Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods shake hands on the driving range during practice… (Courtesy of the Golf Channel…)
ARDMORE, Pa. — There were no priests in black robes, no curtained booth to slip into, no screened window to talk through.
But Sergio Garcia, star golfer currently suffering the aftereffects of foot-in-the-mouth disease, had it different than those who preceded him Tuesday to pre-U.S. Open news conferences.
Sergio's was a confessional.
Bless me, everybody, for I have sinned.
He didn't have to come in. A U.S. Golf Assn. official confirmed that. But he knew, as did the USGA, that it was the right thing to do.
And to his credit, Garcia did not try to brush through it, did not duck questions, nor do the common athlete non-apology apology. He wants to put it all behind him, but he knew that doesn't happen just by saying it.
At least two things are clear. He said a stupid, hurtful, racist thing. And now, he is facing up to all elements of that.
That doesn't excuse anything. What he said can't be erased. The hurt doesn't easily ease. But all too many athletes, as well as prominent people in all walks of life, have said or done something similar and tried to duck and run.
Tuesday, in front of more than 100 media people from all around the world, some of them black, Garcia did neither. No ducking, no running. For that, he gets some credit. For what he said, none.
The background of all this bears reviewing.
During the Players Championship in early May, Woods and Garcia were playing together, both in contention. Garcia was in the middle of the fairway, Woods 30 yards or so away in some trees. As Garcia went into his backswing, Woods pulled a wood out of his bag, signifying that he would go for the green, rather than pitch out. The Tiger gallery, always loving that sort of macho in their man, greeted the move with noise. Garcia's swing, allegedly disturbed, brought a shot well off to the right.
Afterward, Garcia said he didn't appreciate Woods' timing. Woods replied that it was just Sergio "whining again."
A week or so later, the gorse really hit the fan.
Garcia, at an awards ceremony in London, was asked, jokingly: "What night will you invite Tiger over for dinner?" Garcia replied, "Every night. We will serve him fried chicken."
It was 12:25 in the morning. Sitting nearby were other prominent members of the European tour. Rory McIlroy said he winced. Luke Donald said, "It just came out."
Presumably, alcohol had been consumed. Still, nothing excuses that mind-set, or that level of stupidity. Garcia now had a DWI. Driving While an Idiot.
Garcia was immediately sorry and said so many times to whomever would listen. Woods mostly brushed it off as something offensive and to be moved on from.
The U.S. Open would be their first reuniting, so to speak. And when Garcia went to shake Woods' hand Monday on the driving range and Woods took it, the photo went all over the place. Or, as we Internet-savvy, techie typists like to say, it went viral.
Tuesday's list of interview sessions included both. Woods is mandatory at these. He remains the straw that stirs the drink. Garcia was an obvious ad-on.
Woods was asked if Garcia had apologized. He said, "No, it's already done. We've already gone through it. It's time for the U.S. Open and we tee it up in two days."
He was asked later, in a slightly different way, if there had been an apology. Woods said, "No, we haven't had time for that."
Garcia started with an apology and said that Tiger seemed to consider the matter closed. He admitted to leaving a handwritten note of apology at Woods' locker and did the right thing when asked the contents of that note by declining to reveal it.
"The note is for him," Garcia said.
In the course of the grilling, Garcia said that, even after leaving the note, he still wanted to apologize to Woods in person. He added that the driving range wasn't appropriate and that their paths hadn't crossed again.
"I was hoping to meet after the [practice] round," he said, "but he was gone. This morning, I was here early ... he got here later."
He was asked if, what he has described as a "sick feeling in his stomach over the last several weeks" would mean he wouldn't be able to contend here. He said, "I don't know. We'll see. It obviously doesn't help, but it's my own fault."
The toughest moment for Garcia occurred midway through the session. Sitting directly in front of him was a black reporter, who asked, "Do you have any understanding that the comments you made regarding Tiger Woods extend beyond Tiger Woods, that they have a stinging feeling to people who look like me?…"
Garcia made eye contact in the dead-quiet room and said, "I understand that. ... That's why I said sorry, because I can obviously see I hurt a lot of people.
"The only thing I can do is show you my respect from here, moving forward."
It wasn't Kobe sitting next to Vanessa, but it'll do.