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The Kid

May 9 2018
Photo by
Stephen Morton/AP Images
Photo by
Stephen Morton/AP Images
May 9 2018
I

had something to prove.

As I approached the final few holes at the Players Championship in 2008, I knew there were many people who doubted me. They doubted that I could do the one thing maybe most important to winning big tournaments: make putts when it mattered.

My putting … it had been a topic of conversation for some time, I know. At the Open during the previous summer, in ’07, I lipped out a putt to win my first major (and then lost in a playoff to a great champion, Padraig). So surely this was now the narrative of my game: Sergio can’t make a big putt. And while I knew this was wrong, and that I was capable of making these putts … I also knew that there was only one way to rewrite the conversation: to execute.

Easier said than done, yes … but there is also something very empowering here. I knew that, in the end, the narrative about my game would only amount to what I did or didn’t do. I knew that, no matter what anyone else said about me — I was the one in control.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

And so when it came time for the final round at TPC Sawgrass, I was aware of exactly what was at stake. I had been close before, very close. And this Sunday, I found myself right there once again: three shots behind the leader, Paul Goydos, at four-under par. And of course, wouldn’t you know it … all of this led up to another make-or-break putt. I hit the fairway on 14, and — still three shots back, now with five holes to play — knew that I pretty much had to make birdie from there if I was going to have a chance at winning the tournament.

O.K., but hang on. I need to take a little credit here. This wasn’t just any birdie 🙂

There were gusts of wind over 30 mph, at this time, and temperatures in the 90s — making the course play incredibly dry and fast. Tough conditions for any approach shot … and mine on 14 was not very good. My ball got hung up in one of those gusts of wind, barely even catching the left side of the green. It settled 47 feet away from the pin.

So now I’m walking up to the green, with this massive 47-footer coming up, and I’m imagining what some of the people are saying to themselves: From that distance … in this weather … on the back nine of a final round?? No way a guy like Sergio Garcia, who can’t make the big putt, is going to have a shot at THAT one. It’s these same doubters. But instead of shying away from their doubts, what I remember about this moment is how I was so focused on facing them, and overcoming them.

All of these thoughts are running through my head, as I’m calculating it all. It’s like — O.K., the way the hole is playing today, with the swirling winds, and the tricky green … you’ve gotta figure a birdie here will pick up a shot and a half on the field. If you make this putt, Sergio, you’re right back in it. So, to me, this 47-foot birdie putt — it wasn’t really a longshot.

It was an opportunity.

The strike was pure, the roll was smooth. You know what, we should do a video here. I’m trying to describe this putt but you just have to see it.

Not so bad, right?

As I went to pick my ball out of the hole, I sort of opened my arms a little in celebration. I’m not quite sure what I meant by this … but I think it was almost as if to say, to the entire golf world, you know, There you go. There’s my putting. Now, when you think of a putt by Sergio Garcia — you think of this one.

I picked up my ball, and I never looked back.

Chris Condon/US PGA TOUR/Getty Images

Truthfully, I can’t believe it’s already been 10 whole years since I won the Players Championship. So much has happened since then. Some adversity, for sure (and definitely a few missed putts) — and also so many good things. But I can’t help but feel like my win here, in 2008 … it was a real turning point in my career. It was the feeling of having something to prove, for all this time, and then finally going out and proving it. And I think this is how it works in golf, you know? Each of our experiences then sets the table for our next experiences after that. And in the same way that I don’t know if I could have won the 2008 Players without having first lost the 2007 Open … I don’t know if I could have won the 2017 Masters without having first won the 2008 Players.

Win or lose, I think, these memories shape us. They give us perspective.

And man, it’s just crazy to think about how much perspective I have gained — and how much my life has changed — since I was that eager, scissor-kicking young guy back in 1999 at Medinah. El Niño. The Kid. In 1999, I am The Kid. And now it’s 2018, and I am married to my beautiful wife, Angela, and I have The Kid — a baby girl, Azalea, born in March of this year. La Niña. We will wait a few years, I think, before we start teaching her the scissor kicks.

Anyway, I am not someone who is going around and reflecting on things always; it’s not really my style. But when I saw that this was going to be the 10-year anniversary of my win at the Players … it just felt like the right time. Because even 10 years later, I still remember how much this one meant to me.

Mark Humphrey/AP Images

To have made the big breakthrough of my career at TPC Sawgrass … on one of the most iconic courses in the world … in front of some of the best fans in the world … in one of the tournaments that you dream the most about winning as a kid (basically any par 3 that you play, growing up, trust me — you’re imagining it’s 17 on the Stadium Course) … well, to do all that, it really just made everything that much more special. It was such an important moment for me — and I feel like it gave me the strength to grow into the person and the player that, in this decade since, I’ve become.

So who knows what’s in store for the rest of the season. Maybe I win some … definitely I lose some. But what’s so great about this game is that, any given week — it could be the one. This could be the week that you discover you have something extra to prove. This could be the week that you achieve a great new breakthrough, or reach an important turning point.

This could be the week that you finally realize, while everyone else is telling your story — you’re the one writing it.