““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Although he has experienced low points as well as triumphs during his golfing career, Sergio Garcia has earned more than $27 million since going professional in 1999 and has regularly placed in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings.
His addiction to the game began when he started hitting balls with cut-down clubs at age three. At 12, he earned his first club championship at the Club de Golf de Mediterraneo in Castellon, Spain, where his father is the golf pro and his mother, Consuelo, ran the pro shop. (She is now president of the Sergio Garcia Foundation.) The win also earned him the enduring nickname, El Niño, which means "small boy" in Spanish and also refers to the warm-water currents that occasionally appear off the Peruvian coast. Perhaps this mirrors Garcia’s own generally sunny disposition, though some club-swinging blowups do show a darker side.
Garcia, who’s now 31, has enjoyed seven PGA Tour wins (four were playoffs), eight on the European Tour and six Ryder Cups on the European team (four playing, two as vice-captain). Although he started this year with an infected finger and missed the British Open, he qualified for the U.S. Open in June and tied for seventh place, his best PGA Tour finish of the year and his 48th consecutive major since turning pro. Late in June at the BMW International Open, Garcia pushed Pablo Larrazábal into a five-hole playoff that ended with a disappointing lip-out from four feet.
A fan of fast cars (he owns a BMW M3 and a Mercedes DTM race car), poker and soccer, Garcia is president of the Spanish third-division CF Borriol football team and played in a match in May. CF Borriol ended its 2011 season in fifth place, he reported, "the first time ever we’ve been in third division, the national league, so we’re all very happy about the way the team performed."
Garcia now owns a Hawker 4000 business jet, and while he jokes that it is large enough for 15- to 20-foot lag putts down the aisle, "it can be tricky when you’re in the air because if the plane moves a little bit, there’s some breaks there that you can’t see."
When did you first learn about business aviation?
As I turned pro in 1999. Many of the top pros owned business aircraft and I saw this as an advantage when they arrived at tournaments ahead of me and well rested. I started doing my homework with my team on what airplane would best fit my schedule.
What did you find?
There were many aircraft to choose from, but it was the close business relationship we developed with Hawker that made the difference. [Asked about the relationship, a spokesperson for the manufacturer said that Garcia is "an owner and advocate of the 4000 and our Hawker products. In addition…Hawker Beechcraft is a minor sponsor" of his golfing endeavors.–Ed.] I purchased the Hawker 850 because of the reputation of the aircraft, the company behind it and the commitment my salesman gave me that the aircraft would be an advantage in meeting my demanding schedule. I have since bought a Hawker 4000.
Why that model?
We could have bought any plane we wanted, but with the 4000 we’re buying a midsize jet with the capability and systems and electronics that you get on a bigger plane and a range that [lets us] get anywhere in the U.S. from Spain with one stop. And it was a lot more affordable. We’re thrilled that we took that decision, because it’s been great. It’s an awesome plane.
Was the size of the cabin a factor in choosing the 4000?
It’s much bigger than the [Hawker] 850. It’s an eight-seater, but we can have four flat beds of about seven feet, so it’s really comfortable when you’re doing long trips. We’ll go to China, to the West Coast [U.S], and we get to the spot and we’re nice and rested. For as much as we travel that is so important.
Where do you base your Hawker?
Usually in Spain or Switzerland. We don’t keep it in the U.S. unless we’re playing in a tournament there.
How often do you use the jet?
We use it as much as we can. Not only for myself, but when my family needs to get somewhere and I’m not using it, they can take it.
You made the shot of your life at Medinah [Ill.] Country Club the year you turned pro. Did you really close your eyes during that?
Yeah, I did. The ball was right next to the tree and it was kind of in between two roots, so I didn’t know what was going to happen–if the club was going to snap if I hit one of the roots, if something was going to come up and hit me in the face or something. So as I was going down to the ball, I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. I was thrilled to see the ball come out like it did, and I managed to hit it on the green, and almost made birdie.
Then you jumped up to see where it went...
Yes, because you couldn’t see the green. The green was elevated so it was a little bit of a reach, and I wanted to see if the ball was going to actually get to the green, because it was a big slope short of the green. If it didn’t get to the green it was going to come down 20 yards. And when I saw the ball, I was hoping and thinking, "Oh, make sure it gets to the green." So that’s why I jumped, to make sure that I could see it land on the green and kind of take a little breath.
You had an outstanding game at the BMW International.
I think it was very positive. It had been a while since we had a big opportunity of winning a tournament, so that was great. And the way I performed after a little hiccup that I had on the back nine, it was great. The last two holes I came around to make a very good up and down on the 17th and a great birdie on 18 to get into the playoff.
Then on the playoff, I think [Pablo Larrazabal and I] both played great, and for a while I think it was going to come down to something happening. Then I had a couple of chances. It looked like on the third hole I was going to win it, but then I had a big lip out. And on the fifth playoff hole, I had another lip out and then Pablo won. It’s one of those things. Probably the preferred thing would have been for both of us to win. Unfortunately, only one can.
You’ve been described as an emotional golfer, but recently, you seem to be playing in a much more careful and measured way. Does a golfer need to employ a certain amount of risk-taking and play with some excitement to be really great? And if so, how do you balance that with the fundamentals of golf?
Anything I’ve done in my life, I have always done with a passion to be the best I can be. I’ll always play with that passion. It’s part of who I am and it has helped me to become the golfer I am. Every player is different–some play with more emotion than others–but it’s important that you learn the strengths and weaknesses of your own style and make them work for you.
What led you to create the Sergio Garcia Foundation?
We wanted to try to help as many people as we could. When we decided that we had the capability for doing it, it was a no-brainer, and we’ve been very happy with the work we’ve done and the people we helped.
As an aircraft owner, how do you feel about criticism of business jet travelers, especially by politicians?
An airplane for me is like a car for somebody else going to work. For me to be able to go from Switzerland or Spain or wherever I am to the next tournament and to get there safely, quickly and well rested, it’s very important.
In a year, we gain almost a month of days because of being able to leave a day later because we don’t have to get to the airport two hours before. We don’t have to do any layovers, miss any flights and miss any luggage. And we can take whatever we want. So for us it was very worth it. You finish a tournament on the Sunday afternoon at six o’clock and at eight you can be flying and you get home the next morning instead of not having a flight or having to wait until Monday. When we travel so much, it’s priceless.
NAME: Sergio Garcia
BIRTHDATE: Jan. 9, 1980 (in Spain) Occupation: Pro golfer
TRANSPORTATION: Hawker 4000 (Hawker Beechcraft is a minor sponsor of Garcia)
PERSONAL: Single, lives in Switzerland. Enjoys tennis, soccer, poker and watching movies.