Noticeably fun-loving and light-hearted among other more dignified golfers, Sergio "El Nino" Garcia shed his amateur status at age nineteen after accumulating twenty-one amateur victories. In 1999 as he claimed six tournament wins and picked up his first endorsement contract, he was regarded as the most promising professional golfer the year. Dubbed a wunderkind by some, Garcia easily piqued the interest of observers like no golfer since Tiger Woods .
Garcia was born on January 9, 1980 in Castellon, Spain. Golf was a way of life for his father, golf pro Victor Garcia, and mother Consuelo Fernandez, who was a pro shop employee. Both were employed at Club Del Campo del Mediterranean. Victor Garcia, who later joined the Professional Golf Association (PGA) European senior tour, personally taught his three children—Victor Jr., Sergio, and Mar—to play. Sergio, the middle child, took to the sport with the most flair.
Given his background, it was perhaps unremarkable when Garcia first won a junior tournament at age ten. When at age twelve he took the club championship at Del Campo, however, the significance of his victory was evident. It became clear that Garcia possessed a natural bent for the sport, and by age fourteen he had claimed a spot on the professional tour.
Garcia took the Topolino World Junior Championship in 1994, and the European Young Masters and European Amateur Championship in 1995. He went on to claim a total of twenty-one such victories over the next four years. In 1996, at age sixteen and still an amateur, he ranked third in scoring on the PGA tour. In his native Spain, he claimed four national amateur titles by that time: under sixteen, under eighteen, under twenty-one, and the Spanish Amateur. More impressive still was his win at the Catalonian Open Championship, a PGA (professional) event at age seventeen. Two years later he won the British Amateur of 1998 and was hailed as the best amateur worldwide.
Garcia turned pro on April 21, 1999. Simultaneously he picked up a five-year endorsement deal from Adidas. At the PGA Championship in Medinah, Illinois, in August of the year, he attracted international attention with a near upset of Woods. Garcia—the youngest participant in that event since 1921—lost by a single stroke.
After a professional debut at the Byron Nelson Classic in May, Garcia played his first major as a professional, at the British Open in June. One month later he snagged a tour win at the Murphy's Irish Open, to become the fourth youngest winner ever on the European tour. Garcia won six tournaments altogether during his first year as a pro. He finished second in the PGA that season, and by year's end his ranking had soared, from number 399, into the top twenty worldwide. He was hailed as the most promising professional of the year. On the PGA European tour that season he competed in twelve events, winning two.
Garcia was named to the 1999 European Ryder Cup team and to the Alfred Dunhill Cup Spanish team. After
ranking third on the PGA European tour of 1999, he was awarded the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award.
As a promising new professional and in part because of his youth, Garcia came under intense media scrutiny. Nicknamed El Nino (the child), he took criticism for the volatility of his standings and for the wrist action in his swing. Ironically comparisons between Garcia and Ben Hogan were drawn over the same topic of the wrist action in the swing. By June of 2000 he was ranked at number fifteen. With his stroke average up from 70.3 in 1999 to 70.9 in 2000, he finished his second year as a pro without winning a tournament. He finished out the season in the top thirty-six and ranked at twenty-one on the PGA European tour. The performance caused critics to question the volatility of his skill.
With his stroke average down to 69.5 by the end of 2001, he finished the season with two USA PGA tour wins. His victory at the Colonial tournament in Fort Worth on May 21 was his first on the U.S. tour. He added $750,000 to his winnings, bringing his purse for the year to $1.1 million at that point—barely four months after his twenty-first birthday. With a second U.S. win at the Buick Classic in June, his ranking climbed to number six worldwide. Going into the British Open that year, he was top-ranked for the tournament and ranked at number five worldwide. In September 2001 he took the Trophée Lancôme.
At age twenty-three, Garcia stands 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighs 159 pounds. He travels with an entourage that has come to be known as La Familia (the family). Members of the so-called family include a manager, assistant manager, caddie, strength coach, and an all-important English teacher as Garcia makes professional strides in the United States and in the British Commonwealth. Following his losing year in 2000 Garcia replaced his caddie, bringing Glenn Murray of South Africa into the family.
Garcia's steadily rising driving accuracy percentage went from 69.5 in 2000 to 72.6 in 2001. Likewise his average driving distance rose from 287.9 yards to 291.4 at the same time. When he arrived at the majors of 2002, he realized top ten finishes in each of the four tournaments. In recognition of his PGA tour win at the Mercedes Championship in January, he learned to drive in order to enjoy the spoils of his victory. Other wins of 2002 included the Canarias Open de Espana at Gran Canaria in April of that year.
Garcia, who maintains his residence in Borriol, purchased a home in Orlando, Florida, in 2002. His avocations include watching cartoons, and playing tennis and computer games. Although he is admired for his boyish charm and effervescence, his shenanigans have been known to annoy those more dignified denizens of the links. The most disastrous of his offenses occurred at the Greg Norman Holden International Tour in Australia on February 10, 2001. In the end he took home a fine of 5,000 pounds-sterling for what was initially described as an outburst and later as a flagrant disrespect for the rules. Regardless, Golf World maintained that "[r]aw energy," and "cocksure exuberance," are what Garcia is all about.
|1980||Born January 9 in Spain|
|1996||Achieves third place in scoring on PGA tour while still a 16-year-old amateur|
|1999||Turns pro on April 21; signs with Adidas in April; becomes fourth youngest tour winner in history in July; wins two events of 12 played on European PGA tour; named to European Ryder Cup team (youngest participant ever)|
|2000||Ranks forty-second on earnings list; holds a ranking of fifteen in June; finishes the year ranked in top thirty-six worldwide|
|2001||Ranks at fifth worldwide; ranks at number one going into the 2001 British Open; is fined 5,000 pounds-sterling for an outburst at the Greg Norman Holden International Tour on February 10|
|2002||Earns $1,465,323 by May, to rank as the tenth-highest money-maker on PGA tour; finishes in top ten of the four major tournaments; purchases a home in Orlando, Florida|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1994||Topolino World Junior Championship|
|1995||European Young Masters Championship, European Amateur Championship|
|1996||Spanish Amateur Championship under-16, under-18, under-21|
|1997||Catalonian Open Championship (PGA event), European Masters Amateur Championship, French Amateur Championship, Spanish Amateur Championship, British Boys Championship, Grand Prix de Lendes, David Leadbetter Championship|
|1998||Spanish Amateur Championship, King of Spain Cup, Jacksonville Junior, European Amateur Masters, Puerta de Hierro Cup, British Amateur Championship|
|1999||Named Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year; won the Irish Open|
|2001||Master Card Colonial, Buick Classic; Trophée Lancôme|
|2002||Mercedes Championship; Canarias Open de Espana (Spanish Open)|
Golf World (May 17, 2002): 42.
Golf World (October 4, 2002): 39.
Newsweek (September 27, 1999): 58.
Sports Illustrated (August 23, 1999): 32.
Sports Illustrated (May 25, 2001): 48.
Sports Illustrated (June 24, 2002): G6.
"PGA European Tour - Players - Biographies." european tour.com. http://www.europeantour.com/players/bio.sps?iPlayerNo=487&sOption=other (January 21, 2003).
Sketch by G. Cooksey