Spain's Sergio Garcia is a big hit on the Nike Tour
For un momento last week, a Nike tour newcomer had Casey Martin
playing second violin. It happened when a dashing, crewcut
teenager named Sergio Garcia shot past Martin to take the
second-round lead at Club Campestre in Monterrey, Mexico. Garcia
would falter and finish six shots behind winner Joe Ogilvie in
the Nike Monterrey Open, but what fanaticos de golf will
remember is the way the 18-year-old amateur from Castellon,
Spain, pounded 330-yard drives, left senoritas swooning and had
grown men spouting superlatives.
"Sergio is long, superlong," says junior golf official Pete
Wofford, who watched Garcia cruise to victory two weeks ago in
the Future Collegians World Tour event in Jacksonville. In
Monterrey, Garcia averaged 310 yards per drive and had one
breeze-assisted blast of 371.
Back home they call him el Nino. The name has nothing to do with
devilish weather; in fact it carries a whiff of the divine, for
the term el Nino, the Boy, usually refers to the Christ child.
Young Garcia may have run out of miracles in Mexico, but his
career to this point would suit an immortal. The son of Victor
Garcia, a caddie turned teaching pro at Mediterraneo Club de
Campo, and his wife, Consuelo, who ran the pro shop, Sergio took
up golf at age three. As an eight-year-old, using full-sized
Cobra clubs that gave him one of the world's flattest swings,
the boy swung hard and pictured himself as Indiana Jones
cracking a bullwhip. "He had all the ability, and he knew it,"
says Sergio's caddie and friend, Jose Marquina. "So
aggressive--he never thought of hitting at the green, only the
flag. Even as a little boy he was determined to be Number 1 in
March 30, 1998
At 12 he was club champion. At 15 he became the youngest
European Amateur champ in the tournament's history. The next
year Sergio got the Leo DiCaprio treatment at the World Amateur
Team Championship in the Philippines, where he was pursued by
100 or so teenage girls calling, "Sergio, Sergio!" By then he
had also caught the eye of national hero Seve Ballesteros, who
asked him along for two practice rounds before the 1996 British
Open. The nerveless Garcia outdrove his hero on every hole.
Ballesteros, who has called Garcia Spain's "player of the 21st
century," recently worried publicly about the boy's future. In a
newspaper editorial he urged Garcia, who considers Ballesteros
his second dad, to "stay the same person" as he scales the
heights of golf stardom.
Another of the teen's idols is Tom Lehman, who met Garcia at the
'96 British Open. After winning the tournament, Lehman put the
Claret Jug in Garcia's hands and said, "Someday you will win
Asked about Garcia last week at Bay Hill, Lehman said, "Sergio,
he takes it deep. He's a cocky kid who thinks he can beat the
world, and he might be right."
Garcia played like a worldbeater last summer at the European
Masters Amateur, winning by eight strokes. He won the Spanish
Amateur by 10. At the Grand Prix des Landes in France, where the
runner-up was one under par, Garcia was 20 under. At the
Catalonian Open in Barcelona he finished five shots ahead of 132
pros to become the first amateur to win the event.
Last week it appeared he might slam-dunk a field of 143 Nike
tour pros. After a 66-67 start, Garcia was seven ahead of
Martin, the tour's money leader, and led the Monterrey Open by
one. "I couldn't visualize this great start," he said. "I was so
excited to see my name on the leader board." So excited he
couldn't sleep all night? Not quite. "He always sleeps like a
rock. I have to yell, 'Sergio, Sergio!' to wake him," Marquina
Maybe the yelling gave Garcia nightmares of being chased by
flocks of girls. In any case, golf's latest Next Tiger failed to
earn his stripes in Mexico: He ballooned to 75 on Saturday to
drop from contention. On Sunday, though, he rallied for a 72
that left him at eight under, a showing that would have been
worth $2,875 had he been a pro.
