Sergio Garcia can be called a lot of things. He can be labeled a whiner, a finger-pointer, even an underachiever. Yet in the aftermath of the ugly escalation of his feud with Tiger Woods, does the Spaniard deserve to be called a villain?
Here’s what we think we know: Garcia isn't a racist worthy of our contempt or a victim in need of our sympathy. That said, the jury is most certainly out on exactly where the true Sergio lies between those two extremes and whether he deserves to be the most vilified professional golfer of his generation.
Even before the unfortunate “fried chicken” comments, Garcia was a "love him or hate him" kind of chap, with the majority—at least on this side of the Atlantic—seeming to favor the latter over the former.
Perhaps it’s his whining, complaining nature, a trait he recently admitted to having in comments to Golf.com. Maybe it’s the significant potential he has never fully realized and the killer instinct he has never possessed.
One thing is for sure: His dustup with Woods that turned ugly this week hasn't helped his cause one bit. In fact, Sergio may very well be the only golfer who could get into a public spat with Tiger Woods and come out on the losing end of it in the public eye.
To be sure, the past two weeks have revealed the problematic aspects of Garcia’s personality that cause him so much distress.
He has trouble accepting responsibility, points fingers way too much and can’t seem to let things go when he should.
Like Tiger, the opinion on Sergio Garcia the person is a mixed bag. He’s paid the price for his fair share of incidents with fellow professionals and galleries. He’s also perceived by many in both those groups as an affable golfer who plays the game with spirit and energy.
It was that positive version of Sergio that burst onto the scene with great acclaim in the 1999 PGA Championship, matching a 23-year-old Tiger shot-for-shot in an epic battle of two promising stars at the Medinah Country Club.
We didn't know it then, but Sergio had met his Moby Dick for the first time in battle, as Tiger has gone on to haunt him in the 14 years since that encounter. And that same man today appears to have his foot squarely on Garcia’s throat.
Sergio’s honeymoon with golf fans following that 1999 performance lasted until the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black on Long Island. It was there that Garcia’s fragile psyche revealed itself in front of Tiger and pretty much the entire golf world.
While contending for his first major championship victory, Garcia developed a case of “the waggles” to the point where Bethpage galleries were counting out every incomplete takeaway as Sergio stood over the ball for what seemed hours at a time.
Obviously, Garcia didn't appreciate the treatment any more than the galleries liked endlessly waiting for his shots—thus, the contentious nature between Sergio and American golf fans found its roots. It’s likely that the animosity from the 2002 Open in part fueled Sergio’s Ryder Cup passion and motivated his great play against the Americans in the event.
But while that energy has served Garcia well in the competition, it furthered his image as public enemy No. 1 with American golf fans who watched his celebrations during multiple European victories.
Sergio's image and personality took another hit in 2007 when he spat into the cup on the 13th hole at Doral after missing a par putt with other players still to play behind him. Even for Sergio, that's an action that's hard to explain away as someone else's fault or even competitive fire.
Despite that, there are those who believe the true reality of Garcia is that of a likable guy who enjoys competition but isn't absolutely driven by victory. Indeed, he possesses a playful personality—another reason he and the ultra-focused Woods do not relate well to each other.
Did he grow up protected and privileged? Yes. Was he raised to be a person who looked down on others for reason of skin or culture? Not likely.
His poorly chosen words on Tuesday certainly belie that fact, but he’s not the first athlete to pop off with a such a remark. He’s also not the first to pay a significant price for it through the microscope of public examination.
It’s fair to say Garcia has failed at times to take responsibility for his shortcomings. At the same time, the Spaniard is honest to a fault, in regard to both his self-evaluation and his opinions of others. At the 2012 Masters, Sergio admitted he didn't have the game to win majors, suggesting he was instead playing for second place or worse.
Problem is, in professional sports we prefer our athletes to not show their vulnerable sides. It’s a sign of weakness and proof they aren't what we think they should be. That’s exactly how Garcia is viewed after his moments of public self-awareness, which he would be better served to keep to himself.
It’s really the true dichotomy of Sergio. We like that he is honest, but we don’t like what he says when he’s being honest. We appreciate his boyish charm and carefree approach but call it out when he falls short in final rounds of majors such as the 2002 U.S. Open or significant PGA Tour events like the 2013 Players Championship.
Much from his own doing, he is damned if he does and most certainly damned if doesn't.
None of this means that we should like Sergio. It also doesn't demand that we hate him. It just leaves us not knowing if we should be feeling either of those emotions with any sort of conviction.