Currently the golfer saddled with the unwanted tag of ‘The best player not to have won a major’, Sergio Garcia is aiming to change all that this week at Turnberry. On an Open championship course where the rough is high, thick and dangerous, the experts are predicting that long and accurate driving will be a pre-requisite for anyone with designs on the famous Claret Jug.
Well, driving just happens to be an area of the game that the 29-year-old world number five excels that. And armed with the new TaylorMade R9 driver, complete with its patented Movable Weight and Flight Control Technologies, Garcia should certainly have the artillery from the tee. The only question remaining is whether his errant putter will behave coming down the stretch?
Esquire: Do you find when you are putting and chipping well it spreads confidence through the rest of your game?
Sergio Garcia: Definitely. More than anything it just takes the pressure off the rest of your game. You know that even if you miss a green you’re going to get up and down most of the time, and you don’t feel like every time you miss the green you’re going to make bogey. That takes a lot of the pressure out of the game and you feel like you can attack some more pins.
ESQ: After a really strong 2008 where you ended the year as number two in the world, you have had a quiet first half of the season. Are you somebody who sets specific goals for the season?
SG: I try to win as many tournaments as I can and be in contention as much as possible. There’s no doubt about it that winning a major championship comes to mind. I don’t look at the year and say I have to win six tournaments and a major. I just try to win everything I can. You can set yourself a goal and say, “Let’s try to win three tournaments - maybe two tournaments and a major”. But if you achieve that by June then you feel like you’ve already reached your goals and you relax.
ESQ: You’re now in the last year of your 20s. Do you now feel like an elder statesman for some of the younger players, like Rory McIlroy. And if so, do you see any similarities between Rory and you at the same age?
SG: I definitely see a lot of me in him - that 'no fear and just play' kind of attitude. Hit it and go. It’s great to see young guys coming out like that in Europe. The main thing is just to pace yourself. It’s easy to play too much in the beginning when you’re doing well. When you’re 19 and 20 you go out there and play and play and play, but as you get older you realise that you’ve got to control yourself a little bit to make sure that you pick your spots where you want to be at your best in the season. Rory is a wonderful player and I’m looking forward to seeing him play more. He is definitely going to be making a lot of Ryder Cup teams. He's also a really nice guy.
ESQ: Is The Open still the major championship title you covet most?
SG: Definitely. I love the British links courses and the history of the championship. And the crowds, I love the crowds. The people that come to watch the Open, they know what they are coming to watch and they know about the game of golf. That’s probably one of the things that drives me the most.
ESQ: We Brits have always supported the Spaniards, ever since Seve first came over in the 1970s...
SG: Yeah, we’ve been fortunate with that. The knowledge the British crowds have about the game of golf is just different from any other championship.
ESQ: You seem to be hitting the ball longer with the new R9 driver. Is that a fair assessment?
SG: A little bit, yes. My numbers – launch angle, spin rate – are better with this new driver. I’ve always been a high spinner of the ball and even though I have been hitting the ball pretty well off the tee, the ball sometimes comes up high and weak into the wind. With this new R9 I can definitely get my spin rate to the level where I want it and that helps me gain a bit of distance without losing accuracy.
ESQ: That could be important if the wind gets up at Turnberry. How often have you played the course?
SG: I played in the British Amateur Championship there in 1996, and then I played in a TaylorMade day at Turnberry earlier this year. It’s a great golf course so we’ll see. The Open is the Open. With the weather and everything the course can change so much.
ESQ: Is it true, that when you played in your first Open as a teenager at Royal Lytham in 1996, after the prize giving the newly crowned champion Tom Lehman gave you the Claret Jug to hold?
SG: I did, yeah. I was an amateur back then. It was good fun. I followed him a little bit on the Saturday and watched him play. He took me inside after he won and gave me the trophy. He said ‘Hold onto it because you’re going to win one of these one day.’ I was pretty close in 2007! (Garcia famously lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie).
For more on the TaylorMade R9 driver see www.taylormadegolf.eu