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In the swing: Garcia's best days may yet be ahead of him

“Good putting and confidence go hand in hand. You pick a line, pick a pace and commit to it. If you begin to doubt your line or make mid-stroke adjustments, you haven’t a hope.”

Garcia performed respectably at the US Open, finishing seventh.
Garcia performed respectably at the US Open, finishing seventh.

POOR OLD SERGIO Garcia. It’s great to see him back in contention playing good golf, but you have to feel sorry for the guy.

It must be so frustrating to be such an immaculate striker of a golf ball, but not be able to putt well enough to win tournaments.

Garcia has of course won plenty of tournaments, 15 to be precise. But his last win came in 2008, a pretty long time ago for a player as good as Garcia. The weakness in his game has always been his putting and it was his battle with the blade which was the story of his runner-up finish at the BMW International Open in Munich over the weekend.

Good is a word that doesn’t do Garcia justice. He is among the very elite when it comes to ball striking. Unfortunately his putting has consistently let him down and frustrated him to the extent that he took an extended break from the game at the end of last year.

The reason he gave for this respite was that he had never had an extended break in his entire career and needed to “miss the game a little bit.” That is understandable. Travelling around the world playing competitive golf at the highest level, as amazing as it might sound, is bound to fatigue the body and mind.

But does level of fatigue and frustration with the game coincide with the extent to which a player is meeting expectation? Would Garcia have needed a break if he wasn’t struggling with his game and if he was adding to his trophy cabinet with regularity?

Sure, Rory McIlroy has taken a break since winning the US Open, but reasons behind that break are entirely different. The key with Garcia is that he felt he needed to “miss the game a little” – a de facto admission that he had fallen out of love with golf.

Golf is one of those games that can be incredibly frustrating when it’s not going your way. Putting is particularly disheartening – you can be hitting every fairway and every green but if you can’t put the ball in the hole you’re not going to win tournaments.

Putting is also one of the more unteachable aspects of golf. Someone like Dave Pelz might disagree with that, but there is a certain touch and feel a player has to have to be an excellent putter that isn’t necessarily a pre-requisite for having an excellent swing.

Hence why not being able to putt well is even more frustrating – there is very little you can do to fix it other than trying and trying until you find a technique that suits your eye.

Good putting and confidence go hand in hand. You pick a line, pick a pace and commit to it. If you begin to doubt your line or make mid-stroke adjustments, you haven’t a hope.

In recent years, we can safely say that Segio Garcia hasn’t exactly exhibited the same youthful confidence and abandon that marked his early career. This shot from the 1999 PGA Championship is a good example of what has been missing from Garcia’s game and personality.

It’s a chicken and egg situation. Which went first? His putting, or his passion and self-belief?

Either way, there have been signs over the last number of weeks that Garcia may be ready to win again. He had to qualify for the US Open, but once he arrived at Congressional, he achieved a very solid and commendable seventh place.

That alone will certainly have given him a boost, but to pack that up with a runner up finish last weekend proves that he is in form. And there were signs at the BMW International Open that his putting may be improving. It may not be there yet, but it’s getting there.

He notched up three birdies in a row along with two eagles on his front nine on Sunday by holing some incredible putts. Not only was he putting well, there was a smile on his face and he seemed to be enjoying himself.

The back nine showed some of the remaining vulnerabilities, while the playoff was heartbreaking. I couldn’t think of many worse ways to lose a playoff that by missing a must-make four-footer on the fifth playoff hole.

Overall, though, it was another good performance by Garcia and it would not be a surprise to see him back in the winners’ circle in the coming weeks.

Read more of Neil Cullen’s golf columns for TheScore.ie here>

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