Magazine article Newsweek

A Spanish Blast: They Call 19-Year-Old Golfer Sergio Garcia 'El Nino,' the Kid. with His Skills and Charisma He Could Soon Rival El Tiger

Magazine article Newsweek

A Spanish Blast: They Call 19-Year-Old Golfer Sergio Garcia 'El Nino,' the Kid. with His Skills and Charisma He Could Soon Rival El Tiger

Article excerpt

"Suerte o muerte"--luck or death--doesn't sound like a golfer's credo. At least it didn't before 19-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia played the 16th hole on the final round at the recent PGA Championship. At that point, he trailed only Tiger Woods, but Garcia's ball was nestled at the base of a large tree blocking his line to the hole. He appeared to have just one option, a safe chip onto the fairway. Instead, Garcia invoked that old Spanish saying and--closing his eyes and turning his head in case the ball or a shattered club head ricocheted off the tree into his face--he let fly. Miraculously, the ball curved onto the green. He ran after it, leaping as he tried to follow the ball over a ridge, then dashing down the fairway patting his chest over his palpitating heart. The crowd erupted in a thunderous cheer that would later turn into a rare golf-course chant: "Ser-gi-o! Ser-gi-o!" "It looks like they love me," said Garcia, who, as the youngest player in the tourney in 78 years, finished second, one shot behind Woods. "It looks like I am an American."

This week there will be no doubt which side of the Atlantic Garcia hails from. He will tee up for Europe against a Woods-led U.S. squad in what has become golf's greatest showdown, the biennial Ryder Cup. While America boasts the world's most successful golfers, Europe has won the last two Cups and five of the last seven (this one will be played outside Boston). But the stalwarts of those European triumphs--Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer--are gone from the team, and Europe's elite dozen will feature seven Ryder Cup rookies. (By contrast, the '99 Yanks have only one rook, superstar David Duval.) But Garcia is like no rookie since Tiger first burned bright. "This kid is unbelievable," says U.S. Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw. "He's magic." Which is why it's so easy to root for the baby-faced lad they call "El Nino" (The Kid).

Literally raised on a golf course--his dad was the pro at a club in the small Mediterranean town of Castellon--Garcia won 70 amateur titles in six years. At 16, he held Spain's under-16, under-18, under-21 and open amateur crowns. "Sergio not only has skills that are uncommon for a boy of 19, but he also has mental control," says Spanish golfing legend Ballesteros, who is Garcia's hero. "That converts him into a bomb--a first-class player."

Garcia demonstrated plenty of mental toughness--and youthful resilience--after his first pro major, a disastrous British Open in July. He fired a first-day 89 and left the course in tears, then shot an 83 the next day. By that night, he was home in Spain enjoying an omelet with his family. "We were talking about what happened," says his manager, Jose Marquina, "and he said, 'British Open 1999 is not in my mind anymore.' I don't know how he did it, but he did it very well. …

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