Sergio Garcia’s preparation for the Masters golf tournament is in, well, full swing.
The 2017 Masters champion won the Sanderson Farms Championship in early October for his first win on the PGA Tour in three years and will put the finishing touches on his game for Augusta National by joining No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the field at the Houston Open this week.
This past week, however, he was in Austin where he worked on his swing, his footwork, his fitness and his strategy in, uh, a slightly different way than the rest of the Masters field.
Garcia did it on a tennis court.
In a pro tennis tournament, of all things.
The 40-year-old Spaniard, who splits time between Austin and Switzerland with wife Angela, 2-year-old daughter Azalea and newborn Enzo, worked more on drop shots than bunker shots. He and former tennis pro and close friend Amer Delic, a Bosnian who quit the regular ATP Tennis Tour in 2012, were invited to take part in the H-E-B UTR Pro Tennis Open.
They said sure, why not.
So they went through rigorous training as preparation for Thursday’s round of 32 match.
"Yeah," snickered Delic, a UBS financial advisor in Austin who played in a lot of Davis Cup matches, "we practiced for the first time yesterday. But we have played a lot of golf."
OK, so it’s not the most orthodox way to train for golf’s third major, albeit the traditional but transplanted Masters was shifted from April to Nov. 12-15 because of the pandemic. And they’re not quite at the Bryan brothers’ level yet.
But the duo handled themselves well on a brisk, windswept morning on Court 12 of the Austin Tennis Academy at Spanish Oaks before bowing 6-3, 7-6 (9-7) to a talented high school pairing of powerful lefty Ethan Silva from Harlingen and consistent right-hander Cole Burnam from Dallas, both of whom who are still sorting through college offers.
The kids certainly loved it. After dispatching their famous opponents to advance. The slack-jawed youngsters posed for selfies and group shots and got Garcia and Delic to autograph yellow tennis balls.
"Just a cool experience," Silva said, "being on the court with such a big star. The conditions weren’t ideal, but he can really place the ball."
"He (Garcia) really impressed me," said Burnam, who served out the match after Garcia-Delic failed to close out a set point in their favor. "He’s one of the best golfers in the world, and he’s not a bad tennis player at all."
That said, the high winds played havoc with Garcia’s service game, which was broken three times in the two sets, not all of them his fault. But he showed off his excellent fitness and athleticism and quick hands at the net and in his groundstrokes. And his sense of humor remained intact.
After he held serve for the first time on the day, Garcia triumphantly crowed, "I held serve. I can do it. If only my partner was trying."
The two good-naturedly ribbed each other before finally conceding.
Asked how he enjoyed it, Garcia cracked, "To be honest, I was getting my behind kicked."
He was a lot more competent than he let on. He’s played tennis all his life, mixing in that sport with golf and soccer while growing up at the country club in his hometown of Castellon, Spain. He took tennis lessons starting when he was 4 or 5 before eventually gravitating solely to golf.
"I’ve played tennis my whole life, and Amer was a top-60 singles player on the ATP Tour," Garcia said. "Golf just came easily for me. This was an amazing experience. Physically, it’s going to help me. It doesn’t hurt my golf game at all."
So, could Garcia have had a pro tennis career if he had stuck with a racket instead of a putter?
He loves the game and has hit with fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal a few times as well as good friend and former No. 1 player Juan Carlos Ferrero. Tournament director Christo van Rensburg, a former Australian Open champion, said, "I was very impressed how Sergio played. You can definitely see how a top-class athlete can go into a pressure situation and handle it. He moves very well and is very good all-around."
However, no one should expect Garcia to embark on a new career any time soon.
"I’m probably 25 years too late," he scoffed. "And I’d probably need six or seven more inches of height and hours more practice."
He did admit to getting nervous before the match, not unlike when he tees off. That naturally evolves into adrenaline, something he’s channeled successfully into a Hall of Fame career that includes 11 PGA Tour wins and another 20 international victories.
So when a reporter mentions his long-time-coming win at Sanderson Farms when he hit his approach shot on 18 to within 30 inches for the decisive putt and a one-stroke victory for his first title since Augusta, Garcia bristles just a bit. Understandably.
It’s hard to blame him since he points out he’s won three other times overseas since donning the green jacket after beating Justin Rose in a dramatic playoff.
"Winning on the PGA Tour is the most difficult thing," he said, "but winning anywhere in the world is always difficult. I’ve won three times in Europe and Asia since then, so it’s not like I hadn’t done anything."
That said, does a pro golfer even as talented as himself ever lose confidence? "Of course," he said. "Everybody does. That’s the way of life. It just happens. Things don’t go right. We’re not robots. We have brains. We have hearts. It happens to everyone. You have ups and downs."
For him, it’s of the utmost importance to learn from the downs to create more ups. With Garcia, he’s discovered his inner resilience and his ability to always compete, no matter the circumstances, like falling to only 40th in the world and failing to make the FedEx playoffs the last two years.
"I’ve learned my capabilities are still there," he said. "I tend to resurge or recharge. A lot of times you’ll see guys lose it and not come back. I’m so proud of my career that I’ve been so consistent over 21 years. I may not be the strongest guy on the Tour, but I’m one of the fittest. And I rarely get injured."
Who knows, maybe a good tennis match now and again could make the difference in stoking his competitive fires. Certainly they continue to burn as he seeks a second Masters win.
So does he think he can win another green jacket?
"If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t go," Garcia said, laughing. "Does that answer your question?"