He knows about the names on the trophy – Player, Nicklaus, Thomson, Norman, Palmer, Nagle and Locke to name a handful – so Sergio Garcia is not on holidays at The Australian this week.
He wants to add another national championship to a resume that includes his native Spanish Open, the Dutch Open (this year) and the Irish Open.
“I won several, fortunately for me,” he said today. “The names, I haven’t looked at all of them, but the names are very, very impressive. I know most of them. It just shows you the quality of this tournament.
“Yes, it would be nice (to win). It’s a shame that I haven’t played this Open before. It’s my debut as almost a 40 year old. It kind of sounds a little bit funny, but I’m excited to play well and give it a good run.’’
Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion and ensconced as an all-time great of the game, came to Sydney last week straight from Dubai, where he finished in the European Tour championship.
He’s been to Bondi and Manly beaches, and seen the harbour bridge, as well as playing the famous sixth hole at New South Wales Golf Club “15 times in a day” as part of a sponsor’s function.
It’s not much of an off-season, but that’s life for a touring professional. The American and European Tours have already started again for 2019-20. “Sunday, it starts Sunday,’’ was his answer to the question about his lack of an off-season.
“I have five or six weeks off during Christmas and then get ready for Abu Dubai, that’s where I’ll start my year,” he said. “So, it’s what it is. I think it’s tough to find a lot of moments of down golf, like maybe in the early days for my career, in the early 2000s or something like that where the year kind of finished at the end of October/very beginning of November and then you had until second week of January or something like that, there was nothing to play, PGA Tour or European Tour. You could come to Australia or Japan and play maybe one or two tournaments, but you could have a little bit of a longer gap. But playing both tours is a little bit tougher to do that.”
On Tuesday he ran a clinic for kids at The Australian, surviving a brush with an Australasian Tour official who pointed out that the local tour does not approve of shorts on a professional. Today, he wore pants, and added that he was “used to” practising in shorts. With the European Tour allowing shorts in a recent South African tournament, he hopes the practise will be extended.
“I think at the end of the day, having the possibility of playing with shorts, it only kind of brings us together to the amateurs, because when you go to a course, unless it’s winter and it’s really cold, if it’s spring or summer and the temperatures are nice, when you go to a normal course, 90 per cent of the people are wearing shorts, so I think the connection would feel even closer to the amateurs.”
Garcia loves the look of The Australian, with its small greens that suit a supreme ball-striker like him. “I love the type of golf course that it is. I’ve always liked golf courses with small greens, that’s why Valderrama (in Spain) is my favourite golf course in the world.
“So, I think it’s a really solid golf course, the kind of golf course that if the conditions are benign you can score, because it’s not terribly long, but if you get a little bit of wind, which usually you do here, those small greens then become very small targets and you have to be extremely precise to be able to hit them and have birdie chances and then if you start missing greens, then you can have some tricky chips.”
The Spaniard tees off at 11.50 on Thursday at the first tee with Adam Scott and Paul Casey in the afternoon’s marquee group.
The #AusOpenGolf starts at 6.50am on Thursday at The Australian.