Sergio still has something to say

© Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — His talent made him fascinating. So did his personality. "The problem is, I'm one of the guys that has to say something,” Sergio Garcia once told us. "A lot of people think about it but don't want to say anything."

What Garcia says these days is less likely to make headlines or make other golfers irritated than in an earlier time when he was both feisty and frustrated with the incessant question: “When is he going to win a major?”

As we well know, Garcia did win that major, the 2017 Masters, along with a great many other events on both sides of the Atlantic. And he is one of the prime names at the 2020 Safeway Open, the tournament that starts Thursday at Silverado Country Club.

He’s 40 now, Garcia, married and with two children, the second of whom was born in April. Still hits the ball beautifully. Still struggles on occasion with putting. Still works to improve.

He came to us from Spain as a 19-year-old who, in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, smacked balls out of tree basins, sprinted up fairways to see where shots landed and finished second to Tiger Woods.

He was anointed the next Tiger, or next Seve Ballesteros, Sergio’s countryman, and nearly fulfilled the promise.

There were top tens in six of nine majors in the early 2000s. There was a playoff against Padraig Harrington after letting a lead slip away in the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie.

But there were no major titles, and so when Garcia came to the media center before an Open or a Masters or a PGA, inevitably he would be quizzed, “Why not?” And eventually, the guy nicknamed “El Niño” would halt the interview.

In other matters, as he conceded, he could be outspoken. Garcia whined about Tiger Woods’ boisterous galleries. Trying to be funny, he made an ill-chosen remark about Woods. Jealousy? Immaturity? The words came back to haunt Garcia for a while.

These days he is careful with his comments, virtually a senior spokesman although still a decade from the Champions (Senior) Tour, which in a series of questions Wednesday he conceded he might play but not until there’s no chance of success on PGA or Euro tours.

“It is fun to have that possibility,” he said. “It also obviously depends. You want to play on the PGA Tour, because it is the best tour and where the highest level is played, and if you feel you can still do it consistently, you want to.”

Similar to reigning British Open champion Shane Lowry, Garcia is playing the Safeway a first time.

“I obviously watched a little bit on TV in the past,” he said of events at Silverado, “and I saw it Wednesday. Really nice golf course. Great visuals off the tees. Kind of a little bit different, but it kind of reminds me of Torrey Pines and Riviera. Beautiful trees. Beautiful high trees. Really amazing cypresses and pine trees.”

For Garcia and others, the idea is stay out of those trees.

“It would be nice to get some mojo going,” said Garcia, who failed to qualify for the Tour Championship, which last week closed out the 2019-20 schedule. “It’s just a matter of kind of getting things going in the right direction, getting the ball rolling nicely and kind of riding that wave.”

The smoke-filled orange skies Wednesday, the effects of Northern California wildfires, might have seemed menacing. But Garcia was unfazed.

“The views are not what you usually see,” said Sergio, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t do other things that bring you lots of joy and beauty. We’re just trying to make sure to do that.”

He still has to say something. These days, it’s something wonderful.