Garcia: will time off help?

Mark Garrod looks at Sergio Garcia’s much publicized break and wonders if it’ll help restore the Spaniard’s lost form.

We are about to find out what a two-month break from golf, interrupted only by a trip to the Ryder Cup as one of Colin Montgomerie’s assistant captains, will do for the beleaguered Sergio Garcia.
“I need to miss the game a little bit,” the 30-year-old Spaniard said in August before starting a lay-off that comes to an end this week on his home course in the Castello Masters.
“I’m very excited and I’m looking forward to coming back and hopefully doing something very, very good,” he later said at Celtic Manor while celebrating with the triumphant European team.
Garcia returns ranked 68th in the world. That may not be close to where Lee Westwood slumped to when he lost his way eight years ago – at the same age interestingly enough – but it probably feels like it.
And it has serious implications for his career if he cannot stop the slide and begin climbing again.
As things stand, Garcia would not qualify for any of the world championship events next season and that makes remaining a member of both the European and America circuits a lot more difficult, especially with Europe upping its minimum requirement from 12 to 13 events.
All this seemed light years away when he spent 18 successive weeks as number two to Tiger Woods between November 2008 and March last year. He even had the chance to replace him at the top on one occasion during that time.
Since then, however, Garcia has not managed a single top three finish. And since he reached the semi-finals of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson in February, losing to eventual winner Ian Poulter, there has not been one top 10 finish.
He cannot even say any more that at least Padraig Harrington, the man who thwarted him in the 2007 Open and 2008 US PGA, has gone longer without winning. The Irishman tasted victory again in Malaysia on Sunday.
That was not against the strongest field Harrington has ever encountered, of course, but a win is a win and Garcia would be equally thrilled if he could triumph against a line-up in Castellon that does not contain any of the Ryder Cup players he saw beat the Americans earlier this month.
Indeed, after him, most attention is set to be paid to Montgomerie’s likely successor Jose Maria Olazabal. Still troubled by rheumatic pains, he makes only his second appearance of the year and his first since the French Open at the start of July.
Of the two there has naturally been a lot more sympathy for Olazabal’s position. Bad health has dogged him on and off for 15 years now and who knows if, at 44, he can ever hit the heights again.
Garcia just seems to have lost his way and the way he spoke after he and girlfriend Morgan-Leigh Norman – daughter of Greg – split last year, that seems to have been the case personally as well as professionally.
“When that happens, obviously your head is not in the right place and that obviously affects your game because your mentality is not where it should be,” he commented.
“It doesn’t matter how much you practise because you are not thinking about what you are doing. It’s just one of those things with which you’ve got to be a little patient.”
Come this July’s Open at St Andrews, however, Garcia was still speaking about dealing with issues.
“Sometimes I let myself go and get too caught up in the moment,” he said. “I think that it’s important for me to realise those things and at the end of the day try to enjoy what I do. Unfortunately lately it hasn’t been that way.”
Hence his decision shortly afterwards to turn his back on the Ryder Cup qualifying race and the FedEx Cup play-offs and to step away from golf for a while in order to take stock of his life.
“It’s been a long year and I haven’t had a nice long break my whole career.”
Close friend Adam Scott, who has come through his own mini-crisis and got his act back together, clearly empathised and supported Garcia’s move.
“It’s so hard not to play when you’re a competitor because that’s what you’ve done your whole life,” he said. “Good for Sergio – we have a 30-year career out here and two months is not much time at all.”
For a long while people thought that all Garcia needed to sort out was his putting, but the facts of the current year do not support that.
The following tables for both Europe and America show that Garcia has work to do on all areas of his game to become a force again.
In Europe alone, to fall from first to 55th in greens in regulation, second to 124th in stroke average and 65th to 170th in driving accuracy is simply shocking for a player of his talent.
In many other sports 30 is old. Not so golf. Garcia needs to remind himself of that.
European Tour:
Stroke average – 2010 71.9 (rank 124th), 2009 69.8 (2nd)
Driving distance – 2010 296.1 yards (19th), 2009 297.6 (16th)
Driving accuracy – 2010 54.8% (170th), 2009 63.3 (65th)
Greens in regulation – 2010 69.0% (55th), 2009 79.8 (1st)
Putts per round – 2010 29.7 (91st), 2009 29.9 (106th)
Money list – 2010 36th, 2009 10th
US Tour:
Stroke average – 2010 71.1 (112th), 2009 70.1 (15th)
Driving distance – 2010 292.7 (45th), 2009 298.5 (18th)
Driving accuracy – 2010 63.8% (92nd), 2009 59.6 (138th)
Greens in regulation – 2010 66.1% (115th), 2009 65.6% (95th)
Putts per round – 2010 29.9 (159th), 2009 29.4 (123rd)
Money list – 2010 96th, 2009 74th