When asked about Sergio Garcia’s Ryder Cup chances before the US PGA Championship last month, Thomas Bjorn responded, quite simply: ‘Sergio is Sergio.’
He duly missed the cut. Just as he had done at the Masters, the US Open, and the Open.
Perhaps Sergio isn’t Sergio anymore. This is the first time in his career he’s failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup play-offs, missing a vital chance to prove himself, which others have taken in his absence.
Of his 19 years as a PGA and European Tour member, this surely ranks as the single worst, and ahead of Wednesday’s captain’s picks, his wildcard chances look increasingly wild.
Yet, like an irritating fly, Garcia’s name will buzz around Bjorn’s mind and drive him crazy.
Only three of the Dane’s eight automatic qualifiers for Team Europe have ever won a Ryder Cup point. Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari have 24 combined.
‘Bzzz. I’ve won 22-and-a-half on my own.’
There are already five rookies in the team. Europe took six to Hazeltine in 2016 and got thrashed 17-11. As Bjorn attempts to nail the hot/cold ratio in his European bath, he must balance form with experience.
Ian Poulter will be there because he essentially is the Ryder Cup, and it would take a brave man to drop him or Henrik Stenson, both of whom enjoyed more-than-okay seasons and boast a wealth of expertise at the biennial event.
So, who are the contenders in the blue corner? The remaining spots will almost certainly be occupied by two of Garcia, Paul Casey, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Thomas Pieters and Matt Wallace.
There are as many arguments for each as there are against. Cabrera Bello, Mr Consistent, struck form at the weekend, finishing tied for seventh at the Dell Technologies. His Ryder Cup debut in 2016 was spirited.
Thomas Pieters wasn’t bad at Hazeltine either. He set a new rookie record with four points on his debut and paired up excellently with McIlroy.
Casey, who rejoined the European Tour specifically to earn a spot, has unfinished business with the Ryder Cup after his infamous snub by Colin Montgomerie in 2010. It has been a decade since the world number 16 featured, but he remains one of the best ball strikers on the tour alongside Stenson, and both are perfectly suited to Le Golf National.
‘Bzzz. My best performance this year came at Le Golf National. Pick me!’
It’s true: Garcia’s one decent tournament this season came at the Ryder Cup venue itself. He finished tied for eighth at the French Open, featuring a third round 64 which was actually the lowest anyone went all week.
But none of those guys have produced the sort of form that renders one undroppable.
Wallace has. A sensational back nine in Denmark on Sunday saw him secure a third win of the year as Bjorn, who promised to pick on form, watched on. Unfortunately for Wallace, there just isn’t room for another rookie.
Few arguments remain that can justify Garcia’s selection. Except the most important one: Sergio is Sergio. Bjorn was absolutely right to point that out, not only because it definitely is his name, but due to the fierce personality a Ryder Cup necessitates. It intimidates and it gobbles up the unexpecting golfer. Garcia’s presence on the golf course, or even at a dinner table, cannot be dismissed.
‘Did you ever try to hit a golf ball without any oxygen in your system?’ – Billy Casper describes the opening shot of the 1967 Ryder Cup
Consistency makes way for the ability to produce the sublime in one specific, pressurised moment. Wallace may have won the Made in Denmark last Sunday, but Jim Furyk would much rather see him coming down the 18th than Garcia when it’s all square in Paris.
Furyk knows, having lost both his singles matches against Garcia quite recently, the influence which personality and history hold in this unique environment. If anyone can recover from a poor season to save Team Europe, it’s Sergio.
And boy, do they need saving. Poulter, Stenson, Casey and Garcia can strike fear into a USA team that currently has very little to be afraid of.
It is foolish to make today’s decisions based on previous years, but if this year has taught us anything, it’s that prematurely dismissing world class golfers is a mug’s game.