Acute success in professional golf produces an abundance of examples. While Brooks Koepka’s recent run of four majors in less than 24 months is the most extreme, we’ve seen mega-heaters from players like Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson as well. And while this version of success on the PGA Tour — and beyond — is incredibly impressive, it might not stand up to the specific type of success we have seen from somebody like Sergio Garcia, who won the Sanderson Farms Championship on Sunday.
Garcia first stepped onto the global stage in late 1999 with that (you know, that) performance at the PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club, which Tiger Woods went on to win. He’s never left. From that time in 1999 to October 2020 — his Official World Golf Ranking sits at No. 38 — he’s only been outside the top 50 twice (once from 2010-2011 and last week when he was ranked No. 51).
It’s a Phil Mickelson (who I’ve also included on this graph)-level of success.
This is what generational talent looks like, even if we don’t always appreciate it. To win a lot over a two-year period is impressive. To win and succeed this much over a two-decade stretch — enough to stay inside the top 50 (and often 20) in the world — is astounding.
So which is better? Which is more impressive? Though Garcia doesn’t have the majors Koepka has, the longevity of being one of the 20 or 25 best in your profession for 20 straight years — to me, anyway — cannot be topped with an extra trophy or two. This is what we sometimes miss on in professional golf. Because we are conditioned to value winning — and only winning — above all else, we often fail to appreciate what it takes to create that graph above. When you look at the pure math at the end of it all, Garcia’s career might fall short of others, but that’s not how it’s felt for the last 20 years.
Want the sharpest DFS advice, picks and data-driven golf analysis? Listen below and subscribe to The First Cut Golf podcast where we explain what’s happening on the course so you can win off of it.
It goes beyond the numbers, too. Chasing what you’ve already held so many times in your career when there is absolutely no incentive to do so is compelling. Grinding out wins at early October events when you’ve long been one of the best Europeans to ever do it is worthy of whatever label you want to put on it.
“I really wasn’t that frustrated because nobody was really talking to me,” Garcia said of his up-and-down last few years. “You know, they had other guys to talk to, and I was just working hard and just trying to get better in every aspect of the game, mentally and physically, and I was just doing my own thing, trying to figure out what I needed to do, and that’s what I did.”
This is the beautiful game. That somebody with Sergio’s resume would play for a rooster trophy in Jackson, Mississippi, because greatness is elusive and you’re addicted to wresting it from the rest of the world is the essence of the world beyond the FedEx Cup points and those substantial Monday direct deposits.
On Sunday, Garcia extended his streak of consecutive years with a win to 10. He has 36 professional victories, and only a handful of years since he turned pro in 1999 have passed without Sergio raising a trophy.
“I didn’t even know [that I’d won in 10 straight years],” said Garcia on Sunday. “Yeah, obviously it is important. It’s something that you have to be proud of, and I am. But I didn’t even think about it. I’ve been out here for 21 years, so you know that I’m not the kind of records kind of guy. I’ve been able to achieve some of them without even thinking about them, and I’m very proud of them. But that’s not what motivates me.”
There’s a great stat on the PGA Tour career wins Wikipedia page about how long your span of winning extends; for most of the best ever, it’s between 10-20 years. That’s when you collect all your wins. For some like Tiger Woods (24 years) and Phil Mickelson (29 years!) it extends well beyond this two-decade reach. At some point over the next 10 years, Sergio (currently 19 years between PGA Tour wins) will likely join them. Nobody knows the future, of course, but it seems like Sergio is willing to pay the price it costs to win golf tournaments at the highest level for three consecutive decades. This, as much as any other stat in professional golf, is the signal of a tremendous and significant career.