"He didn't know the greens here. If he had made a third of his
putts inside 10 feet, he'd have won by five shots," said
tournament director Barry Willardson. Garcia, who expects to
turn pro next year and play the European tour before taking a
shot at the U.S. PGA Tour, made no excuses. "I am disappointed,"
he said in fluent English, "but I will be back." Recalling his
Friday-night lead, the Nike Nino was as cocky as ever. "It's not
normal for someone so young to be on top of the leader board,"
he said. "Not normal, but comfortable."
Then it was back to the hotel, where he indulged his only vice:
marathon sessions in front of the TV, watching cartoons. Asked
to name a favorite, he uses fluent Roadrunnerese: "Meep-meep!"
Catch him if you can. Sergio Garcia may be 0 for 1 against U.S.
pros for the moment, but he's going places fast.
Samuel Jackson Snead calls Senior golf "the best thing ever."
Pausing for reflection at last week's Legends of Golf, the
85-year-old Snead said, "In 1950 I won 11 times and didn't make
$50,000. Last year Hale Irwin won nine tournaments and $2
million. And look how many players have jets on this tour. I won
more than any of 'em, and I couldn't buy a tire." He recalled a
day 20 years ago when he and Bob Goalby were lobbying PGA Tour
officers to support a Senior circuit: "Jack Nicklaus said,
'They're not going to let you old farts play.' Goalby said,
'Jack, people don't know the flatbellies out there now, but
they'll come out to see us.'"
The sweetest swing Snead sees today belongs to Tiger Woods, who
"uses his body more than any of them. He gets that body turning
and revs the club head way up to 120, 130," says Snead, who was
Tiger's age in 1934.
THE SHAG BAG
A Boon from Troon? Seve Ballesteros says he doesn't want to
captain the European Ryder Cup team next year, and some players
think he meddled too much at Valderrama anyway. So who will
captain the team at the Country Club? Peter Oosterhuis is a U.S.
TV commentator these days. Mark James, Bernhard Langer and Sam
Torrance want to make the team as players. Torrance, who
recently quit drinking to shape up for Brookline, knows his
capacity: "I have one more match in me as a player, and if I am
on the plane to America in 1999, I want it to be in that
capacity." Nick Faldo's out, since coaches must speak.
Player-coach Colin Montgomerie, anyone?
Remote Control: Karrie Webb (left) and coach Kevin Haller are
often 10,000 miles apart, but they meet regularly on the
cyberrange. Using Swinger, Australian software designed in part
by Stuart Appleby and his coach, Steve Bann, Webb can film her
swing, then E-mail the video to Haller for analysis. "Programs
like this could change the way golfers practice," says Webb. She
and Haller are working on a program that will allow them to hold
a fully visual, real-time lesson with a computer and a cell
phone. "Then the only problem will be the time difference," says
Pacing Himself: Greg Norman will pilot the pace car, a 1998
Corvette convertible, at this year's Indy 500. No word on his
plans should the race be rained out, but Shark fans needn't
worry about his skipping a rain day at the Masters. The
scheduling snafu that saw Norman bail on the final round of the
South African PGA wasn't his fault, and he tells SI his schedule
is clear on the Mondays after all the majors this year.
Five's a Crowd: A plague creeps east from California, where many
muni courses now send out fivesomes to clog their already
crowded fairways. "We have 40 courses in Southern California,
and most use fivesomes," says Mike Heacock of American Golf,
which operates more than 250 courses nationwide. "Contrary to
popular belief, they don't take longer than foursomes." Players
gnashing their teeth while 25% more hackers plumb-bob
double-bogey putts may disagree, but the economics are
compelling: 25% more revenue for the course. "If your course is
full and you want to make more money, why not?" asks Ken Devine
of the PGA's Michigan section.
Emmy Alert: A pilot for CBS, The Secret Lives of Men, stars
Peter Gallagher and takes place largely on a golf course where
guys discuss women, beer, friendship, death and the metallic,
pesticidal characteristics of golf-course grass. Sample line:
"Barry's getting married? That son of a bitch. That's why he
stopped playing golf."
SYNCHRO SWIM AT SAWGRASS
This week's 25th Players Championship is the 17th anniversary of
the one everybody remembers. Eight years after Jack Nicklaus won
the first Players at Atlanta C.C., the event moved to the TPC at
Sawgrass, where Pete Dye's fan-friendly, player-punitive Stadium
Course drew reviews that were anything but P.C. "This course is
90-percent horse manure and 10-percent luck," said J.C. Snead.
