Jose Maria Olazabal, Sergio Garcia now share locker in Augusta National Champions Locker Room
Nineteen years ago when Jose Maria Olazabal won his second green jacket, he shared the Butler Cabin ceremony with a teenager who won low amateur named Sergio Garcia.
Now they share a locker upstairs in the Augusta National Clubhouse.
“I see the locker is fuller than it used to be,” Olazabal said Monday. “It’s a bit emotional in the sense that it’s a history of the Spanish here. And to be able to share the locker with another Spaniard up in the Champions Locker Room, that’s special.”
It was obviously an emotional day last April when Garcia finally shed his fate of never winning a major with a comeback in regulation and a birdie in the playoff. For Olazabal, the primary emotion was similar to what Garcia had to feel after 18 long years of chasing a dream.
“It was a great relief for me in a way,” Olazabal said, “always talking that he had the game and the tools to win a major and seeing him win was fantastic.”
Olazabal could certainly relate to what Garcia had to experience as a Spanish golfing prodigy. He, too, won the British Amateur at age 18 to qualify for his first Masters, missing the cut at Augusta a year later in 1985. He, too, was expected to follow in the footsteps of Spanish golf icon Seve Ballesteros.
It took Olazabal nine years from his first Masters start to break through as a major winner at Augusta and follow Ballesteros into the Champions Locker Room and play host to a dinner of green-jacketed peers.
“I think (Tuesday) night is going to be a special dinner, having a Spaniard win it last year,” Olazabal said. “That’s going to bring me back memories of when I was the winner and Seve was there. It’s going to be kind of emotional. I’m looking forward to it and I know the food is going to be excellent.”
Garcia isn’t sure what to expect from his own emotions when he plays host to his fellow champions Tuesday night.
“I don’t know what I want to say; I’m sure I’ll figure it out,” he said. “I’m not going to write anything. I’m just going to say it from the heart because I think that’s the way I am. I am extremely excited about the menu. I told some guys don’t worry, you’re going to love it. It’s going to be mostly Spanish, some of my favorite dishes.”
To get there, however, required more heartbreak and struggle than Garcia could ever imagine. While he has long been chasing the legacy of his predecessors, it was Olazabal who was often a voice of reassurance in Garcia’s ears.
Especially with regard to the Masters – the only major with multiple Spanish champions.
“The only thing I said to him – because you know he always complained about this golf course and said he didn’t know how to play this golf course and this and that – I always told him that he had the game to win here,” Olazabal said. “He could shape it right to left and left to right. He can hit high shots, low shots. That’s all I said to him, that he had the game to win over here. Sometimes guys need some extra time to figure things out but at the end of the day he managed to do so.”
Now that Garcia has joined Ballesteros and Olazabal as a major champion, where does his own legacy stack up compared to the Hall of Famers?
“I don’t think I’m at their level because both of them were spectacular,” Garcia said. “Obviously Jose is still playing and he’s an unbelievable player and person but Seve was much bigger than us. I feel like at least I’m closer to them, which is great. It makes me very proud to be able to join my golfing idols as a Masters champion. It’s something extremely special but I still have to do many more things to get closer to them.”
Olazabal, for one, believes the 38-year-old Garcia is far from finishing his own chapter in Spain’s golfing lore. And maybe that chapter will include multiple majors and perhaps a pair of green jackets like both Ballesteros and Olazabal.
“The thing is he has many more years to go ahead,” Olazabal said. “He is a great ball striker and he can shape the ball either way and do anything with the ball. You never know but I believe once you break that wall, the path usually is a little bit brighter.”