“I love The Open Championship.” Despite a couple of agonising near misses, the Spaniard still covets victory in this event above all others, as this exclusive video interview shows.
Sergio Garcia played his first Open Championship as a 16-year-old amateur at Lytham back in 1996. He wasn’t there in 1997, but returned in 1998 and has played in every Open since. This year will be his 19th championship.
Sergio has a great record in the event; he has eight top-10 finishes and has twice been a runner-up. In 2007 at Carnoustie, the Spaniard missed out on victory by millimetres – his putt on the 72nd green defying gravity and refusing to drop. He lost the resulting playoff to Padraig Harrington.
Then, last year at Hoylake he was joint runner-up to Rory McIlroy having played some superb golf. But rather than viewing those tournaments as opportunities missed, Garcia sees them as experiences gained.
“I’ve had some good chances here at The Open. I’ve been very close to winning it a couple of times,” he says. “It’s nice to go through those things and to learn from those experiences, hopefully become better year in year out and to give myself more of those chances.”
And this is the event that Sergio looks forward to most each year, even though it has been rather cruel to him in the past.
“It’s my favourite tournament. I love The Open Championship,” he says. “For sure, for me it’s the best championship we have. Not only because of the courses, but also because of the people, the crowds and the challenges that the course, the wind and weather brings. It’s just a great combination.”
And, although Sergio has competed on many of the biggest stages in world golf, he still finds The Open special, particularly when it’s in St Andrews.
“Of course, this is special. Having the possibility of playing some of these unique courses, iconic courses. Already it’s an experience. It’s something we don’t have many chances to do,” he says. “And to do it in an Open Championship it’s incredible, in Spain we say ‘the more sugar the sweeter,’ so it’s the icing on the cake!”
Incredibly this will be “El Nino’s” 19th Open Championship. For those of us who remember him leaping his way up the 16th fairway at Medinah like it was yesterday, that’s hard to believe. Garcia finds it pretty unbelievable too.
“Yeah, that is amazing isn’t it?” he says. “I guess I see myself as a bit of a mix between youngster and veteran. I still feel young. I’m 35 so I wouldn’t consider myself old. But it’s nice to feel young with experience; it’s a good mix.”
And Garcia is determined to make that experience count this week.
“It’ll be about creativity, ball-flight control and being able to feel the shot you want to hit,” he says. “I grew up playing like that, through events in the UK and Spain and I’ve always enjoyed this type of golf.”
“There are so many shots to enjoy on the links. But for me, when it comes to The Open and links golf, it’s how much it changes that I really enjoy. You play one hole downwind and you hit 8-iron from 210 yards, then the next is into the wind and, even if the course is firm, you can hit 7-iron from 125 yards. It takes some getting used to!”
But Garcia believes that, although it can be an unpredictable battle at times, the links delivers a fair battle. After some strong words about Chambers Bay last month he was keen to clarify his views on this year’s US Open.
“I think the only problem was the inconsistency on the greens,” he says. “But I thought the course was nice. I loved the looks, the shapes, the tees. I thought it was just a shame there wasn’t more consistency on the greens.”
Garcia is in determined yet relaxed mood this week and few would be surprised to see him contend. He’s clearly excited to get out there and you can see from the glint in his eye that he fancies his chances. Could we witness another Spaniard celebrating an emotional victory in front of the R&A Clubhouse on Sunday evening? Perhaps…