"Everyone was frustrated with Pete's diabolical course.
There was locker room talk of firing Deane [Beman], since he was
behind it all," recalls Jerry Pate, who won that week, then
pushed Beman and Dye into the lake beside the 18th green before
diving in after them.
Today nobody thinks Beman and Dye were all wet, not with their
baby approaching the majors in importance. "My swim with Jerry
Pate is not a favorite moment," Beman says dryly, "but I am
pleased with how the Players has grown. The course was too penal
at first, but we made changes to bring it to the correct side of
"Those greens can get as fast as a fireball," Dye admits with a
chuckle. "But the guy who's playing best still wins." Denying
that their synchronized swim that day was staged, he says, "No,
and I came out with nothing dry to wear, so I went into the
clubhouse and charged a new pair of pants and a shirt to Mr.
"I WANT TO THANK MY SWING COACH..."
Golf went unrewarded at Monday's Academy Awards presentation.
Had the ceremony been held at the Leadbetter Academy, Oscars
might have gone to:
BEST ACTOR: Tiger Woods for Gone With Augusta Wind
BEST ACTRESS: Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Kelly Robbins
for The Craft
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tim Finchem for his performance as the
Grinch in The Casey Martin Story
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Fanny Sunesson for her thankless role
in Nick, Sink One, Nick
BEST ADAPTATION: The 1997 Ryder Cup, a thriller in which an
unbeatable U.S. juggernaut made like the S.S. You Know What
BEST SHORT SUBJECT: Ian Woosnam
BEST DOCUMENTARY: Monica Doesn't Do Hobe Sound, the videotape
subpoenaed by Sexgate prosecutor Kenneth Starr that showed
President Clinton at Greg Norman's Florida home--without Monica
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND: Green Bay Packer Brett Favre, whose
carefully timed flatulence distracted golf opponents
BEST SET DESIGN: Callaway, whose X-12s were the hottest set of
irons designed in recent years
BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS: Casey Martin, whose very special effect
was to make golf less exclusive by proving that ability and
disability aren't mutually exclusive
Picture This: An Official Golf Artist Who Canvasses the Course
The Players Championship won't be decided until Sunday, but Bart
Forbes has already finished his strokes. To mark the
tournament's 25th anniversary, Forbes, a 57-year-old Dallas
artist, has painted a montage of all 20 Players champs in
action, from inaugural victor Jack Nicklaus to 1997 winner Steve
Elkington. "The more distinctive the swing, the easier it is to
capture. I've painted Arnold Palmer so many times, I could
probably do it in my sleep. I'm also partial to Greg Norman and
Payne Stewart for the unique ways they dress," says Forbes, who
has signed on to be the official artist of the Players through
2000 and will make sketches at Sawgrass this week. "Golfers
don't wear uniforms, and every course is different, so there's
always variety in this game. That's what makes golf more
interesting to paint than tennis, which always looks...like
STUCK ON THE OUTSIDE, LOOKING IN
If Al Geiberger is Mr. 59, Amy Alcott is in danger of becoming
Ms. 29. After the 1991 Dinah Shore, at which she edged Dottie
Mochrie for her 29th career win, Alcott, then 35, seemed certain
to win another tournament--and automatic entry into the LPGA
Hall of Fame. Yet she still stands at the Hall's doorstep.
Plagued by a herniated disk in 1997, Alcott won just $18,779,
dropping to 150th place on the money list. It was her worst
season in 23 years on tour. So far this year her best finish is
56th at the Welch's/Circle K. "I know I'll win again," says
Alcott, now 42.
Her prophecy might come true this week. Alcott, after all, is a
three-time Dinah champ (1983, '88 and '91). Only Shore herself
has her name etched more indelibly on this event, and Dinah's
already in the Hall.
What do these players have in common?
They're golf's big men--the tallest players on the PGA Tour.
Blackmar is 6'7", Sieckmann and Twitty, 6'5".