By Paul Mahoney
It is impossible to look at the 18th green of the Old Course at St Andrews without remembering Seve Ballesteros winning in 1984 and sharing his love with the spectators in a series of Fife fist pumps and a joyous yell.
Sergio Garcia remembers it, too. “I didn’t watch it live, but I’ve seen replays and it’s great watching him throwing punches this way and that way. “Wow, just amazing,” Garcia said on the eve of the 144th Open Championship.
“To come here and win the Open would be extremely special as it’s St Andrews – the home of golf – and remembering what Seve did here would make it an even more amazing experience. We don’t want to get ahead ourselves because there’s a lot of things we need to do right,” he said. “The challenge is, as I did last year when I played well, to give myself a possibility of winning.”
Garcia finished tied runner-up to Rory McIlroy at Royal Liverpool in 2014 but he and Rickie Fowler never really threatened to pull back the runaway leader. It was Garcia’s first top 10 since Lytham in 2011 and reignited his belief that his dream of lifting the Claret Jug was still alive. The heartache of seeing a putt to win lip out at Carnoustie in 2007 has been confined to history. Eight top 10s in 18 Opens says the 35-year-old World No.10 revels in this annual links challenge. After what he described as a “solid but not exciting year” so far, Garcia was relaxed and confident about his chances.
Does he believe he can win the Open or does he just hope? “In the back of my mind, I do believe I’m going to win this event at some point,” he said. “But nothing is for sure. I can have an accident tomorrow and never play in another Open. I really feel as though I have an Open win in me based on the history I have with this event and things I’ve been able to achieve in the past on this type of course,” he said. “But I don’t have a crystal ball.”
But what he does have is plenty of support and encouragement. Like at the Ryder Cup, he seems to feed off the good vibes that come his way from the spectators. “I’ve always been very thankful for the way the British crowds have treated me. They have always been amazing,” Garcia said. “Even before I turned pro as a British Boys and British Amateur champion, they have always encouraged me. They’ve always carried me in the palm of their hand. I don’t know what I did but I’m glad I did it and that’s one of the reasons why I love the Open so much,” he said.
Garcia plays the first two rounds with Lee Westwood and Patrick Reed. If there is one venue and one championship that inspires him more than any other, it is playing in a stellar group at the Open on the world’s most revered piece of real estate. “I’ve always said that this is the best championship we have in golf, no doubt about it. For everything it means and everything it stands for,” he said. “It would be amazing to win it.”
Garcia’s love affair with St Andrews began the moment he played it for the first time in 1999. He never played it as an amateur but remembered walking a few holes on a visit with the Spanish national team. Then in 1999, he was part of the Spanish team along with Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez that won the Dunhill Cup. He still gets a buzz from being in the Old Grey Toon. “It is amazing when you stand on the 1st tee. It is nice that is so wide,” he said laughing. “It’s great with the R&A clubhouse behind and the 17th hole sitting at the back left in front of you and the stream winding its way across the 1st and 18th fairways. It is very special. I love the fact it starts and finishes in the town,” he said.
“We play St Andrews every five years and that makes it more special because you never know when it is going to be your last Open here. You don’t know if your game is going to be good enough to get you back five years later. You don’t know if your health is going to be good enough. Every time you come here you want to suck it all in, just in case,” he said.
“Put it this way,” Garcia said. “If I could stand here and say I could only win one tournament for the rest of my life, I would choose the Open. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be one at St Andrews – I don’t want to be picky,” he said.
Watch Sergio Garcia talk through his bag at St Andrews: