During the final two rounds of the tournament, Sergio decided to follow the eventual winner, Tom Lehman, whom he had been introduced to earlier in the week. He studied the veterans game, watched as Lehman was presented with the famous Claret Jug, then tagged along when the champion returned to the 18th green for photos. During the shoot, Lehman handed the Claret Jug to Sergio, and the teenager had his picture taken with it.
The excitement of the British Open fueled Sergios desire to rise to the top of the game. During the next 12 months, he won three Spanish amateur events (the under-16, under-18 and under-21), the European Amateur Masters, the French Amateur, the Grand Prix de Lendes, and the David Leadbetter Championship. Sergio also claimed victory in a pro event, the Catalonian Open.
Sergios most junior impressive victory came at the British Boys Championship in August of 1997. After beating Swedens Christian Nilsson in the quarterfinals, he faced Nick Burrows of England. Sergio jumped out quickly, took the first three holes, then sailed to an easy win, 4 & 3. In the final, he was even more dominant. Matched against Richard Jones, also of England, Sergio rolled 6 & 5. After this win, reporters wanted to know if and when Sergio planned to turn pro. That really got Sergio thinking.
In March of 1998, he had plenty to think about at the Monterey Open, a Nike Tour event held in Mexico. Competing against a collection of former PGA players and tour hopefulsincluding Robin Freeman and Casey MartinSergio, now 18, carded rounds of 68 and 67 to take the lead heading into the third round. He slipped down the leader board over the weekend, but still managed to come in at 8-under, setting a Nike Tour record for low score by an amateur. Three months later, Sergio tied for third at the Nike Greensboro Open.
In between those performances, Sergio played a round that put him on the golf worlds radar screen. On the first day of the Peugeot Spanish Open in Barcelona, he birdied four of his first five holes on the way to a six-under 66. In the process, he blew past the likes of Thomas Bjorn, Robert Allenby, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal and his hero, Ballesteros. Sergio ended the day with a spectacular eagle on the 490-yard, par-5 ninth, which put him just two strokes off the pace. His bid to be the first amateur to win a European Tour event fell short when he posted consecutive 70s in the next three rounds.
By the time Sergio entered the British Amateur Championship, at Muirfield in Scotland, he already had wins at the Spanish Amateur, King of Spain Cup, Jacksonville Junior, European Amateur Masters and Puerta de Hierro Cup. Now he looked to join his countryman, Olazabal, as the only other player to hold the British Amateur and the British Boys crowns at the same time. Sergios chief competition was Britains Justin Rose, another teenager who played far beyond his years. Attracting huge galleries every time they set foot on the course, the two held their own early on to advance to the events match-play stages. There Rose faltered, while Garcia narrowly escaped in the semifinal with a victory over Mark Hilton. That matched him against Craig Williams in the 36-hole final. Sergio handled Williams easily, defeating him 7 & 6.
The win earned Sergio automatic invitations to several events, including the 1998 British Open. At Royal Birkdale in England, he posted a 69 in the first round, then carded three straight rounds above par to finish tied for 29th place.
Sergio made another respectable showing a month later, at the U.S. Amateur. It had been more than three decades since someone had captured the British and U.S. Amateur titles in the same yearthat someone being Robert B. Dickson. Going into the tournament, Sergio had a real shot at equaling this feat, but it wouldnt be easy. The field at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY, was tough. It included Justin Rose and Joel Kribel, the events runner-up in 1997. The favorite was defending champion Matt Kuchar. Sergio met Kuchar in the quarterfinals, with a crowd of nearly 5,000 gathered on the first tee to watch what they hoped would be an epic battle.
They werent disappointed. Both players took dead aim, and the match see-sawed all day long. On the 12th green Kuchar conceded a birdie putt to Sergio that made things all square. On 16, Sergio rolled in an eight-footer to go 1-up. He won the match a hole later when Kuchar missed a tricky 12-foot putt.
High off his victory over Kuchar, Sergio came crashing down in the Saturday semifinal against Tom McKnight. Sergio went 1-up after McKnight three-putted the first green, but the teenager never seemed to get into a rhythm. Needing to take the 17th just to stay alive, Sergio drove into a tree, took a double-bogey, and the match was over.
MAKING HIS MARK
Heading into 1999, no one questioned whether Sergio would turn pro. He was slated to play in the Masters in April, and speculation was that he would announce his decision after Augusta, prior to the Peugeot Open in Spain. In the days leading up to the Masters, some picked Sergio as a dark horse to win the tournament. The closest an amateur had ever come to capturing the green jacket was in 1956, when Ken Venturi lost to champion Jack Burke Jr. by a single stroke. Given Sergio' immense talent, it was hard to ignore the great touch and imagination he possessed at such a tender age.
Sergio played his first two rounds with Tiger Woods and Tim Herron, a threesome that attracted monstrous galleries. After an opening 72, Sergio carded consecutive 75s and never was in contention. He finished with a 73 on Sunday to claim the low-amateur medal, becoming the first British Amateur champ ever to do so. When Olazabal overtook Greg Norman to win his second green jacket, it was truly a great day for Spain.
Any general insight into your process creating the work for this exhibit you want to share?
I’m working on a few new concepts. I really like the works to flow. I’m hoping people can see some what of a connection in the works of ” everybody wants somewhere”
What is more important – Content or technique?
A balance of both is important to me without getting too wrapped up on either.
I sound like I’m doing the safe answer but it’s so true.
How many hours do your pieces generally take to complete?
It normally takes a few weeks give or take. Each piece is a little different.
If I’ve done something similar before I can do it a lot faster.
What are some of the responses you hear in regards to your work?
I’ve heard a lot. The responses I like the most are from people who need to go out of there way to tell me how much they like the piece. I’ve had rappers tell me they really felt it. To like a plumber or beauty salon worker. I like it when people connect. I really enjoy it when people smile.
Describe your work environment – Music you listen to, things you drink/smoke, time of day etc
I have 2 studios one is more of an automotive custom paint shop that I own.
The other is just a small warehouse area. Both of them are pretty grimey. I listen to a lot of music Fugazi, Jawbox, Radiohead, Outkast mostly pandora.
What is currently influencing you that might surprise people?
I’m always influenced by what’s going on around me but not what’s just popular for the week type of deal. I try to have a slight sense of humor with my work.
You work with a variety of materials and media, do you prefer one over the other?
I like skipping around welding, casting, sanding, painting and glass blowing. It helps me not get in a rut. I feel trapped if I get too repetitive and I stop enjoying it.
If you could choose only one, would you rather be thought of as a great artist or a nice person?
Great artist. I can’t control what people think of me. I like to think I’m a nice person.
I think Bob Ross won both of those categories.