Sergio Garcia on joining the LIV series: ‘This, for me, was a good decision’

Sports

Former Masters champion Sergio Garcia was one of the first golfers to join the LIV series, resigning his PGA Tour membership immediately after joining the new tour. The 42-year-old has since weathered the controversy — and sometimes criticism — that has followed.

Garcia spoke over Zoom last week about when he first began thinking about joining up with LIV, the hardest part of leaving the PGA Tour and his widely viewed argument with an official at the Wells Fargo Championship that alluded to his impending switch. Here’s what’s he had to say.

Michael Collins: When did you start thinking about LIV? Take me through that timeline for you personally.

Sergio Garcia: Well, there was talk about it, I think it was in 2021, but we weren’t in it at the beginning. They didn’t contact us or anything like that. The first real contact was at the 2022 Saudi International Open. They started talking to us, showed us what they were doing. A possible proposal. That’s when we started thinking about it.

Then what happened at Riviera happened, and everything got put on hold. We weren’t sure if it was gonna get back on it or not. But then once we started playing golf it was like, “OK. We’re here, this is for real.” That’s when everyone started to realize it I guess.

Collins: Was there a moment during that first event when you thought to yourself, “This might actually work”?

Garcia: To be totally honest, I was quite impressed with that first event in London. Because it’s something new. Obviously it being the first tournament, I was expecting a lot of things to be misplaced, which is normal [with] something that’s brand new. And there were some things they had to get better at but … like I was saying, the first tournament I was already going, “This is much better than I expected it to be.”

Not only the feeling and atmosphere, but how it was organized. How much better care they take of the players’ families. They had spots on the driving range [just for the family].

Collins: What was the hardest part about deciding to walk away from the PGA Tour?

Garcia: People probably think it was an easy decision. Obviously they offered us good money and I’m not gonna hide that. That is one of the reasons we’re there — it’s not the only one. There’s several others. Having more time with the family. Playing a little bit less. And at the end of the day, you feel like you’ve worked pretty much your whole life for something. This was the opportunity that you’ve been waiting for and working [towards] for 30 years.

Collins: Like the reward.

Garcia: Yeah! Kinda like that. But like I was saying, it wasn’t an easy decision. It wasn’t like, “Oh yeah of course, here, where do I sign?!” You have to think of a lot of things that come with it. Not only about the contract, but also what you’re giving up. You’re giving up the PGA Tour which you’ve played for 23 years, 24 seasons. And I’ve loved playing on the PGA Tour, every minute of it.

Also what might happen with the majors. Am I gonna be able to keep playing the majors? Am I gonna be able to play another Ryder Cup ever again? So all those things are not easy decisions. I think everybody has their reasons why they went. For me, it was family and professional. It was as simple as that. Knowing there was the possibility of me not playing in majors again ever. Knowing there may be no more Ryder Cups ever, which means so much, like you know and everyone knows, but at the end of the day I could secure the future of not only my family but future generations of Garcias. That’s difficult to pass [up].

Collins: Is your biggest fear never playing in or being part of a Ryder Cup again?

Garcia: It’s part of my DNA, yeah.

Collins: There is not one person who has watched you play a Ryder Cup and thought, “Sergio ain’t into it.”

Garcia: And we play for free! We play for free there, so it’s as simple as that.

Collins: And no matter what, unless a guy was injured and physically couldn’t, no player has ever declined the invitation to play. So the thought of you not being a part of the team …

Garcia: The Ryder Cup is important. When I finished my round on Sunday at the Open Championship I said that I was most likely [going to] resign my membership from the [DP World] Tour. That obviously meant not being eligible for the Ryder Cup because you have to be a member. But thanks to the things that Jon Rahm said, and I had a couple of good conversations with guys on the [DP World] Tour, I’m gonna hold off on that.

I want to at least see what’s happening when the Ryder Cup qualification starts. See what kind of rules and eligibilities they have in there. If I agree with what they [are], I’ll definitely keep playing whatever I can on our tour and try to qualify for that Ryder Cup team. And if not, then we’ll move on. But it’s definitely something that’s on my mind.

Collins: Initially, what was it that made you give up your membership on the PGA Tour?

