He may be Europe’s greatest points-winner, the “heart and soul” of the European team according to the captain – but Sergio Garcia still was sweating on his Ryder Cup selection.
The Spaniard had been sounded out by Padraig Harrington – with whom he had a testy relationship for many years – as early as the spring about being on the team for Whistling Straits next week.
It was fairly common knowledge that Sergio and Ian Poulter, the mainstays and totemic figures of Team Europe in this century, were likely to get Harrington’s nod for wildcards.
Nervous wait for news from Wentworth
— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) September 15, 2021
It also helped that both were actually playing pretty well. Garcia reached the PGA Tour Championship for the first time in four years and opted not to come to Wentworth for the final qualifying tournament.
That only made the wait even more nervous, though.
“I still spend a lot of time worrying about it,” he said from his home in Texas. “I had talks with Padraig and Luke (Donald, a vice-captain). They told me that I look good for a pick.
“But when it came down to the last few moments, (wife) Angela and I were fixing to have lunch, and I was too worried to eat.
“I was looking at the clock, and at the phone every two or three minutes wondering when the call was going to come. I did worry because you can never take anything for granted. You know that what happens in the days and weeks running up to the final choice can change things.
“I must say it was probably worse before Paris because there was a lot of speculation that I wouldn’t get a pick. The beautiful thing about qualifying by your own means is that you don’t have to go through all that.
“But when you get that call, it makes it a little bit sweeter.”
‘I love that team room’
In the end, Sergio – like Poulter – is a different animal when it comes to the Ryder Cup anyway. He was in dreadful form coming into 2018 but went 3-1 in Paris, fully justifying Thomas Bjorn’s faith.
In a losing effort in Hazeltine in 2016, he was outstanding in an epic singles match against Phil Mickelson. The pair threw birdies at each other in a far better played game than the famous clash of Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy.
“I have always said it, I love that team room,” he continued. “You can’t believe how excited I get to be a part of that. Just to joke with the guys, to get to know the new boys, and to put my arm around someone.
“We all need a little lift at times, no matter how often we’ve been through this. Whoever needs a hug will get one. Players will open up and maybe just give you a little punch on the shoulder to say, ‘hey, it’s alright – we’re in this together.’
“Those things mean so much. They are so meaningful to me, and that’s the main reason why I love the Ryder Cup so much.”
‘I’m ready to do what I know I can do’
In our mind’s eye we still see Sergio as the teenager leaping joyously into the arms of Jesper Parnevik during his Ryder Cup debut in 1999. But he’s now 41 and admits his energy needs some husbanding.
“I don’t know if it is the best I’ve played in the build-up to a Ryder Cup, but it’s certainly up there,” he said. “I think the best was actually in 2008, when I was coming off an amazing year.
“But unfortunately I got sick the week before and that kind of drained me going into the Ryder Cup. I just didn’t have the energy that I wanted to have.
“And that’s why I took the gamble of not going and playing at Wentworth. I felt like at 41 I don’t want to travel so much, and play four weeks in a row.
“I would rather take the chance that I would be picked and get to the Ryder Cup with the batteries full on. I’m ready to do what I know I can do, not just for myself, but for the team.
“I’d rather not risk being a little bit drained, and not be able to bring what I know I can.”
The reset of 2010 worked wonders
— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) July 6, 2021
Sergio has missed just one Ryder Cup since 1999. Even then he was called up to the backroom team by Colin Montgomerie at Celtic Manor in 2010.
“I do know I wasn’t in a good place back then, and I needed some time to re-assess,” he said. “I want to say that I could have played the Ryder Cup in 2010 and still kept going.
“Maybe I would have won a few points there. But maybe I would have not proved so strong afterwards, having not taken that time out.
“I think everything happens for a reason. I’m very happy with where I am right now – personally and professionally. I’ve got a great family, I’m a Major champion, and I love playing golf as much as ever.
“And I’m just so excited to be part of another Ryder Cup eleven years after that little break. As soon as you can start earning points, I get super-excited about what lies ahead.”