Publish date:

EURO SMASH

Author:

NO ONE HAS PILED UP MORE RYDER CUP POINTS THAN SERGIO GARCIA, WHO HELPED VANQUISH (YET AGAIN) A VISITING AMERICAN SIDE

THE RYDER CUP had been decided, but players were still on the course, and anyway, the Ryder Cup is never over for Sergio García. Not in June, not in December, not in an off-year and certainly not as he stood on the 17th green at Le Golf National outside Paris on Sept. 30. Rickie Fowler missed a putt that would have kept his singles match against García alive. García hugged him, kissed his wife, Angela Akins, and then tossed her a ball with a pink 18 on it and said, "This is for us."

The 18 is for the Garcías' daughter, who was born in 2018. They named her Azalea, a nod to García's '17 Masters triumph, his lone major title. It is probably for the best that they did not name her after his Ryder Cup wins, because Belfry Oakland Hills K Club Medinah Celtic Manor Le Golf National García would be a mouthful. "He just loves the Ryder Cup," Akins, a native Texan, said a few moments later.

The 38-year-old García was not the Europeans' best player last week (that was Francesco Molinari, who won all five of his matches) or their most fiery (Ian Poulter) or their most celebrated (Rory McIlroy). But as always, he was the team's heartbeat and its voice box. The crowd chanted, "Serrr-gio! Serrr-gio" so often, a bystander might have assumed all the European players had that name.

García struggled so much this year that Thomas Bjorn had to use a captain's pick on him—and even then, some people thought Bjorn was crazy. García was selected because, well, how can you have a European Ryder Cup team without him? García is now 22--12--7 in Ryder Cup matches. His 25½ career points broke Nick Faldo's record of 25. Akins says that García "hasn't actually played that badly this year—he missed a bunch of cuts on the number and couldn't catch a break"—which, if nothing else, may prove that she and Garcîa are meant for each other. García has a habit of insisting that he played better than the result. This personality is not ideal for majors, where great players must accept their bad breaks and find ways to limit the damage. But in match play, no matter how poorly you play on a hole, you can still lose only that hole. The next one provides a fresh start.

García has often left majors angry or frustrated—the burden of lifting himself seems to exhaust him. Lifting others gives him energy, and he finds competitive peace at golf's most intense event. On the 10th hole of his four-ball match on the second day in France, García hit his tee shot in the middle of the fairway while his playing partner, McIlroy, landed in the right rough. As they walked off the tee, García put his arm around McIlroy. McIlroy hit his recovery shot pin high, 25 feet from the cup. If you are wary of drawing a straight line from García's support to McIlroy's shot, that's O.K. Europeans will draw it for you.

That camaraderie was in marked contrast to the discord on the American team, which lost its sixth straight Ryder Cup on foreign soil, 17½ to 10½. Afterward Patrick Reed—dubbed Captain America for his heroics in the U.S. win two years ago—implied that Jordan Spieth had persuaded captain Jim Furyk to break up their pairing, which had been so successful at Hazeltine. "Every day, I saw LEAVE YOUR EGOS AT THE DOOR," Reed told The New York Times, while also complaining that Furyk sat him twice. "[The Europeans] do that better than us."

On Saturday night Europe led 10--6 but 23-year-old Spanish star Jon Rahm had not secured a point. García gave him a pep talk: "I told him what I thought of him, what I thought he was going to do, and just ... believe." Rahm beat Tiger Woods two-and-one the next day.

Europe's celebratory press conference featured champagne, and a toast from Rahm: "I grew up watching him do great things in the Ryder Cup." García pretended to wipe away a tear. But his tears on the 17th green that evening had been real. García was asked about surpassing Faldo. His answer was not surprising. "It was never a goal of mine," he said. "I'm always more [about] the team achieving things than myself."

American golf fans (and American golfers) pay the most attention to the majors, and so García's career is often viewed as a disappointment. But he has won his favorite event six times. How disappointing can it be?