well, so we'll see how it goes.

Q: You lost in a playoff at two of the four events last year. Coupled with your success at the Ryder Cup, have you become a better late-season player, or is that just a coincidence?
A: Have I? I don't know. I don't really focus on those things, so I don't know. I wish I could tell you yes, but I'd rather be a good player for the whole season. But I don't know. If I play better later in the season, then so be it.

Q: You endured a much publicized breakup with Greg Norman's daughter, Morgan-Leigh, earlier this year. How did that affect you, both personally and professionally?
A: Well, it obviously affected me. It was really the first time I was in love, so it was a bit hard for a couple of months or so after it happened. But, you know, I don't regret anything. I thought it was a great experience. I enjoyed every minute of it. And that's the way it is. Sometimes things don't work out. But it did affect me a little bit in my golf game, mainly because it took my head a little bit out of the game and then I struggled a little bit because of that. But I'm getting back into it and I'm looking forward to keep improving.

Q: Are you still in contact with her at all?
A: Yeah, I do talk to her once in a while.

Q: You and Greg have some business ventures together. Has this hurt your relationship in any way?
A: No, not at all. It's fine, totally normal. Obviously, there's not as much contact as maybe there was before, but the relationship is still the same. We have some business together, and nothing has changed.

Q: Forget about golf for a minute. Are you a better tennis player or soccer player?
A: Wow. I don't know. I would probably consider myself a better soccer player than a tennis player, but I don't know. I think I'm pretty close in both of those.

Q: If you could play one of those sports professionally, which would you choose?
A: If I could only choose one, I'd choose soccer.

Q: And no doubt wear the colors of Real Madrid, right?
A: Yeah, that would be the perfect scenario.

Q: Tell me about your work with Omega and the First Tee foundation.
A: It's great. We're here at the new Omega shop on Fifth Avenue in New York and we're just doing a little bit of work with The First Tee. Some kids came, and we hit some putts and took some pictures. Anytime you get a chance to help people in these kinds of situations, it's awesome. We have the opportunity to do these things, so we try to take any chance possible to help.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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