Saturday

Sergio Garcia's Milestone Birthday Signals Maturity

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Age, it's been said, is a high price to pay for maturity. And these days, even when one does pay... with a milestone birthday or two... there's still no guarantee maturity will actually show up.

Sergio Garcia, who turns 30 today, has probably been called "immature" more than any other golfer in history. Often, the description has been warranted... by relentless whining or excessive sulkiness ... but at other times it's been used because Sergio Garcia was... being Sergio Garcia, the expressive Spaniard. And in an era shaped by the uber-controlled, almost robotic demeanor of Tiger Woods, just about any display of emotion was perceived as immature.

"Sergio Garcia has been inextricably linked with Tiger Woods his entire adult golf life." ~ USAToday sports columnist, Christine Brennan began a story with that sentence a couple of years ago referring, as so many have over the past decade, to the exuberant young Sergio who challenged Tiger at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, and reminding us of other occasions where the two were paired together, exposing the contrast between the two personalities. ~ Whether it was the US Open at Bethpage in 2002, or the British Open in Liverpool in 2006, the conclusion was the same: the concise, business-like Tiger was far more stable and successful and mature than the emotional, flamboyantly dressed, somewhat childish Spaniard.

Right now, as we start a new decade and Sergio celebrates 30, that conclusion is not nearly so obvious. ~ I met Sergio Garcia last June at the Travelers Championship. I just walked up to him, expecting to encounter a petulant and self-absorbed brat. Instead I found a warm, gracious, friendly cute, fine, hot, sexy young guy, who if anything, seemed mature beyond his years.

The Tiger Woods scandal has shattered many of our old perceptions about the world's number one golfer. I think it may also be transforming some perceptions about the one many call the best golfer never to have won a major. It's clearly caused some to question the wisdom of a secretive, highly-controlled public persona vs a more transparent, "I-am-what-I-am" style.

Personally, I hope 2010 is the year of Sergio Garcia. I hope he'll be able to put the heartbreak behind him and heal the injured hand and win a major... or two.