Garcia: I resigned from the PGA Tour as soon as I signed with LIV. Not only because we thought commissioner Jay [Monahan] was gonna ban us. But also because I wanted to disconnect from [the PGA Tour]. I didn’t wanna get into any legal battles with the Tour, I just wanted to play golf. I wanted to play less, so if I join LIV and the PGA Tour I’m playing 30 tournaments a year — so that’s pointless. Not what I wanna do.

Collins: But with the DP World Tour …

Garcia: I thought, being European, the DP World Tour being my tour for not only the 23 years I’ve played it but also as an amateur, the five or six years that I played it before I turned pro. I told [CEO] Keith Pelley, “I wanna keep being a member of the DP World Tour. I want to play my minimum, which is still a good schedule. Spend plenty of time at home, still support the tour, and still have my eligibilities to make Ryder Cup teams.”

[Pelley] said, “That’s great, but we gotta do what we think is best for us and we’ll see what that is.” Now it’s gotten a little bit sadder with fines and bans. And what they did to Henrik [Stenson]. So it’s a little bit sad.

Collins: If there was something that would have kept you on the PGA Tour, what would it have been?

Garcia: That’s a good question. I think if I [did not] like the product [LIV presented]. If I [did] not feel comfortable with what they were asking me to do. They’re paying me and giving me opportunities to play golf. They’re not asking me to do anything outside of the ordinary. They’re asking me to play golf and do a couple of appearances here and there. That’s what we do [anyway].

Collins: I need to go back to the last time we saw you at a PGA Tour event. You got a bad ruling and were caught on camera saying, “I can’t wait to get off this tour.” Wanna explain what was happening?

Garcia: It was frustration. Mainly for the way the official acted towards me. He didn’t wanna hear anything that I had to say. He didn’t wanna hear what I was trying to explain to him. Thankfully for me, at the end of the round they came and apologized.

They actually told me that, yes, when I started looking for the ball, I found [it] within 2 minutes. So I even had a minute to spare. I think the frustration was the talks about LIV and thinking about going. Then that happened and in that moment you feel like you’re getting a little bit screwed.

When I found the ball I could actually hit it about 160 yards up the fairway. Maybe I could have had the possibility of making a birdie or an easy par. But now I have to drop 60 yards back, hit a 3 iron and pitching wedge into a green, so it wasn’t easy to make a 5 [par] and it wasn’t easy to make a 6 [bogey].

It was frustrating and that came out. I probably should have held it [in] if I could have but in the heat of the moment I guess sometimes you can’t help it.

Collins: Well, I guess it had to make you feel a little bit better afterwards when they apologized for it.

Garcia: A little bit. But really not that much because there’s nothing you can do anymore. The moment [had] passed. I said what I said already and they weren’t gonna [give me any shots back]. “Since we messed up on the ruling instead of making a par we’re gonna give you a birdie.”

You can’t do that. So it was a nice apology but it didn’t help me on anything else.

Collins: Explain the differences between a 72-hole event and a 54-hole event. Does something change for you?

Garcia: Not really. You gotta realize, playing-wise, that you’re gonna be done after 54 so you might try to be a little bit more aggressive here and there.

In my opinion, the main complaint we have about golf is that it’s too slow. It takes too much time. I feel like on the PGA Tour it’s the same thing over and over and over again. Same kind of tournament, 72 holes, stroke play, first two days then cut. They have two tournaments that are different: The Match Play, which they changed to make it even less interesting than it was, and the one in New Orleans (Zurich Classic) which is a fun one with a partner.

But I think [LIV] is trying to revitalize the game. Make it younger. Bring a younger audience to the game, not only watching but wanting to play. And making it faster. The perfect example is the shotgun start. You know in 4 ½ hours we’re all done! You don’t have to spend 10-11 hours a day in front of [a screen]. If you wanna watch your two favorite players, one tees off in the morning, one tees off in the afternoon, you’re gonna have to spend 10 hours in front of the TV. This, 4 ½ hours and you’re done. You can do things before, you can do things after. So when it comes down to view and fan [engagement], it’s definitely a lot more fun to watch.

Collins: Was it strange to flip back to the 72-hole mentality at the Open Championship? It’s also the place most infamous for getting the correct side of the draw.

