Martin Dempster: Garcia’s ‘sorry’ not enough - behaviour must improve

It appeared that Sergio Garcia had left all his early-career petulance behind, until he played in Saudi Arabia. Picture: Getty.
It appeared that Sergio Garcia had left all his early-career petulance behind, until he played in Saudi Arabia. Picture: Getty.
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Lead me to a darkened corner, please. Somewhere to escape golf for a few days because, while certainly enjoyable in many respects, three weeks on the trot of following the European Tour around the Middle East coincided with more controversy being stirred up than anyone could possibly have bargained for.

The circuit’s ground-breaking visit to Saudi Arabia was always going to be under the microscope – understandably so – but for that to coincide with the game’s new rules causing real unrest in the ranks then Sergio Garcia losing the plot brought way more negativity for the circuit than Keith Pelley, the chief executive, would have liked this early in the year.

There’s only one place to start, of course, in reflecting on it all and that has to be “Garcia Green-gate”. What on earth was going through the Spaniard’s head as he damaged five greens in the third round, mainly through dragging the sole of his shoe across the putting surface but also leaving a divot with a club, believed to have been his putter?

There were signs that he was on the way to losing it when he took his frustration out on a bunker the previous day, but there is simply no excusing any golfer, be it an amateur or professional, behaving the way he did on Saturday morning.

Disqualification for serious misconduct was the proper punishment straight away and he is probably fortunate to have escaped some sort of ban.

It is no secret, of course, that Garcia has a short fuse, having let himself down on a number of occasions through petulance during his career. It did seem, though, that he had left all that nonsense in the past until this despicable episode.

It didn’t matter that he wasn’t taking lumps out of all the greens in question, though one was enough. For any player to effectively scrape a surface and cause damage is a disgrace and Garcia should be kicking himself for his sheer stupidity.

It was only a few months ago, after all, that he became the record all-time points scorer in the Ryder Cup when vindicating his selection by Thomas Bjorn by helping Europe pull off a thumping win over a star-studded United States side at Le Golf National, near Paris.

In pre-event press conferences in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, the 39-year-old was engaging on a variety of topics, including how he feels that past issues between him and Padraig Harrington are no longer a problem heading into the 2020 Ryder Cup at Wisconsin, where the Irishman will be Europe’s captain.

Thanks to his madness over the space of a couple of hours on Saturday morning on the Red Sea coast, Garcia has now guaranteed himself a lot more grief than he ever faced over that relationship and, of course, he only has one person to blame.

Not for the first time in his career, he has left himself with bridges needing rebuilt. Saying “sorry” to those players in the groups behind on Saturday was a start, as was taking the disqualification on the chin. His behaviour henceforth, though, has to improve. There can never be a repeat of this.

There will be a repeat, however, of the Saudi International and why not? As a golf tournament, it was no different, really, to the two other events on that Desert Swing – the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

The golf course also wasn’t destroyed – at least in a scoring sense as only 12 players finished in double digits under par.

It was very easy for people not there to be critical, but it does indeed seem as though a concerted effort is being made to create a “new Saudi” and golf is certainly a big part of what is being attempted in the kingdom as part of a 2030 vision.

That darkened corner beckons and here’s hoping that on venturing back out on the circuit that things are a lot clearer about that damn Rule 10.2b(4) relating to a caddie aligning a player because, believe me, there’s going to big trouble ahead if that’s not sorted out once and for all.