The Trouble with Sergio
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."
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