Garcia: The Open Championship is the one that probably brings [getting the right side of the tee times] to the extreme. This year, there was a little bit of a difference between the morning and the afternoon wave but not as much as it can be. But, for example, at the [U.S. Open] there was a massive difference between one wave and another. But it’s part of the game and we’ve grown up with that. You know that sometimes you get the right side, and sometimes you get the wrong side. The great thing about the LIV series is that we all get the right and the wrong side! There’s no right or wrong, we all get the same side.

Collins: The other thing I have heard from players and caddies: They have never spent more time looking at leaderboards at other guys names. Because of the team aspect.

Garcia: Oh yeah totally! Totally!

Collins: So it is the same for you?

Garcia: You can’t help yourself. You can’t help but look. Look at it this way, you could be having a terrible week. Shoot 3 over par and 4 over par the first two rounds and in a normal tournament you probably wouldn’t make the cut, but even if you made the cut you’d be like, “Even if I shoot 65 tomorrow I’m probably only gonna finish 50th or 60th or whatever.”

So it’s not an amazing week. But here you know that even though you’re not having a great week, if you have a great Sunday, you can help your team, maybe win or finish in the top 3. All those little points when you get to the end of the year in Miami and you play in the team event, team against team, that can make a big difference.

It’s something new that is fun to be a part of. The best thing about it? You can see the camaraderie between the players. Not only the guys that are on your team, which obviously you’ve build a great relationship, but with the other players too. Everyone seems a little looser. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is still trying hard, but they’re enjoying it a bit more. We’re hanging out together a bit more. The [PGA] Tour can get a bit lonely sometimes. Here it feels like more of a big family.

Collins: One of the other big arguments that’s been made against the LIV Tour: Once you pay a guy upfront guaranteed money, they won’t be as motivated to try as hard, because they get paid no matter what. How would you answer those people?

Garcia: It’s as simple as this: We are competitors at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter how much you’re getting paid upfront, we’re all there to try to win the tournament and do the best we can do. If you ask any of the other players, they’ll tell you the same thing.

It is nice to get that upfront money and feel a little bit more relaxed because you feel like your family is taken care of. But a lot of guys on other tours when they go overseas, they get paid upfront to play other tournaments. And they still compete as hard as they can.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. They deserve that. I’m totally fine with that so I don’t know why some of them are not fine with what we do here.

I can assure you that when I’m out there and I don’t hit a shot the way I want to, I still get frustrated. It’s not like, “Aw well, it’s no big deal because I already got paid.” Or something like that. No. It’s not like that at all. And my caddie Glenn can tell you all about how it’s not like that! We’re still competing.

Collins: Speaking of caddies …

Garcia: Funny enough, something neither the PGA or DP World Tour has ever done, the LIV Tour takes great care of the caddies. For example this year, they are paying their expenses including hotels. That, for a caddie, means so much. People don’t realize. And they are part of the team! Part of our team. They are part of us being able to play the best we can achieve what we wanna achieve. Unfortunately, they’ve never really been taken care of throughout all these many years. Other than from us, the players.

Collins: If you never play another PGA Tour event again, what will you miss the most?

Garcia: I would definitely miss some of the friends that I have out there. I would miss some of the great courses that we played. Things like that I would miss. But I’m very happy with the decision that I’ve made for me and my family. I’m very happy with where we are.

Collins: If you don’t ever get to participate in another Ryder Cup again, will you still watch it passionately?

Garcia: Without a doubt. And I’ll be pushing hard for Europe without a doubt. The way I look at it, if LIV would have come or not, my career at the Ryder Cup at some point was gonna end. And that for me doesn’t mean, “Well if I can’t play in the Ryder Cup any more I don’t care about it.”

It doesn’t work like that. I’ll still follow it as hard as I can and push as hard as I can because a lot of the guys that will be on those teams are friends of mine.

Collins: What’s the most important thing you want people to know about Sergio Garcia?

Garcia: I know for people it’s easy to judge, and don’t get me wrong, I do it too. When I’m watching a soccer game, I’ll judge people on a way they act in a certain spot on the pitch. And then you get to know some of those guys and you’re like… hmmm … actually this guy is super nice.

So it’s very easy to judge. I’m a very extroverted guy. I love my friends. I love my family. I’m a very good friend to my friends. I live with my heart on my sleeve without a doubt but at the same time I’m very truthful. I try to be as transparent as I can be and what you see is what you get. You might not like it or you might not like it at all times but at least you’re seeing a true guy out there.

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