Arriving in Australia this week for the Australian PGA Championship Sergio Garcia is a completely different person and player than when he last competitively set foot in the country in 2010.
The Spaniard is now of course a married major champion expecting his first child in the new year but is also undergoing significant changes on the golf course. And was quick to tell the media at Royal Pines just how much he has enjoyed every part of the changes throughout the year.
“I mean, it sits on top,” Garcia said of the past 12 months. “I think 2017 and 2008 are definitely the best years I've had in my career. This one, it's a little bit more special because I won three times in Europe, which I've never done in my career; obviously winning the Masters, getting married, you know, expecting a little baby girl. So, it is definitely a top”
In regard to his golf game the major change for the Masters Champion has come in his equipment where after a long and successful association with TaylorMade the 2008 Players champion has filled his bag with Callaway equipment of late. Including most recently a Callaway golf ball. A change any professional golfer will tell you is a big deal.
“I mean it's been 15 years with the same company, so it is a change,” Garcia said. “But the feeling that I've gotten in this three, four weeks that I've been trying the new Callaway stuff, it's been very positive. I had a really good week in Dubai last week. I just couldn't get a hold of the greens, but if I would have putted a little bit better, I could have easily had a chance at winning the way I played.
“The ball is probably the biggest worry that you always have, but from what I've seen I'm very happy about it. Obviously, there's still some things that we can tweak here and there to make it better. So, it's going to be interesting to have another week here where we test it again, where we get more feedback, I can give more feedback to the guys at Callaway back in the U.S. and make sure that starting next year we're all set and ready to go.”
Garcia’s attendance at the Australian PGA is also a change from previous years, with the 2017 event the first time Sergio has played the event, where he will tee it up alongside close friend Adam Scott for the opening two rounds. And the first time he has played in Australia since the 2010 Australian Masters.
The 37-year-old is yet to have a good look at the course at RACV Royal Pines but has been assured by his fellow players that the layout is a tricky one that will test out his new irons and renowned ball-striking.
“I heard it's quite grainy around the greens so your strike has to be extremely accurate and to be able to hit good chips and hit it close to the hole,” Garcia said of the Graham Marsh design. “So, it's just a matter of, like I said, probably iron play is going to be key and just when you miss a green here and there, chipping and putting is going to be important.”
The World No.11 is also using his time in Australia to take a break after a busy year and will fly to New Zealand after the tournament with wife Angela for a proper break.
“We do have planned just a short holiday in New Zealand next week that we're excited about because neither of us have been to New Zealand and we've always heard great things about it,” the Spaniard said. “So, I think it's going to be a great way to finish the year between being in Hong Kong where Angela has never been there before, I had been there once before; here in Australia and finish in New Zealand.”
Since the new Mrs Garcia has been on the Masters champion’s arm he has often exhibited a calmer demeanour and combined with his victory in America’s favourite major, his marriage to one of their own seems to have endeared the once taunted Garcia to the American golfing public. Something that Garcia himself believes was only ever the fault of a small section.
“It was all well planned. No, I'm kidding,” Garcia joked of marrying an American. “I do have to say, and I've always said this, I feel very fortunate the way I've been treated all over the world, and that doesn't change in the U.S. Obviously, there is a group that no matter what you do, they're always going to be a little bit rougher.
“I do feel like, yeah, after winning the Masters, probably that group has gotten smaller but there's still always going to be a group there because, you know, they're out there, they're drinking, they're trying to be funny, probably out with their friends.
“It's not only to me, they do it even to American players. So those things unfortunately happen, but yeah, I mean, you could say that probably that group, it's probably gotten a little bit smaller after that, after both the Masters and probably marrying Angela and everything.”
The final change for the man once known as ‘El Nino’ and perhaps the most significant has been the addition of an item of clothing that he has learned deserves respect and will be draped on his shoulders at the Greg Norman Medal ceremony on Tuesday night, which officially kicks off the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Pines.
“… I've said it several times, I knew – well, I thought I knew how big the Masters was and the green jacket and how much it meant, but then once you win it and you start traveling with it and you see the reaction from not only the people but the players and everything, you realize how massive it is and how much of an icon that the green jacket is,” Garcia said.
“So, it's been amazing. It's been a little bit overwhelming I would say. It also shows you the respect that you need to give to that green jacket. You know, once you become a Masters champion, there's a lot of things that you have to be careful. You have to take care of it and you just can't do freely, you have to know that a lot of eyes are on you even more than before and you want to show what's best not only for yourself but for the game.”
Garcia’s Green Jacket has opened plenty of doors and allowed him unique experiences such as being the ceremonial starter of ‘El Clasico’ in his homeland. None of which compares to the what he made sure to impress upon the media was the biggest and most significant change he has experienced in 2017.
“… if I don't say this probably my wife would kill me, obviously one of the very important moments where I wore the green jacket was at my wedding,” he said. “I mean, green always goes with white.”