Talk about your sports futures. Spain's Sergio Garcia is Tiger long, Duval intense, DiCaprio dashing and 19 years old. Can you say zillion pesos? Garcia, the phenom whom golf fan�ticos back home call El Ni�o—the Kid—made his American pro debut last week at the Byron Nelson Classic. Early leader Tiger Woods shot an opening 61, the best score in his 224 rounds as a pro, to leave the kid in his dust. By one shot.
Pressure? Garcia laughs at the idea. Last year he was asked to play a practice round with '96 British Open champion Tom Lehman, England's amateur hero Justin Rose and U.S. Amateur champ Matt Kuchar. The kid climbed onto the 1st tee and asked what the bet was.
Garcia hails from Castell�n de la Plana on Spain's Mediterranean coast, where his father was a club pro and his mother ran the pro shop. Sergio took up the game at age three and as an eight-year-old was whaling away with full-sized clubs. At 15 he became the youngest winner of the European Amateur. His idol Seve Ballesteros called him " Spain's player of the 21st century," but Garcia couldn't wait that long. With 300-yard power and a burglar's touch around the greens, he won the '97 Spanish Amateur by 10 shots. At another big amateur event that year, the runner-up was one under par and Garcia was 20 under. A win at last year's British Amateur got him into the '99 Masters, where he finished as low am, 15 strokes behind winner Jos� Maria Olaz�bal, another Spanish swashbuckler. Now Garcia is a pro with a chance to join Woods and David Duval as one of the thrill-a-minute golfers of the turn of the century.
Garcia tied for third last week to earn $144,000. He finished with a flourish—a birdie that had the crowd jumping and shouting his name even as eventual winner Loren Roberts played the 18th hole. Now El Nino will return to Europe, where he plans to hone his game for two or three years before storming the U.S. Tour. At 19 he looks 16, carries a yo-yo in his luggage and has a boy's enthusiasms. Last Saturday morning he skipped ESPN highlights of himself to watch Road Runner and Spider-Man cartoons.
"Believe me, he's going to be successful," says old man Woods, 23. The two practiced together last week and waved to each other during the tournament. They share a zest for the game that you can feel from 500 yards away.
"I do what I love," says Garcia. "I play golf, and if I play well, I can make a living. I don't have to be stuck in an office all day, sitting down, so I think I'm a fortunate kid."