Sergio a Sportsman?

Sergio Garcia recently won over some golf fans with his act of sportsmanship, I dissect why it was such a great decision.

Thrash TalkI think if you asked most American golf fans for their feelings on Sergio Garcia prior to this past weekend’s Match Play event, they would have given you a pretty negative opinion. Most would say he is a whiner, and that during his younger days he did a fair bit of pouting as well. It wasn’t all that long ago that he even dropped as low as spitting in a cup after pulling his ball out.

Sergio recently found himself in the middle of a spat with the World’s Number One after he claimed that Tiger interrupted his swing on purpose. He followed this up by making a comment about having Tiger over for dinner to eat fried chicken. Needless to say, it didn’t over well and he rightly apologized for the comment. I for one was surprised about that comment because Sergio is a serious soccer fan and FIFA has made a concerted effort to attempt to curb racist comments. Sergio did himself no favors with his handling of that situation. In interviews after The Players Championship he came off sounding like a whiner and a sore loser. Then in the subsequent interview for the Ryder Cup he only dug his hole deeper.

The interesting part of the Tiger/Sergio clash was that it came on the heels of an interview with Sergio on David Feherty. During this interview, he appeared down to earth and as a generally good guy. Misunderstood, perhaps, but not a bad guy. I think this interview with Feherty was very good for Sergio’s image. He told the story of heart break with Greg Norman’s daughter and how much that devastated him, and we learned a great deal about him. He then took a big step back with the Tiger incident, but then this weekend he took another big step forward with American golf fans.

By now you have probably heard the story or seen it on Golf Channel thirty to forty times. Sergio’s ball ended up near a sprinkler head that was crowded with bees. Rickie Folwer had hit a close shot and looked likely to make birdie. Sergio took a drop but was uncomfortable and needed another drop. This all took quite a long time and Rickie missed his putt. On the next hole, a par three, Rickie had an 18-foot putt and Sergio looked to be about seven or so feet. Sergio offered to pick up both putts and move to the next hole with a halve. Sergio ended up losing one down.

In the post-round interview Sergio was unapologetic for his actions even though he lost the match. He said he felt bad about taking so long to take his drop and felt that Rickie missed his putt because of the drop. He would claim in his interviews that the game of golf was missing sportsmanship and he felt it needed more of the kind of action he took.

Tiger and Sergio

Sergio made a very good decision here. He gave himself far better public relations by giving Rickie the putt than winning that match and potentially losing in the next round. In fact, I’d say Garcia generated as much PR as actually winning the event! His image, which was mostly bad over here in the U.S., now improves dramatically. Sponsors which may have originally said that Sergio was not someone they wanted promoting their products may now say that he is worth a shot. I feel at the elite level – after you get past Tiger, Rory and Phil – the difference in how much you take home is determined by the sponsors. Sergio did himself big favors in this department.

Some may say that Sergio did not have to give the putt and doing so was unnecessary. By the rules they are right. Rickie himself said that Sergio did not need to do that. Rickie said that the drop was necessary because of the bees and he didn’t feel that Sergio took too much time in doing so. Still I think Sergio viewed the decision as though giving the putt on the next hole could only boost his image in the eyes of golf fans. If he won the match he would be the hero that gave up a good look at birdie and still won. if he lost he lost valiantly but being the better sportsman.

I still remember vibrantly watching Tiger and Sergio battle at Medina when he was basically a kid running around without a care. He has not fulfilled his potential. By now he should have won a major, maybe two, maybe six. He’s come close in the past but not pulled it off. American golf fans view this as someone who can’t close the deal. He is not a winner. I think he has realized that he should take a different approach to winning over golf fans in the vein of Phil Mickelson. Win them over by being the lovable loser and by being a sportsman.

Photo credits: © Richard Heathcote.

3 thoughts on “Sergio a Sportsman?”

  1. Good article, it’s nice to read about someone who wants to play and wants his competitors to play at their best. Makes for a better game.

    Winning by a technicality is so unsatisfying.

    Off topic, but. . .He is pretty consistent in his behavior, like when Tiger was interrupting his stroke (questionable if on purpose or not?). This is probably why it bothered him so much.

  2. I don’t think being a football fan and the link to FIFA’s ‘Kick it out’ campaign is actually that relevant to this (it’s been running on and off for about 15 years now). In the first case, a vast majority of European golfers will be football fans to differing levels of conviction. Garcia is hardly unique. It’s actually a formative influence in our sporting DNA (international team sport brought about by early exposure to football tournaments held every two years, where a whole country buys in). Personally I wouldn’t under-estimate the value it has in framing ‘team Europe’s’ mindset re the Ryder Cup, as the US doesn’t actually participate in international team events on the same level. All of America’s major sports are largely domestic and restricted to a very small playing base when viewed through the prism of a global stage. I’m sure there’s something in this, in so much as I’m not sure the country necessarily ‘gets’ international team sport

    It’s perhaps more relevant to note that FIFA (the game is administered by UEFA in Europe and the two bodies don’t get on very well) have been a lot better at producing slogans and PR than they ever have sanctions against offenders. The campaign (I use the word loosely) is widely regarded as a bit of bad tokenism really. Some of the fines handed out have been nothing short of pathetic. Eastern Europe are by far and away the worst offenders, but of the western European countries we see incidents in Spain and Italy with the greatest frequency. I’d be amazed if FIFA’s kick it out campaign was anywhere near Garcia’s thoughts to be honest, but don’t tell FIFA, they’d leap on anything if they thought they could claim credit for it

    I’m not so sure you aren’t giving Garcia too much credit for calculating in situ how his gesture might affect his commercial value to be honest. He’s proven a few times that he doesn’t necessarily think through his actions and I suspect this is more likely to have been a spur of the moment thing, and probably sincere, but I wouldn’t think he was capable of pre-meditating it with an eye sponsorship (does he need it that badly?)

    I think your over-all assessment of Garcia however is probably how European golf fans view him too. He isn’t Seve, or even Olly for that matter. He might have had his 15 minutes at the K Club when European golf probably warmed to him, but other players have spearheaded Ryder Cup teams before, Ballesteros, Montgomerie and most recently of course Poulter. I’ve never detected that there’s any real warmth towards him, and the media coverage we’ve seen has focused more on Dubisson, with Garcia’s action noted and tacitly approved, albeit from a slightly bemused standpoint

    The emergence of a French player is undoubtedly of greater significance. It needs to be remembered perhaps that the rump of Europe’s team is still drawn from the old GB & Ireland core, and has been since 1979. The composition of the team would be better described as GB & Ireland, plus a view Spaniards and a solid Swede. Germany has still only contributed two players in over 30 years, and the Molinari family has managed to put up more players than the rest of Italy. I did try and do a quick calculation of this (figures rough) but I think I counted 31 players from continental Europe to have played in the Ryder Cup, of which 21 came from Spain or Sweden. If golf can be expanded to Italy, France and Germany then the powerbase increases massively

    Anyway, back to topic;

    In terms of sporting gesture of course Jack Nicklaus set the benchmark when conceeding a putt to Tony Jacklin for the Ryder Cup and enabling the old GB & Ireland team to achieve a rare result! Nicklaus was ever magnaminous in recognising Jacklin’s domestic status at the time I didn’t want to turn a local hero into villian.

    “I didnt think he’d miss, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to give him the chance of doing so”

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