Notebook

April 02, 2000

The Trouble with Sergio
GROWING PAINS

Sergio Garcia is on the spot. To the casual fan he's still the
scissors-kicking teen who nearly won the PGA, the fist-pumping
energizer of the European Ryder Cup team and the baby-faced
assassin destined to give Tiger Woods all he can handle in the
so-called Battle of Bighorn, a made-for-TV match set for August.
But to insiders it's obvious that Garcia's not progressing as
quickly as Woods was at the same age.

Now 20, Garcia is having trouble playing the tougher courses on
the PGA Tour, struggling to get into a rhythm with his new
caddie, Fanny Sunesson, and wondering why his swing isn't as
reliable as it was last year, when he won two European tour
events. European PGA rules official John Paramor said last week
as he watched Garcia founder at the Players Championship--he went
82-72 and missed the cut by four shots--"The game's not easy for
him anymore."

It's too early to make any definitive judgments, but Garcia's
statistics underscore the weakest part of his game. While he has
driven the ball decently and displayed wondrous short-game
skills, he has broken 70 only once in 12 medal rounds this year
because his iron play has been abysmal. Garcia has hit the green
in regulation only 56.5% of the time, which puts him at 176 out
of 177 players, more than 18 percentage points behind the Tour's
leader, David Duval, and about nine below the Tour average.

Garcia's poor iron play was painfully evident at the TPC at
Sawgrass, where he hit only eight of 18 greens in the first
round. The windy conditions and the difficulty of the course were
reminiscent of last year's British Open at Carnoustie, where
Garcia, one of the pretournament favorites, shot a shocking 89 in
the first round. "It was difficult to gauge the right club and
how much the ball was going to roll," Garcia said of last
Thursday's round.

According to several experts, Garcia will have problems coping
with difficult conditions until he leaves his boyhood swing
behind. As a teenager Garcia generated power by delaying the
release of the clubhead until the last possible instant, then
whipping the club into the ball. That move requires exceptional
timing, and when he's even slightly off, Garcia has a devil of a
time controlling the ball flight and the distance of his iron
shots. Moreover, because Garcia's so-called late hit brings the
clubhead into the ball on a very shallow plane, he gets more
grass between his club and the ball on shots from the rough,
which results in even less control.

Although not as extreme, Woods used a similar move when he was
young and not as physically developed, but he has worked hard
with swing coach Butch Harmon--through drills and weight
training--to get rid of it. "I think Sergio will be fine as his
body matures," says Harmon. "The stronger he gets, the less need
he will feel to get the club behind him and be so handsy, and his
swing will naturally change. But I think the key is that he makes
himself stronger."

Others think Garcia's flaw is more deep-rooted. "Sergio is like
one of those old-time players with great feel," says John Cook.
"When he's right, he can hit all kinds of shots, maneuver the
ball in the wind, do the genius stuff. But when he's off, he's
going to hit some foul balls. But what do you do? Do you take
away his feel to tighten up his mechanics? Then you're messing
with the thing that makes him special in the first place."

Garcia's only teacher is his father, Victor, a club pro who
essentially agrees with Harmon. "He will change naturally,"
Victor says. "He is very early in his career, and there is no
need for anything drastic. People must understand that Tiger is
like a player from another planet. Sergio is Sergio. He has been
a pro for less than a year. We will go little by little, and I
believe that by the end of the year, he will have done more than
he did last year."

Pricey Putters
BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE $1,000?

Attention, golfers who have everything: A hot trend on Tour is
luxury putters, and we're not talking about the $100-plus models
you can find in the pro shop. The ultra tricked-out flat sticks
showing up at Tour stops start at $300 and go for as much as
$1,000.

The putters are made by either Bob Bettinardi or Kevin Burns.
Their putter heads are cut from a solid piece of carbon or
stainless steel, computer milled. Copper inserts are optional.
Bettinardi claims he can make the face of his putters 200%
flatter than mass-produced models. Burns personally designs and
grinds every putter himself, producing about 100 a day in his
Sunnyvale, Calif., workshop.

At the Players Championship, Bettinardi gave one of his putters
to Ben Crenshaw, who admired his workmanship, then said, "I don't
know whether to putt with it or frame it."

Neither Bettinardi nor Burns pays players to use his putter.
Among those using Burns models are Stephen Ames, Tommy Armour
III, Jose Maria Olazabal and Craig Stadler. Burns cranked out 500
copies of the model Olazabal putted with to win last year's
Masters and is selling them for $899 a pop. Ernie Els, Tom
Lehman, Jesper Parnevik and Lee Trevino have carried Bettinardi
putters, and David Duval has used models from both companies.

Bettinardi's most expensive putter is the 38 Special, which gets
its name for the 38 copper plugs inserted into a stainless steel
head. It retails for $999.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG Poor iron play has Garcia scrambling during his first full season on Tour. COLOR PHOTO: DEBORA ROBINSON COLOR PHOTO: PAUL DUDA COLOR PHOTO: RUSS HOUSTON COLOR PHOTO: MIKE KING The British Open at St. Andrews has an Old World feel.

