• U.S.

Sergio’s First Stand

5 minute read
Robert Sullivan

The Ryder Cup to be held this week at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., remains a feverishly awaited golfing event, no thanks to us–spelled U.S. While Europe’s players have done their part to create a biennially thrilling competition, some of America’s spoiled businessmen pros have voiced annoyance at having to endure three days of nerve-twanging match play for less pay than they’d make finishing 10th at the Greater Billings Open. Boo to them–and bring on Sergio.

Sergio, surname Garcia, is a Tiger useta-be, a charismatic 19-year-old with a fast grin, faster club-head speed and a palpable love of the game. The son of a Spanish golf pro and a woman who worked in the clubhouse shop, Sergio was, only five months ago, an unknown amateur. Now, after a sensational summer campaign in Europe and a thrilling debut at the PGA Championship, he is an idol at home and a phenomenon worldwide. “I just want to play golf and enjoy myself,” he says. “I know if I play well, I’ll have enough money, so I don’t really care about that.” He prefers to be known, soccer-like, by one name, Sergio. “I love this kid,” says Ben Crenshaw, U.S. Ryder Cup team captain. “He’s unbelievable. Electrifying. Captivating.” And on the other team.

Garcia captivated the world at the PGA. While chasing Mr. Woods and coming up just a stroke short, Master Sergio accomplished a remarkable thing: he made the world’s best player look old at 23. Here was the Spanish lad, eyes closed, slashing at a ball burrowed behind a tree, then sprinting up the fairway and leaping into the air to see the marvelous result. Here, meanwhile, was the American, eyes glassy, agonizing over 5-ft. putts that have in the past–though not this year–been his bete noire.

The PGA Championship was held in Medinah, which is in Illinois, which is in the U.S., but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the 18th hole on Sunday, as the oles for Sergio drowned the roars for Tiger. You would have thought the tournament was being staged at Valderrama. Which is in Spain and was, by the way, the site of the last Ryder Cup set-to in 1997. The U.S. squad was heavily favored to win that matchup but lost to Captain Seve Ballesteros’ inspired team. The Yanks were heavily favored to win the 1995 Ryder Cup too, but choked.

In Massachusetts the U.S. squad is again very, very heavily favored. It includes the world’s top players–No. 1 Woods, No. 2 David Duval, No. 4 Davis Love III (if his balky back permits) and reigning U.S. Open champ Payne Stewart. The only marquee names on the Euros’ bags are current Masters champ Jose Maria Olazabal and the blustery Scot Colin Montgomerie. Stewart told Golf Digest, “On paper, they shouldn’t [even] be caddying for us.”


The But, the Nub, the Crux is this: guys like Ballesteros and Montgomerie and now Sergio love this stuff–one on one, each hole a shoot-out–and many of the U.S. pros do not. The ever helpful Monty explained, “We all come from more of a teamlike society than the Americans. They are brought up to be individuals, which isn’t wrong of course. It’s just the way they are.” Duval can only counter with, “I don’t see it as the be-all, end-all,” and Woods has said of his Ryder experience, “I played in only one and didn’t enjoy it at all.” Small wonder. He won only one of his five matches at Valderrama.

Several U.S. pros, Woods and Duval among them, have been griping that they aren’t fairly compensated to be embarrassed like that. Well, they’re not. Twenty years ago, these matches had no commercial value. Now sources say the event will generate $63 million in revenues, some $17 million of which will go to the PGA of America and $5 million to $6 million of which will go to the host club. The U.S. players, meanwhile, each get a $5,000 stipend, which is clearly unfair, whether they plan to invest it in more greater-Orlando real estate or, as Woods and Duval nobly aver, in worthy causes.

Following a team meeting called to discuss the compensation issue, Woods did his Cheshire bit and said, “We had a lovely time,” but the well-respected Crenshaw, known as Gentle Ben, was visibly upset and expressed disgust with “a couple of people.” Love chipped in, “If five guys say they’re not going to play, great, because there’s five more guys that are going to play.”

Dust settled, the top guys are playing, if grudgingly. They’ll probably win. But they aren’t making it easy to root for the home team. If dreams come true, and it comes down to Tiger vs. Sergio on Sunday, mano a mano for the Cup-winning point, it would not be surprising to hear a foreign cry rise above the lush arborvitaes of a tony Boston suburb: Ole!

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