By Sam Belden
There’s a real youth movement going on in the sport of golf, and through the first five PGA Tour events of 2017, the proof has been in the pudding. With Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Hideki Matsuyama — all 24 or younger and all former top-ranked amateurs — finding the winner’s circle in the past month, the face of the sport is quickly changing.
Then, there’s the European Tour. While most of the world’s golf circuits have crowned a host of new champions over the past few weeks, the PGA Tour’s younger cousin produced a throwback winner at the Dubai Desert Classic this past weekend, with Sergio Garcia taking home his 12th career victory on the circuit.
Good old Sergio. The sweet-swinging Spaniard was in vintage form all weekend, going wire-to-wire after an opening 65 and beating world No. 3 Henrik Stenson by three strokes. He managed to attack Emirates Golf Club from all angles, ranking first in the field in greens in regulation, second in driving accuracy and third in driving distance. For his efforts, Garcia took home more than 400,000 Euros and reentered the top 10 of the world ranking for the first time in more than a year.
In a world of fading superstars and hungry young guns, it’s comforting to see an old standby like Garcia raising a trophy — it’s almost enough to make you think the golf world hasn’t been completely turned on its head over the past decade. And yet, there was plenty of evidence of the game’s new order on display in Dubai. Tiger Woods withdrew from the event prior to his second round, citing yet another back injury. Joining Garcia and Stenson in the top five were, among others, Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick, two young Englishmen who will likely help to form the backbone of future Ryder Cup teams.
In some ways, Garcia winning feels like an anachronism, a relic from another time. That’s probably because Garcia has been a mainstay on the world stage since 1999, when he made a memorable run at the PGA Championship as a 19 year old. Since then, he has won more than 20 events across the world’s major golf tours, earning thousands of fans and a small army of haters along the way.
Even with all that success, Garcia has struggled to get the major monkey off his back. Despite amassing a whopping 12 top-five finishes over the years, he has never won one of the big four, and at 37 years old, his window appears to be closing fast.
However, in the face of all these shortcomings, Garcia’s conduct has been impressive. Once upon a time, he was hampered by all the scar tissue that comes with being the best player without a major, but he seems to have achieved closure in recent years, appearing comfortable on the course and satisfied in interviews. This is a more mellow Sergio.
Whether or not he ever gets that major, Garcia seems headed for the World Golf Hall of Fame. In a time when the game’s legends seem to be dropping like flies, it’s gratifying to see one of the greats get the job done.