It was a primal scream, one that’s waited (not always patiently) for 18 years and 74 majors to be unleashed.
Sergio Garcia’s birdie putt on the 73rd hole curled in the same left side door where Phil Mickelson shed his major-less demons in 2004. And when it disappeared – taking with it all the baggage he’s collected over a lifetime of golf heartbreaks – Garcia dropped in a squat and let it all go.
He screamed over and over. He piston-pumped both arms. He pounded his fist into the green. He hugged his caddie, his competitor, his fiancé. He blew kisses to the patrons who grew increasingly more on his side as the shadows grew longer and his resilience grew stronger. Choruses of “Olé, olé, olé” rang out amid the pines.
“The support I felt out there this week was amazing,” he said with the chaqueta verde formally draped upon his shoulders. “I felt like I was back in Spain.”
Justin Rose understood.
“I think that they realized that he paid his dues, and they realized that he’s been close so many times, and they probably were pulling for him to pull through on this occasion,” Rose said.
When he finally did, Garcia unleashed one of the most unabashedly exuberant celebrations of personal accomplishment since Seve Ballesteros bounced on the 18th green at St. Andrews. And it was oh so richly deserved. On the day Seve would have turned 60, the man once known as “El Niño” fulfilled his long-awaited and often-doubted destiny.
“A lot of those things came through my mind – my people, everybody that supported me, my sponsors, my moments that unfortunately it didn’t go the way I wanted,” he said. “And some of the moments I’ve had here at Augusta that maybe I haven’t enjoyed as much and how stupid I really was trying to fight against something that you can’t fight. And how proud I was of accepting things.
“It’s been a long wait but it’s that much sweeter because of that wait.”
Garcia arrived at Augusta a different man than the one who often railed against the golf gods and the Augusta course that stood in the way of his fate. Engaged in January to be married this summer to former Golf Channel reporter Angela Akins, Garcia has found a happiness in life that fed into his game.
“I was very calm, much calmer than yesterday, much calmer than I’ve felt probably in any major championship on Sunday,” he said. “So obviously Justin (Rose) wasn’t making it easy. He was playing extremely well. But I knew what I was capable of doing, and I believed that I could do it.”
He also fed off the positivity that surrounded him from his support circle. Jose Maria Olazabal, Garcia’s closest idol, wrote him a note and told him he’s got room to share his locker in the Champions Locker Room. Akins kept attaching notes to his bathroom mirror every morning, telling him to “be amazing” and other quotes of encouragement from Audrey Hepburn and Mahatma Ghandi.
“It wasn’t only Jose Maria,” he said. “Obviously a lot of great notes from family, friends, throughout the beginning of the week and a lot of cute and beautiful notes from my fiancé were stuck in the mirror of the bathroom. All those things helped a lot.
“(Olazabal) did mention a couple of things that did kind of touch my heart a little bit. He said, ‘I’m not sharing my locker at the moment, and I hope that I get to do it with you.’ So if you guys wouldn’t mind putting me with Jose, it would be great.”
It has been a long journey to this point. Close calls and occasional scars in places like Medinah, Bethpage, Carnoustie, Oakland Hills, Hoylake and Augusta. Many years answering questions about being “the best player without a major.”
“At least it says, ‘best player,’” he said. “There’s a good thing there. Well, I don’t have to answer that anymore.”
Rose, who won his major at Merion in 2013, understood the magnitude of his friendly rival’s relief on Sunday even as he nursed his own pain.
“It must be hard for guys when they are striving to win majors and they are seeing their peers pick them off and they are kind of being left behind,” Rose said. “It’s nice for him now to have that monkey off his back and I was very pleased for him. Sergio is obviously the best player not to have won a major, no longer.”
There were times even Garcia wondered if this day would ever come – especially on a course he’s struggled to embrace as the years mounted.
“Yeah, I mean, I think the problem is, because where my head was at sometimes, I did think about am I ever going to win one,” he said. “I’ve had so many good chances and either I lost them or someone has done something extraordinary to beat me. So it did cross my mind.”
It certainly crossed everyone’s mind on Sunday when he made bogeys at 10, 11 and was taking a penalty drop on 13 facing the prospect of a four-shot deficit.
This Sergio didn’t wilt. He fought. He saved par at 13, made birdie at 14, converted a dramatic eagle at 15 and overcame a short miss in regulation at 18 to slam the door to end what will go down as one of the most memorable duels in Masters lore.
“Definitely demonstration of my character, and my mentality, how positive I stayed even when things weren’t going that well on 10 and 11,” he said.
“It must have been fun to watch,” Rose said.
It was. And it was fun to see one of golf’s great players be validated as a champion.
“To be totally honest, I’m very happy but I don’t feel any different,” he said. “I’m obviously thrilled about what happened here today, but I’m still the same goofy guy, so that’s not going to change.
One of golf’s longest running passion plays came to a thrilling conclusion on one of golf’s most emotional stages Sunday. The man who worried least about the way it went was the protagonist himself.
“I have a beautiful life, major or no major,” Garcia said. “I’ve said it many times I have an amazing life. I feel so nicely surrounded. It never felt like a horror movie. It felt like a little bit of a drama maybe, but obviously with a happy ending.”