Trust Me

The Ryder Cup wound is still fresh. The players, wives and
caddies are good at hiding animosity, but there's bad blood
between the sides. The Euros believe what happened on the 17th
green at the Country Club was abominable. The Americans feel the
Euros are embarrassed and trying to divert attention. No way
around it, next year's rematch will get ugly.

Threesomes

What do these players have in common?

--Bruce Devlin
--Jeff Maggert
--Gene Sarazen

They're the only golfers to make a double eagle at the Masters,
all on par-5s. Sarazen's came on the 15th hole in 1935, Devlin's
on the 8th in '67 and Maggert's on the 13th in '94.

Feedback

Should the Players Championship be upgraded to a major
championship?

YES 58%
NO 42%

--Based on 9,284 responses to our informal survey

Next question: Who is more likely to win a Grand Slam, Karrie
Webb or Tiger Woods? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.

Thesaurus

SYNONYMS for a YIPPED PUTT

Blank out, cashmere insert, focal distonia, ginsburg, gin stab,
go blind, Hoched, rush of s--- to the heart, tentative prod,
tremor, the wave, the wish, vapors, whiskey wrist, white knuckle,
yippee-ki-yay.

Numbers

Hal Sutton will try next week to become the first player to win
the Masters and the Players Championship in the same year. Here
are the best finishes in the Masters by the winner of the
Players.

Won Players Masters

Jack Nicklaus '76 T3
Jerry Pate '82 T3
Jack Nicklaus '74 T4
David Duval '99 T6
Jack Nicklaus '78 7
Lanny Wadkins '79 T7

Faces

Nicholas Bollini, Yorba Linda, Calif.
Nicholas, 16, birdied the second hole of a playoff against Kenji
Murayama of Guadalajara to win his second consecutive Mexican
National Junior Championship, at Guadalajara Country Club. Both
players shot five-over 221 in regulation. Nicholas was a
second-team American Junior Golf Association All-America in 1999.

Sarah Seo, Lima, Ohio
Seo, a sophomore at Yale, won her second title of the season, the
Hatter Spring Fling, hosted by Stetson. Seo, who rallied from a
four-stroke first-round deficit, shot a two-over 146 at Pelican
Bay Golf Club in Daytona Beach. The runner-up at the 1999 Ivy
League Championship, Seo has been Yale's top finisher in 10 of 13
career starts.

Alex Rocha, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Rocha, a senior at Mississippi State, shot an eight-under 208 to
win his third event of the season, the Seminole Intercollegiate
in Tallahassee, Fla. He beat Chris Wisler of East Tennessee State
by two strokes. Rocha holds 14 school records, including best
single round (63), best three-round score (18-under 198) and best
career scoring average (72.68).

Submit Faces candidates to golfplus.cnnsi.com/faces.

Jaime's Top 10

These are my favorite tournaments to cover. I selected these
events for the things I value most: atmosphere, player access,
walkability of the course and nearby amenities.

1. Trophee Lancome, Versailles, France
Location, location, location. The press stays in the same
five-star hotel as the players, the food is amazing, and Paris
is just up the Seine. The Americans who play relax in the
intimate setting and follow the example of their European tour
brethren, who dine and drink together as a matter of course. The
communal atmosphere makes for good conversation--and material.

2. Cisco World Match Play, London
The best one-on-one competition in golf. All the matches are 36
holes, and the seedings are arranged so that the stars almost
invariably get to the final. Wentworth is also a wonderful
course to walk.

3. British Open (especially at St. Andrews)
Majors, in general, are frenzied, but the British is less so
than the others. The town of St. Andrews buzzes with Old World
energy. Best of all, the 18 hours of sunlight allow a writer to
slip off for a guilt-free round.

4. Tour Championship
A select field at a year-end event is a welcome combination for
a writer, and the courses are terrific, particularly Olympic
and, in 2002, the renovated Harding Park, both in the best city
in the U.S., San Francisco.

5. Office Depot Father and Son Challenge, Naples, Fla.
It's fascinating to see the hard-bitten pros get all mushy
playing with their kids. You can't put a price on the insights
the sons have into their dads. This is the most human pro
tournament.

6. Memorial, Columbus, Ohio
As good as it gets on the PGA Tour, plus access to Jack
Nicklaus. The press is allowed to play the sister course across
the street.

7. American Express Championship, Cadiz, Spain
The food and the way of life are something everyone should
experience. The small, casual galleries make it easy to follow
the action.

8. Solheim Cup, Luss, Scotland
A tough combination to beat: passionate, head-to-head
competition played at a site, Loch Lomond, that's the Camelot of
golf.

9. Players Championship, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
As well run an event as there is. Press facilities and access to
the players are tops. Outside the majors, this one means the most.

10. Buick Invitational, La Jolla, Calif.
The event has an old Tour, small-is-beautiful feel, and with
most U.S. club companies located in nearby Carlsbad, the press
can mingle with equipment manufacturers.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)