SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Henrik Stenson took his silver claret jug and headed straight for Switzerland to play in a charity event organized by Sergio Garcia. It turned out to be the perfect occasion to deliver an important message to the host.
Stenson was 40 when he won the British Open at Royal Troon. He had paid his dues with a trio of close calls in the majors. It was his time.
Garcia has paid even more.
It started when he was a 19-year-old trying to chase down Tiger Woods at Medinah. He played in the final group with Woods at Bethpage Black and Royal Liverpool. He twice was beaten in the final holes by Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie and Oakland Hills.
“Henrik, when I saw him Monday at my event in Switzerland, he said: ‘You know, I’m 40, you’re 36. You still have probably 16 more before you get there,’ ” Garcia said Wednesday on the eve of the PGA Championship. “So at the end of the day, if you stay healthy, you still can give yourself a lot of chances here and there. That’s my goal, to keep giving myself chances and hopefully take as many as possible in the coming years.”
Stenson’s victory has shifted the focus to Garcia, perhaps more than any other player in the final major of the year, particularly in a season of first-time major champions – Danny Willet at the Masters, Dustin Johnson at the U.S. Open and Stenson.
“It just shows that you’ve got to keep on trying,” Stenson said. “It was nice to see Dustin win at the U.S. Open. He’s had some close calls and some heartbreaking calls in the last four years, five years. You’ve got to keep putting yourself in position. And the more times you do that, that’s what gives you chances for it to happen.”
Lee Westwood is another player on the dubious list of “best to have never won a major.” The 43-year-old Englishman had a chance at the U.S. Open, British Open and Masters in successive years and he is among two players – Luke Donald is the other – to reach No. 1 in the world without ever having won a major. Rickie Fowler at No. 7 in the world and Garcia (No. 10) are the only players in the top 10 who have not won a major.
Garcia is different, because he has been at a high level for so long.
Just not high enough.
The Spaniard is no longer as temperamental, at times petulant, as he was earlier in his career when he accomplished so much at early age that he expected so much more. He complained about the breaks Woods got from the weather in the 2002 U.S. Open. His worst moment was in the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, when he suggested he was playing “more than the field” because he couldn’t catch a break.
He has thrown clubs. He has kicked shoes.
Now, it almost seems as though Garcia is resigned that his career could end without a major, even though he has such a long road ahead of him. Yes, he is surprised to have not won a major as he approaches two decades playing them.
He said it would have bothered him five or 10 years ago, but no longer.
“I understand how difficult it is to win every week,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a major. It doesn’t matter where it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the U.S., in Asia, in Europe, in Africa. It is tough to win. So that’s great for the game of golf, and the only thing I can do is just keep giving myself chances and just wait for it.
“Hopefully, it will happen,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to change my life. I’m not going to go in a cave and stay there until I die.”
Golf goes in cycles, and maybe this one favors Garcia.
In only three years dating to 1960 have the four Grand Slam events been won by players who previously didn’t have a major, most recently in 2011 and 2003. The last four major champions dating to Jason Day last year at the PGA Championship had never won a major.
“I would love to make it five in a row,” Garcia said.
Also, all but one of the last 12 winners of the PGA Championship had won earlier in the year. Garcia won the AT&T Byron Nelson.
The tiniest smile appeared on Garcia’s face when he was introduced Wednesday as playing in his 18th PGA Championship. Was it really that long ago when he closed his eyes and hit that shot out of the tree in 1999 at Medinah to finish one shot behind Woods?
Three first-time major winners this year give him hope, especially Stenson, a close friend.
“He’s been giving himself a lot of chances, and he finally waited for that day where everything clicked and everything was happening,” Garcia said. “So I think what that shows me is that never give up. Keep giving myself chances and keep waiting for that day when things really happen my way.
“And then hopefully,” he added, “I’ll be able to raise that trophy.”
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