The Scars of Sergio Garcia

I’ve followed Sergio Garcia since he won the British am and contended in the US am. To me, he’s a very compelling if sometimes confounding player (and person?) to watch.

After The Players someone asked Garcia how he liked playing in that arena. Garcia was vague in reply but made it clear there had been some heckling and went on to say that it’s worse when he’s in contention. It was clear that it was not a subject he was comfortable discussing and he ended the interview rather abruptly.

That got me thinking about the source of Garcia’s off and on relationship with galleries. From 1997 until the 1999 PGA there was none of that; he was the eyes-closed darling of the fans and the media.

But then…

Looking back, here’s what I think soured things:

—The 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club. 16 years later no one will deny that the galleries were brutal to the European players. I’m sure this got to Garcia more than many of the older players. He played his own stupid-kid card when he sat down in the middle of the fairway to show that he wouldn’t be rushed.

—The 2002 US Open at Bethpage and the Garcia re-grip epidemic. Again, I’ve never heard anything but that the galleries really zeroed in on Garcia.

—Garcia is relentlessly European. He’s never lived in Texas like K.J. Choi and likely never will. In 2014 he played in 16 events on the PGA Tour and 17 on the European Tour. Though it’s likely not helped his game or increased his shot at a bagging a major, he’s remained loyal to his continent and tour.

From 1997 to 1999 Garcia seemed on the verge of embracing the US. He learned English very quickly and did interviews without translators as soon as he thought he was able to pull it off. Now, I’ll bet Garcia wished he had never learned to speak much English, like Angel Cabrera.

I used to think Garcia had been beaten down by his place in the Tiger Woods Era, but now I don’t think that’s it. I think the US fans beat him down. Surely he has deserved some of it, but much of it was a simple case of grinding a guy for the sake of grinding him.

It would be unfortunate if Garcia became the successor to Colin Montgomerie. I’ve followed both players in person and I can tell you that I never saw Garcia do anything but keep his head down and play his game. Monty on the other hand quite nearly seemed to be looking for a confrontation. It was weird; Monty acted like he was under attack when he wasn’t. When I looked at Monty the word jerk came to mind. Garcia doesn’t look like a jerk to me. And, he always seems very well liked by other players, true, most of them are Euros, but the ability to get along is the ability to get along. In that way, Garcia can do something that Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson can’t.

In the end, I didn’t think Garcia would win The Players. He had lost his inner Spaniard somewhere. And, there were too many ghosts floating above the 17th green, and the lingering image of his ball coming up short against Woods, for him to go flag hunting like Fowler and Kisner. In a odd way, it was almost as if even the announcers found a way to dig at Garcia, with Dan Hicks mimicking Garcia’s accent and Miller opining that Garcia looked like he needed a siesta as Garcia watched Kisner’s putt on the 72nd hole.

That, was not something Garcia brought on himself. Hicks and Miller did that all by themselves and they may not even be aware of it.

I hope Garcia finds whatever it is he has lost before too many more pages of the calender get turned.

The Scars of Sergio Garcia

Maintaining optimism in times of change

That’s an odd title, of course, when you consider that change is the universal constant. At times it’s easy to think things have stayed the same for a while and then you get a glance at a few extra gray hairs here and there and you realize it’s been going on for a while without you noticing it.

As I mentioned in another post, my job of the last dozen years will come to an end at the end of July. Whether it was a great run or not, it has come to an end as do all things. This change has imposed itself on me in a very obvious way that cannot be ignored. I can miss a few new gray hairs for a while but I cannot miss the end of a longstanding position.

“That is no country for old men.” John Butler Yeats

That is the first line of Yeats’ poem, Sailing to Byzantium. I interpret the poem and that line differently than most. In it, I hear that the future does away with the aged; that country is the future. In Hamlet, Shakespeare called death the undiscovered country. Both writers sought to make the future a place as well as a time. In doing so they sought to make time into something less amorphous and more comprehensible.

As writers often do, they were trying to tell us something. For me, the lesson is that these times of obvious change are cosmic favors. It’s up to me to see it as such and to seize the opportunity. The angst of times like these is driven by uncertainty and the question of whether I am up to challenges the future has in store. So often, the changes brought by time happen when we’re unaware or distracted by other things. But, this change, by the sheer obviousness of it, is calling out to me to make it into a time of gain rather than loss.

I am looking forward to a very interesting fall and winter. Both should be seasons of great opportunity; the kinds of opportunities that only a big change can bring.

Maintaining optimism in times of change

Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book Two

Looking north from Crystalaire Country Club
Looking northwest from Crystalaire Country Club

I’ve been driving the 80 miles to Crystalaire for my lessons with Jim Venetos. At first, I rather dreaded the drive; it’s a long way for a golf lesson. But, to quote Venetos, “It’s a chill drive.” It’s especially nice on a late Saturday morning to hop in my car and head to the desert. I’m kind of a desert guy at heart and Crystalaire looks across the Antelope Valley toward the Tehachapis and my beloved Eastern Sierra.

This was my fifth lesson with Venetos and I’m pleased with my progress. My initial goals were: 1) To hit the ball more solid more often. 2) To shorten my back swing. 3) To quiet my lower body on the full swing. The Venetos swing makes all those things happen with but a few “thoughts.” Venetos would say there’s only one thought needed…stillness…but I’ve never been a man of so few words.

My job of the last dozen years is coming to an end at the end of July, so my work with Venetos has come at an interesting time. It feels like a time for change in more ways than one. I plan on playing a lot of golf through the summer and into the fall. This is a rare opportunity and I know that once I’m back working it will, again, be hard to play and practice as much as I want.

I have a week of golf coming up the second week of June and a big golf week planned for September with one of my favorite cousins. We’re not sure where we’re going to meet…could be Vegas or it could be Scotland but I know it will be a trip for the ages.

Here are a couple thoughts about the Venetos method as regards some questions raised here and elsewhere:

Distance is the same or a tad more with all clubs, I was hitting 9 irons about 135 yards with my idea of a 3/4 swing. Venetos said I should consider that distance a full 9 and that 3/4 swing a full swing…he saw no need for a 9 iron to fly any further. Point taken.

The shift into set up feels natural quite very quickly though I do not close my shoulders as much as Venetos would like. To me, that’s the only element of the swing that feels like a physical challenge.

I hit a draw 90 percent of the time and with the Venetos swing I hit it about 60 percent of the time. The address position gets rid of some movements and some of the movements that have been eliminated were the timing elements I used to make the ball work right to left. When I do it right, the balls draws the same amount with the Venetos swing as my previous swing.

The weight-left swing tires my left leg out by the end of a Venetos 90 minute lesson which always lasts for two hours. I have taken to practicing standing on one leg whenever I’m standing in line or riding the subway. It’s good for my balance and my sense of left side stillness and stability. I can hike all day at elevation but I get worn out hitting a lot of golf balls in a two hour lesson. That’s just me…

Venetos added a goal I had not considered. He said he’d like to see my handicap drop from 10 ish to a 5 ish. I am not so sure. I ain’t getting any younger or any better looking. Still, it’s nice that Venetos sees that kind of improvement as a possibility. I putt well and have a good short game so any drop in my handicap will have to come from how well I strike the ball.

Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book Two