SERGIO Garcia has spoken about the torture he went through after being branded Public Enemy No 1 by American golf fans over his racist slur aimed at Tiger Woods.
The Spaniard has arrived in the United Arab Emirates for the £1.6 million HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship with a spring in his step again, having won the Thailand Open in his final event last year to get back into the world’s top ten. He now has his sights set on making the European team for this year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles but admits it was difficult at first to get over his fall-out with Woods.
It started over an incident during the Players Championship at Sawgrass but escalated when Garcia said he’d “serve fried chicken” to the world No 1 if he invited Woods for dinner at the US Open.
“It was rough; it was difficult,” said Garcia of the reception he received from the home fans at that event at Merion in the wake of a remark made at a European Tour function during the week of the PGA Championship at Wentworth.
“It was only a minority but they kind of made themselves be heard. The good thing was that the majority of the people knew what happened and so accepted my apologies and they could see it was truthful.
“That kind of helped me keep going, but it wasn’t easy because the minority are always the loudest and they made themselves heard and it’s never nice to be reminded of something that you don’t like and you don’t enjoy.
“The only thing you can do is keep going and do what you love to do and try to show everybody what you are and, hopefully, that’s good enough for them to like it.”
Asked how long it had taken him to put the incident behind him and be able to concentrate fully on playing again, he added: “I would say three months at least. But it was a good learning experience and I think that it has made me even stronger.”
It remains to be seen, though, if Woods has accepted the apology offered by Garcia. “We’ve seen each other at tournaments, but I can’t apologise any more,” he said. “I’ve apologised and re-apologised, so I think it’s all over.”
Garcia had to be content with a cheerleader’s role at the last Ryder Cup on this side of the Atlantic, having taken a brief break from the game and failed to make Colin Montgomerie’s team for the match in Wales.
He recaptured his form in time to be part of Europe’s “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012 and is now determined to be involved again when the event is held in Scotland for the first time since 1973.
“We all know how important a Ryder Cup year is, so it would be nice to get going like I did last year and nose my way on to that team,” he admitted.
“It was tough for me to miss out in Wales but, at the time, it was the right thing. I needed to see things from a different perspective to realise what what was going on.
“It was nice to be part of it in a different way [as an unofficial vice-captain] and feel the warmth of the people and the energy of the Ryder Cup.
“Now I’m excited about trying to make that Ryder Cup team for Scotland – it’s in my plans and, hopefully, I’ll be there.”
Garcia had his girlfriend, Katharina Boehm, caddying for him as he ended a year-long drought with his win in Thailand last month. That was only a temporary arrangement, though – on the golf course anyway.
“I wanted to keep it going, but she fired me,” joked Garcia in reply to being asked if the partnership would be rolled out again at some stage this year.
“It was something Katharina wanted to do since we started dating and I thought that would be a good week, being the end of the year and maybe a little bit more relaxed.
“It turned out pretty good, but I think we’ll leave it at that as she has a good winning percentage at the moment.”
In five appearances in Abu Dhabi, Garcia has failed to finish outside the top 15 and has high hopes he can kick off his 2014 campaign by making his presence felt on the leaderboard once again.
“I’m feeling good about myself and feeling good on the golf course,” he declared. “Last season was very consistent and solid and now I’m excited about trying to keep going in the same direction.”