News & Opinion

Spaniards steer Garcia toward apology

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia – In the chapters leading to Sergio Garcia’s extraordinary disqualification at the first European Tour event in Saudi Arabia, several Spanish characters – the caddies who called rules officials to complain about damage to greens, the official who photographed the damage and the players who reprimanded the fiery former Masters champion – played key roles.

“Sometimes you lose your head and later you realize what you have done,” Garcia said during an interview in Spanish a couple of hours after being disqualified for purposely damaging greens during Saturday’s third round of the Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, a new course by the Red Sea.

Sergio Garcia

Just a few hours earlier, fellow Spaniards Jorge Campillo and his caddie, Borja Simo, who were playing two groups behind Garcia and Italian Renato Paratore, called rules officials upon noticing damage that looked “clearly intentional” on at least two greens.

“We knew it could affect our play and the groups behind us,” Simo said.

Said Campillo: “It can happen once to anyone, but several times is not normal.”

Minutes later, Spanish referee Federico Paez reviewed the damage, took photos of several greens and started deliberations among rules officials. Their review led to the first application of Rule 1.2a (“Conduct Expected of All Players”), a new rule that covers serious misconduct, and its interpretation, including the specific example of “deliberately causing damage to a putting green.”

But the decision was not immediate and lasted almost until the conclusion of the third round. In the meantime, Spanish caddie Javier Erviti, who was carrying Paratore’s bag, witnessed first-hand the unraveling of Garcia’s frustration.

“We are used to the passion because we are Latin, but I had the feeling that his anger level was too out of hand,” said Erviti, who noticed a dragging mark on the fifth green and started empathizing with colleague Victor Garcia, Sergio’s brother and caddie.

At the end of the round, tournament director David Phillips, with an iPad in hand, was waiting for Garcia by the scoring tent. They reviewed the photos and launched a long discussion to establish the facts and potential consequences.

Then came Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez Castano, who was playing five groups behind and said that he suspected Garcia might have caused the damage.

“The first thing I did was look for Sergio and tell him what he had done was unacceptable,” Fernandez Castano said. “I talked to him because he is a friend, and friends should be there to guide you in difficult times.” Fernandez Castano said that he advised Garcia to accept responsibility and apologize.

Then came the meetings and deliberations with the European Tour, culminating in an official statement from Garcia: “I respect the decision of my disqualification. In frustration, I damaged a couple of greens, for which I apologize, and I have informed my fellow players it will never happen again.”

Sunday evening, a European Tour spokesman said that Garcia’s conduct will be reviewed for potential further disciplinary action.

This isn’t the first time that Garcia’s temper has bubbled over. In fact, only a day earlier, Garcia showed his disgust with what he perceived to have been a bad raking of a bunker at the par-5 fourth hole by a previous group. After blasting out, he retaliated on the bunker with several angry beatings from his wedge. He eventually bogeyed the hole en route to a 1-over 71.

Perhaps Garcia’s most infamous incident of personal misconduct on a golf course came during the 2007 CA World Championship at Doral, when he missed a short putt and then spat into the hole at the Blue Monster’s No. 13. In 1999, as a 20-year-old at the World Match Play Championship, he angrily tossed a shoe after a wayward shot at Wentworth’s 16th hole. In the era of viral videos, his club toss off the tee at the par-4 fifth hole at TPC San Antonio in 2018 got plenty of airtime (and hang time).

Two hours after the incident in Saudi Arabia, sitting in his hotel room, a calmer Garcia reflected on his behavior.

“I am not proud of what happened this week,” said Garcia, 39, whose 29 worldwide victories include 10 on the PGA Tour and 14 in Europe. “We are all human, and we all make mistakes. The biggest mistake is not learning from your mistakes.”

His fellow Spaniards already had accepted his apologies. “He has risen to the occasion and has assumed his punishment,” Fernandez Castano said. Added Campillo: “He could not control his temper, got DQ’d, accepted the sanction, and apologized. I think he did the right thing at the end.”

The European Tour wants to close the case. “The incident is over. We have dealt with it. Sergio has apologized to the players and we move on,” said Keith Pelley, the Tour’s chief executive. Pelley already had to deal during the past week with the controversy surrounding an event played in a country under scrutiny for its human-rights record. The Oct. 2 assassination of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, has been linked by the CIA to the Saudi crown prince.

Paradoxically, Garcia’s newest unfortunate display of Spanish passion has taken over the headlines, and, in a way, has helped distract the attention from recent political events in Saudi Arabia and raised the profile of the first Saudi International in a manner in which organizers could not have imagined and certainly didn’t want.

Juan Luis Guillen is a Spanish golf, food and travel writer based in the U.S. He can be reached at