lunes, abril 10, 2017

Un gran colofón

En realidad, he considerado siempre que este blog, que deje de escribir hace algunos años, no estaba terminado.

No podía estarlo sin un final feliz, que tenía que llegar: que no podía no llegar, aunque muchos, y yo el primero, habíamos dudado que pudiera alguna vez llegar. 

Pero si hay una justicia y un dios del golf, ese final se debía realizar algún dia, como una promesa bíblica.

Sergio ha sabido cambiar. Ha sido capaz de algo que parece muy sencillo y es, sin embargo, muy dificil: aceptarse a sí mismo; pactar con los propios límites y, ser feliz con ellos y también a pesar de ellos. Los duros momentos del pasado, los domingos frustrantes, las esperanzas que parecen escapar de la escena de la propria vida, han sido para él una escuela de madurez, una forma de humildad que lo ha hecho fuerte.

Quizá por eso todo el golf que Sergio lleva dentro ha fluido mansamente allí, en el escenario que todo verdadero jugador de golf ha soñado alguna vez, en el jardín bellísimo y temibilísimo de Augusta. Allí Sergio se ha proclamado Maestro, Maestro del golf mundial, Maestro de Maestros. Porque eso es el Masters: un título de maestro de golf, un doctorado honoris causa.

Ya puedo decir que este blog queda cerrado. Con el final feliz de una historia conmovedora: la de un jugador de golf que no conseguía desplegar su talento, hasta que un camino se abre y el sueño puede hacerse realidad. Una historia holliwoodiana con protagonista español: el castellonense, el de Borriol, el Grande, el Maestro del golf mundial, Sergio Garcia.

No quiero terminar sin transcribir un artículo de la web del PGA para memoria de como fue todo y de como se vió.

Mike McAllister
AUGUSTA, Ga. – He said he would never win one. They said he was probably right.

He said the golf gods were against him, that bad luck – and not just bad shots – were his undoing. They said he lacked intestinal fortitude. That his natural shot-making ability would put him in contention but when faced with adversity, he would sulk and compound the problem.

They said his window of opportunity was closing, that a bevy of younger stars were filling what once was his domain. He said his life would be no different, that crossing his name off some best-to-never-win list would not define his happiness. But in his heart, the fire always burned.

For more than a decade, this conversation took place. But now it’s over, replaced by adoring fans shouting his name.

Sergio Garcia has won a major. On Sunday, he won the Masters.

“Been a long time coming,” he said while slipping on the green jacket at Butler Cabin, having defeated good friend Justin Rose on the first playoff hole after their match play-type battle on the back nine at Augusta National.

It was not his first time inside Butler Cabin. In 1999, he was low amateur, which meant he joined the post-tournament ceremony with one of his idols, fellow Spaniard Jose Maria OIazabal. It was Olazabal’s second Masters win, and Garcia walked away thinking he would one day claim his own green jacket.

But things changed. Garcia began feeling uncomfortable on a course that doesn’t favor his style of play. He hits fades. Augusta National demands draws. Only twice in his first 18 starts did he start the final round inside the top 10. His appearances were mostly exercises in futility.

Five years ago, it boiled over. He told Spanish reporters it would never happen for him. Not only would he not win the Masters – he said he’d never win a major.

Then a funny thing happened to Sergio. The self-described “goofy guy” who can be “hard-headed” stopped fighting and started accepting. He stopped blaming others and started seeking solutions. The petulant man became a peaceful one.

“I accepted what Augusta gives and takes,” he said. “And I think because of that, I’m able to stand here today.”

At no point was that more evident than after consecutive bogeys left him two shots behind playing partner Rose going to the 12th hole. The perfect opportunity for Garcia to unravel had now presented itself. His former self would’ve fallen for the trap. But not this time.

He equaled Rose’s par at 12, then passed the acid test at the par-5 13th with an escape of Ballesteros-like proportions. Finding trouble off the tee, his ball landing under an azelea bush, Garcia had to take a penalty. Yet he still managed par … and then breathed a sigh of relief when Rose failed to convert his 5-foot birdie opportunity.

With new life, Garcia birdied the 14th and eagled the 15th to join Rose as co-leader. By not giving in to negative demons, Garcia’s faith in himself had been rewarded.

“Demonstration of my character and my mentality,” Garcia called it. “How positive I stayed even when things weren’t going that well on 10 and 11.”

Garcia held strong as the golf gods kept testing him. Rose birdied 16 but gave it right back with a bogey at 17. Rose’s approach at 18 drifted right but hit a mound and bounded straight toward the hole, a terrific break. Garcia followed by hitting it stiff. Both players missed their birdie tries, sending it to a sudden-death playoff.

Rose flinched first, his drive finding the pine needles on the right and landing behind a tree. All he could do was punch out. Garcia then followed with the knockout blow, his approach setting up what would be a two-putt par to win. Garcia needed only one of those strokes.

“A wonderful battle,” said the disappointed Rose. “If I had anybody to lose to, it would be Sergio. He’s had his fair share of heartbreaks.”

It was followed by an equally wonderful scene, as patrons chanted, ‘SERGIO! SERGIO!’ For many American golf fans, particularly at Ryder Cups, Garcia has been atop the villain list. His passion for the event – and his stellar performances as one of Europe’s ringleaders – often has him wearing a target.

Not this time. Not for the player who has knocked on the door 73 previous times in majors. No pro had ever made more starts before winning his first major. That's the kind of persistence Augusta National galleries can appreciate.

“Often he feels like he’s not supported the way he would like to be here in America,” Rose said. “It was encouraging to see the crowd get behind him. I think they realized he paid his dues.”

Perhaps we should’ve seen this coming. After all, the stars lined up for him this week. On Wednesday, Olazabal sent him a message of inspiration. He also mentioned he was not sharing his champion’s locker at Augusta National with anybody. “I hope that I get to do it with you,” Olazabal told Garcia.

Garcia’s other idol, Seve Ballesteros, would’ve turned 60 on Sunday. Garcia felt the presence of the two-time Masters winner -- who died in 2011 of brain cancer -- several times this week. It was a calming influence; in fact, Garcia said he never felt so calm on a major Sunday.

Then in July, the 37-year-old Garcia will be married to his Austin, Texas-based fiancée, Angela Akins. This week, she left notes of inspiration and love on the mirror at their rental place. Don’t underestimate the importance of his happy home life. It seems to have spilled over to his game.

“I have a beautiful life,” Garcia said. “Major or no major, I’ve said it many, many times. I have an amazing life.”

And now he has a green jacket. The hole in his resume has been filled. The question of whether he’s major-worthy has been answered.

Of course, there’s a new conversation now.

“I don’t know if I’ll be the best player to have only won one major,” he said with a chuckle. “But I can live with that.”