AUGUSTA, Ga. — Prior to competing in his first Masters Tournament as an amateur, 18 long years ago, Sergio Garcia played a Tuesday practice round at Augusta National. One of his playing partners that day was a player he would spend much of the next decade chasing, sometimes quite literally, Tiger Woods. The other was one of his heroes, Seve Ballesteros.
When asked the next day to explain Ballesteros’ influence on his career, the bright-eyed, peach-fuzzed Garcia replied, “He has been like almost a second dad. He has taken care of me at the British Open twice and in Augusta, we played some practice rounds. … He has really helped me a lot.”
Perhaps it’s coincidence that Garcia’s 18-year-long struggle against the golf gods, his seemingly insurmountable fight to exorcise the demons of major championships gone by, culminated in a hard-fought Masters victory on what would have been the 60th birthday of the man simply known as Seve, who passed away six years ago.
Or maybe it was something more. Maybe it was karma. Or fate. Or destiny. His green jacket loosely affixed to his shoulders — “This one is a little bit too big,” he joked — Garcia stood up after the trophy ceremony and in the early-evening twilight, pointed toward the heavens. He was thinking of Seve.
“It definitely popped in my mind a few times, there’s no doubt about it,” he said of the birthday. “I’m sure he helped a little bit with some of those shots or some of those putts.”
A five-time major champion, Ballesteros was the game’s greatest magician, a man who could get up-and-down for par from a flower bed or a parking lot. Garcia’s final round on Sunday wasn’t quite vintage Seve, but it was close. He hit wayward tee shots that left him in proverbial jail. He hit brilliant recovery shots that oozed Seve’s spirit.
In the end, it was a 12-foot birdie attempt that defeated Justin Rose in a playoff. The delicate putt caught the low side of the cup and inexplicably dropped into it. Almost as if he’d received a little help.
Not long afterward, Garcia’s father, Victor, stood behind the Augusta National clubhouse, furiously pumping his arms into the sky, his face overwhelmed with emotion.
“Seve, Seve, today is the 60th birthday of Seve if he was alive,” he screamed. “[Eighteen] years ago, that was the first time I caddied here for him and [Jose Maria] Olazabal won. Today, 19 years later, it’s Sergio, on the birthday of Severiano.”
No story of Sergio’s reverence for Seve is complete without also including his adoration for Olazabal. Each of them two-time Masters champions, Garcia is quick to mention the other when asked only about one of them.
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