Sergio Garcia's failure at the British Open in Carnoustie wasn't a Mickelson- or Norman-like meltdown, just a superbly talented golfer with the world at his fingertips showing mush rather than mental fortitude. Which is why golf fans respond with shrugs rather than sympathy.
Feeling sorry for Sergio Garcia for throwing away his best chance at winning a major is like feeling bad for Tom Cruise for jumping up and down on Oprah's couch or Ryan Seacrest for being ... well, Ryan Seacrest.
Maybe you should. It's probably the nice thing to do. But there's something about Garcia that just makes pity tough to muster.
When he melted down at Carnoustie Sunday like an ice cream left out on a cloudy Scottish summer day - slowly, but steadily - there weren't a lot of golf fans weeping with him.
This wasn't Greg Norman unraveling at the 1996 Masters in such historic fashion that Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly suggested The Shark must have whistled right past a graveyard.
This wasn't Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot, losing it all when he stood on the precipice of having everything he ever wanted.
This wasn't even Jean Van de Velde giving us one of the most unforgettable - and hilarious - images in pro sports history with his rolled-up wet pants eight years ago at Carnoustie.
It was just a superbly talented golfer who seemingly has the world at his fingertips once again showing the kind of mental fortitude that wouldn't get you a victory in horseshoes against those 80-year-old guys at the park.
Even casual golf fans pulling for Garcia - and there were plenty of those, his being the biggest name within grasping distance of the Claret Jug - couldn't seem to get too worked up over his loss.
"I would have liked to see Sergio win," regular Arizona golfer Paul Conrad said. "But he's not one of those guys where you're bummed out if he doesn't. It's almost like rooting for Brad Pitt to win an Oscar."
There is a real sense that Garcia's had too much handed to him already. He was anointed a challenger to Tiger Woods from the moment he turned pro. Actually living up to that has often seemed like an afterthought.
After all, Sergio already has the fame, the big-time endorsements, the line of female fans. Who really needs a green jacket or Claret Jug when the perks that come with such accomplishment are already yours?
"In Spain, unlike America, we work to enjoy life," said Hugo Donoso, a vacationing golfer from Madrid. "Over here, you live to work. Or most of you do. Sergio has the most fantastic life at this moment.
"Why would he beat himself up over not having this or that trophy? I bet you, he'll be back to partying this week."
Yes, it's even difficult for Spanish fans to lose sleep over Sergio shrinking under the spotlight. And in that may lay his greatest failing.
Golf, more than any other sport, turns its also-rans into legends. (Quick, name any other runner-up in any other sport in 1999 off the top of your head.) No sport, not even baseball, has its history packed with so many players famous for having blown it.
And Sergio Garcia couldn't even give us that in this British Open. He didn't pull a Bill Buckner or tumble over a billy goat disguised as a dork wearing headphones (see: Cubs, Chicago). He just swung small, thought small and left with another big check.
Afterward he sounded more like a petulant teen rather than the 27-year-old man his birth certificate says he is. He talked like he thought he had his own personal billy goat (maybe it's a Scottish sheep) trailing him everywhere, kicking his shots into the rough or the burn.
"You know what's the saddest thing about it?" he told reporters in Scotland. "It's not the first time. It's not the first time, unfortunately. So, I don't know, I'm playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field."
Yes, now Sergio is seeing ghosts on the golf course.
You can't help but wonder if this is how Michelle Wie is going to be at 27.
Garcia chose to talk about the putt he almost made on 18 rather than all the ones he completely blew, or all the ones that champion Padraig Harrington did make in his major Sunday 67.
Okay, Harrington's victory - the first for a European in any major in eight years and the first for an Irishman in this particular major in 60 - isn't going to set off Padraig fever, at least not at this side of the pond.
(When I called Rula Bula, the closest thing to a real Irish pub in the Phoenix-Scottsdale golf-resort corridor, to ask if any extra Guinness was flowing over Harrington's win, the bartender paused before asking, "Who's this Paddington again?")
But Harrington did give real golf fans a major to remember, despite hitting a bridge, which caused the BBC radio crew reporting for XM Radio in the States to gush about his "sailor's walk."
It's certainly better than Sergio's slink.
There is no denying Garcia's talent - and no way to root for him in another major. He's the punk who's never learned to grow up, who turns to mush under pressure.
When Phil Mickelson messes up, people ache for him. When Sergio Garcia brain-locks, they shrug.
July 23, 2007
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