In a 4th decade of the Ryder Cup, Garcia still going strong

Sergio Garcia didn’t waste much time making a point on how he values of the Ryder Cup.

He was a teenager — at 19, still the youngest player in Ryder Cup history — and just over five months removed from being the low amateur at the Masters, when Garcia and Jesper Parnevik took down Tiger Woods and Tom Lehman in foursomes at Brookline.

That was his first point. And that was just the start.

Now with more gray than dark brown in his stubble, the 41-year-old Spaniard sets off for his 10th Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits to extend a remarkable run defined by numbers.

He is one of only four players to compete in Ryder Cups across four decades, the first one in 1999 with no reason to think this one will be the last.

Garcia has won 25 1/2 points (winning 62% of his matches), which already is the most in Ryder Cup history. That’s as many points as this U.S. team combined. He is two wins away from breaking the Ryder Cup record held by Nick Faldo, which would be sweet for other reasons.

Perhaps most telling is the list of Americans who have lost to him — Woods and Phil Mickelson (four times each), Davis Love III and David Duval, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.

“Sergio Garcia loves the Ryder Cup,” European captain Padraig Harrington said, a rare occasion when the Irishman felt no need to elaborate.

Garcia was on stage a few weeks ago with Collin Morikawa, the 24-year-old Californian about to make his Ryder Cup debut. They took part in a Q&A during the Payne Stewart Award ceremony in Atlanta, and with Dan Hicks of NBC Sports as the host, the Ryder Cup was bound to be mentioned. Hicks asked Garcia if he had any advice.

“Share the secrets,” Morikawa said with a laugh.

“I really haven’t done that well in it, anyway,” Garcia said, laughing along with the audience. “No, you’ll have fun. It’s amazing.”

The Ryder Cup is everything to him, as much as that Masters green jacket he won in 2017 for his first major. And yes, he’s done OK. But while he has contributed points, that’s not how Garcia keeps score.

He has been on six winning teams as a player, one as a last-minute vice captain in Wales.

“Being the highest points-score in Ryder Cup history, that was never my goal,” Garcia said. “It’s something that I never thought about because I was always focused on winning the Ryder Cup as a team. I never thought, ‘Oh, even if we lose, if I win 3 or 3 1/2 points, I had a great Ryder Cup.’ No, that doesn’t do it for me.

“I’ve always said I could win five matches. If we don’t win the Ryder Cup, it’s not a good Ryder Cup for me,” he said. “It’s not the way my brain works and probably is one of the reasons why I’ve been fortunate to be a part of so many teams and do so well in it.”

The passion he brings is reminiscent of Spaniards from another generation, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, the latter who was Garcia’s fourballs partners in 2006 (they won both their matches at The K Club).

It is on equal terms as Ian Poulter, another European whose legacy is the Ryder Cup.

“I certainly had my heart set on Ian and Sergio being the soul of a Ryder Cup team,” said Harrington, who used two of his three captain’s picks on them.

Those three losses Garcia experienced in the Ryder Cup sting.

Garcia and Parnevik were unbeaten at Brookline, and then Furyk took him down in singles in a pivotal match that set up the stunning U.S. comeback in 1999.

In 2016 at Hazeltine, Garcia did his part to stave off an inevitable loss. He birdied his last three holes, the final two to match Mickelson birdies, and earned a halve. Garcia and Mickelson combined for 19 birdies that match and both had a medal score of 63.

And then there was 2008 at Valhalla, with Faldo as the captain, the only Ryder Cup in which Garcia failed to win a match (he had two halves). Six years later during the Ryder Cup telecast, Faldo said on air that Garcia was “useless” that week because of physical and emotional issues.

European players at Gleneagles rallied around Garcia. He and Lee Westwood had never missed a match until that year — Westwood had gone 12 consecutive matches without a loss — and Faldo sat them both on Saturday morning.

“I’d say Sergio was fairly useless … because he wasn’t able to play,” McDowell said.

Garcia has had 11 partners over the years, only three on this team — Westwood, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy. In the last two Ryder Cups, he has been called upon to nurture the newcomers, like Rafa Cabrera Belo at Hazeltine and Alex Noren last time in France.

Europe has only three rookies this year, a short list that includes Bernd Wiesberger, whom Garcia describes as one of his best friends on the European Tour.

“Sergio just loves the fact that he’ll be mentoring rookies, at least one of the rookies, and he loves that job, Harrington said. ”It’s very important to have your rookies … the enthusiasm, the passion that they bring. Yeah, you wouldn’t want to be there without them.”

That was Garcia long ago, holing out from the fairway, sprinting and leaping into his partner’s arms with boundless energy. All these years later, it never really left him.