Just above the doorway through which players walk onto center court at Wimbledon is etched a line from Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated poem If: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same.”
Sergio Garcia could make a case for having that same inscription carved into the Sarazen Bridge at Augusta National. Gene’s bridge crosses the pond fronting the 15th green, a journey Garcia himself memorably failed to make with five balls during the opening round of the Masters. He signed for a 13 on the par-5 and shot 81. A second-round 78 gave him the worst-ever two-day total by a defending champion. Only two amateur rookies fared worse.
One year earlier it was an epic eagle on that 15th that propelled Garcia to his first major win. Augusta National giveth, and Augusta National taketh away. No golf course does a better job of turning dreams to nightmares, complete with splashes of comedy and tragedy along the way.
“It’s unexplainable. You get yourself in a little bit of trouble and it waterfalls. It was so sad,” Ben Crenshaw said. “I mean, that was such a dichotomy, what happened before and this year. How can you explain that? It’s not going to happen again. It’s just weird.”
Crenshaw can relate to Garcia. Not just with the dramatic Masters win and a seat at the Champions Dinner. There were lows, too. The years of painful sterility in the majors. Dismal performances as defending champions. Catastrophic hole meltdowns. Embarrassment. Ben’s been there, every one of them.
“Many times,” he said Saturday morning at Augusta National. “I played 43 times here. I’ve had all kinds of things happen. You get on a nice little run and then you just trip, and it shatters you. You go back to reality.”
Garcia wasn’t jovial after Thursday’s disaster – when you’re the reigning Masters champion and a pre-tournament favorite, the sting of humiliation doesn’t allow for that degree of levity. But nor was he the Sergio of old, for so long prone to petulance, blame games and club tossing when things went awry. He addressed it matter-of-factly, then went home to his wife and month-old daughter, Azalea.
Perspective. Maturity. The kinds of traits that often come with a green jacket. And parenthood.
Crenshaw knows it matters more about how you react after the many indignities that golf inflicts. In his final Masters in 2015, the then 63-year-old shot 91 in the first round. A lot of guys would have reached for their backs or called a cab. Crenshaw went out and tried his best on all 85 shots he needed on Day Two. He was DFL, by 13 shots. The game that earned him two Masters titles had deserted him, but the professionalism he had shown for decades never did.
It was tested over the years here. He too ran up a gruesome number at the very same hole that scuppered Garcia.
“I think I made a 12 on No. 15. Did the same thing he did,” Crenshaw recalled. “The only difference is I was into the wind. But I kept hitting. Three balls in the water.” Was it embarrassing. “Oh sure,” he said quickly. “Sure it is.”
“You see so many spectacular things happen on a positive note, then you see just tragedy,” he added philosophically. “People remember.”
There’s another lesson for Garcia in that story: People remember, but winners forget. Crenshaw never made a 12. It was an 11. It kept him in the Masters record books as the highest score ever made on No. 15 for 21 years, until Garcia passed him. Scars fade faster when you own a jacket.
“He’ll take it well,” the old veteran said. “He’ll be stronger for it.”
Next year they might even laugh about it over dinner. Say, Tuesday night at Augusta National?
Golfweek, April 12, 2018.