San Antonio — Sergio Garcia had a long history with Texas even before he became a part-time resident.
He made his PGA Tour debut as a pro in 1999 at the Byron Nelson Classic and caused an immediate sensation with the gallery outside Dallas when he made eight birdies in 15 holes and had a chance for a 59 when he had a 4-iron into the par-5 16th hole. He finished par-par-bogey for a 62 and tied for third that week.
Two years later, the Spaniard won his first PGA Tour event at Colonial, the first of three victories in the Lone Star State.
Now, the connection extends to family. He married Angela Akins last summer, and he’s based out of the Austin area when he’s playing in America. That’s where he was last week after missing the cut at the Masters, for a family gathering of both parents and plenty of doting on Azalea, their 5-week-old daughter.
“Changed a lot of nappies,” Garcia said. “We went to the ranch a couple of times. We practiced a little bit with my dad. I played a member-member at Austin Golf Club with Ben Crenshaw — we managed to win it, too. So just kind of kept myself busy.”
Garcia also has a connection to the Texas Open.
He was the consultant to Greg Norman in designing the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, which will be used for the ninth straight year at the Texas Open. Garcia played that first year and broke par only once while tying for 45th.
Now he’s back to compete against a field that includes Adam Scott, Ernie Els and defending champion Kevin Chappell. Also in the field is Joaquin Niemann of Chile, the No. 1 amateur in the world who makes his pro debut this week at 19 — the same as Garcia when the Spaniard turned pro.
“It doesn’t feel that long ago I was in that situation and I was looking up to my idols and my role models in golf and trying to learn anything I could from them,” Garcia said. “So it is fun, and it’s an honor, to be in the other side of a situation. He’s a great kid. Obviously, he’s got a lot of talent. I think he can do a lot of beautiful things out there on the golf course.”
Both missed the cut at the Masters, and Garcia can point to one hole.
He was a few feet away from his 6-iron into the par-5 15th going up the ridge to about 15 feet. Instead, it rolled back down into the water. His next four shots, all with a wedge, spun past the hole, down the green and into the water. Garcia wound up with a 13 — the highest score ever recorded at No. 15 at Augusta National — and shot 81. By then, his hopes of making the cut as the defending Masters champion were all but gone.
So are the memories.
He has been around golf too long, good days and bad, to let something like that linger.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to realize that sometimes it happens. Sometimes it goes the wrong way, and without doing much wrong, it can happen,” he said. “But you learn from it and you move forward and try to be better.”
The Texas Open falls into a quiet part of the PGA Tour schedule — two weeks after the Masters, three weeks before The Players Championship. That won’t be the case the next year. With a long-term sponsorship deal, the Texas Open in 2019 moves to the week before the Masters, the last chance for a player to qualify for Augusta National by winning.
Also in the field this week is Brian Stuard (Jackson/Oakland), who finished tied for 67th last week at the RBC Heritage.