JEDDAH: Spanish superstar golfer Sergio Garcia, known as El Niño, will be back in the Kingdom next week to once again tee it up against the world’s best at the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers (January 30 – February 2).
Garcia is one of Europe’s finest golfers with a stellar career of 35 worldwide wins including a maiden major triumph at the 2017 Masters at the iconic Augusta.
Garcia wrote his name into the history books at the 2018 Ryder Cup, becoming the record points scorer in the sport’s biggest team event. Garcia has made nine appearances in the Ryder Cup and is victorious in six of them. Garcia speaks about new priorities in his life since turning 40, making amends in Saudi Arabia and golf’s life lessons.
How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bringing the game into a new market?
It is really important for golf and also for the European Tour. We visit so many different countries during the year and it is always nice to see a new part of the world. It is going to be a very strong event again with so many world-class players competing for the title and I am looking forward to coming back.
What are your thoughts on returning back to Saudi Arabia after last year?
I am really excited to be coming back to the Saudi International this year. I feel terrible about what happened following last year’s disqualification. I want to go back and show my respect – I love the people there and they wanted me to come back. So that was an easy decision, and I’m excited to go back there. Show myself, show the true Sergio, and show them my respect and try to play the best that I can and hopefully have a great tournament. The event has a welcoming feel to it and everyone there makes you feel so comfortable from the clubhouse staff, to the hotel to the organizers, so I am excited. The people I met last year are fantastic and their hospitality is very warm and welcoming.
Many people in Saudi Arabia will not have attended a golf championship. What can they expect, and what do fans get from watching the golf live and up close that is just impossible to experience through the TV?
Last year, the fans were great and I hope it will be even better this year. The fans are part of the event and if there were no fans, golf wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun to play. They are a part of the event as much as us guys playing, and so us players hope to put on a good show for them this week.
More young people in Saudi Arabia are watching sport or taking up sport. What would you say to encourage them to take up golf and what can they learn from the sport?
Golf is obviously so new in the region but I hope that from seeing the world-class golf on show during the week, the local fans have a think about giving it a try. There are lots of fun putting and chipping games going on in the entertainment zone which are great fun. Working hard to succeed in the game can teach you to have faith and confidence in yourself as well as never giving up.
At New Year you posted on Twitter a toast to your last decade, which mentioned your marriage and the birth of your first daughter (and imminent arrival of first son!). These are three huge, brilliant milestones: how have they impacted you as a golfer, on and off the course?
Since I have been married and had my daughter Azalea, I have felt much more relaxed in life, both on and off the course. Family provides you with a feeling that is so amazing and they become priority in life. They support me on and off the course and they have given me more dedication to work hard and achieve my goals, for them.
For many of your fans, it was you winning your first major title – which came at the 2017 Masters – that was the highlight of their golfing decade…something you also mentioned in your New Year tweet! Nearly three years on now, how – if in any way – did that win change you as a golfer?
For sure, it was the best moment in my career, but it is closely rivalled by all of the years playing in the Ryder Cup. Holing that putt in the playoff at Augusta felt amazing and it is a moment I will never forget. Whenever I am on the course, I am always trying to play my best golf with the aim of winning the event, wherever I am playing.
You’re a regular competitor in the Middle East, playing in the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi most years. How much do you enjoy the golf on offer in this part of the world?
I really enjoy playing out here in the Middle East. I love playing all of the courses out here and they all provide us golfers with an enjoyable different challenge each time we play. The courses are always pristine, the weather is perfect and with Saudi Arabia being added to the Middle East schedule, I am looking forward to another week I can enjoy out here to start my season.
A trio of Saudi golfers will be playing in the Saudi International. What would it mean to golf to see a big name, major-competing player come out of the Middle East?
It would great to see. There are so many good golfers on the tour from all over the world and to have a new face would be great for everyone. When a new player comes on the tour, it brings a new challenge for all of us, so I hope there will be more golfers from here, to come and challenge us.