Garcia once refused to share a room with captain Harrington but now he is team’s ‘heart and soul’

Seven years ago, the relationship between Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington was so fraught the Spaniard went to the Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and told him there was no way he could have his fellow Irishman as a vice-captain.

‘Sergio said to me, “Paul, I don’t care if he’s your closest friend, I don’t want him in the team room”,’ said McGinley. ‘So what happened? Of course I picked Padraig and when we got to the Ryder Cup I came into the team room one day and there they were, playing table football and laughing like they were best pals. If you want to know how good a team man Sergio is, there’s your answer.’

Last Sunday, Harrington not only picked Garcia for his 10th Ryder Cup over a figure as mighty as Justin Rose, this year’s captain went on to describe him as the heart and soul of the European team that will try to defend the trophy at Whistling Straits this week.

Sergio Garcia has been described him as the heart and soul of the European team

It’s a worthy description of a momentous journey in the biennial dust-up that began in the last century when Garcia was still a teenager, terrifying the lives out of the American team at Brookline in 1999.

The era of Seve Ballesteros had finally ended with his winning captaincy in 1997 and now here came another from the same nation who has done justice to Seve’s legacy to such an extent, he has not only overtaken the great man in terms of points scored but every other European legend as well.

‘I don’t know what comes over me when I get to the Ryder Cup,’ said Garcia, with a broad smile, when we met up a couple of weeks ago. ‘I do know I turn into someone else. Everything just gets amped up that extra notch. I change. When I get to the venue and sample the atmosphere, wow, that’s the moment when the switch flips.’

Walking the fairways with Rory McIlroy in Atlanta at the Tour Championship, the bond the pair share was all too obvious. ‘What can you say about Sergio when it comes to the Ryder Cup?’ says McIlroy, who will surely be his partner at some stage, as in the last match. ‘What would be really nice is if everyone could see him in the team room just once, the influence he exerts and his inspirational manner.’

The 41-year-old Spaniard was selected as a wildcard pick for his 10th Ryder Cup appearance

The 41-year-old Spaniard was selected as a wildcard pick for his 10th Ryder Cup appearance

He breaks off to shout over to Garcia: ‘Hey Sergio, we’re just talking about you. How many Ryder Cups will this be for you? Is it your 100th?’

Garcia, now 41, is ageing well as a golfer. He might be 15 to 20 yards behind Rory off the tee these days but he is still a beautiful striker of the ball, and blessed with a Spaniard’s touch around the greens. His putting remains hard to watch at times but he’s coming off a year when he won on the 2020-21 wraparound PGA Tour — last year, rather than this — and an impressively consistent summer where he finished in the top 26 in eight of his last nine events. As he puts it: ‘Not good enough to gain me too many headlines, but enough to know my game is in good shape.’

He has a startling fact to share about the last Ryder Cup in France, when he was a controversial captain’s pick having played poorly all summer, missing the cut in all four majors. It proves another illustration of Sergio the consummate team man.

‘Do you know I arrived in Paris and I had no idea that I could overtake Seve and everyone else to become the record points scorer,’ he said. ‘I know some guys have that goal to top the all-time points list but I never felt that way, although, don’t get me wrong, I was super-happy when it happened.

‘It was only when we headed into the singles and someone asked me a question about what it would mean to achieve the record if I won my match. The only thing I was focusing on in the build-up was how I could help my team. I wasn’t playing well, but I wasn’t bothered about that. I know how I can change for the Ryder Cup. I know what I can do.

Captain Padraig Harrington is unwavering in his total respect for Garcia at the Ryder Cup

Captain Padraig Harrington is unwavering in his total respect for Garcia at the Ryder Cup

‘It was in the weeks that followed and because we won the trophy that it hit me. I started to think about being Europe’s record points scorer, and of course it makes me extremely proud. How could it not? You’ve got Faldo, you’ve got Seve, you’ve got Ollie, you’ve got Lee Westwood, all these guys. I started to think about how many teams you have to qualify for, how many cups you have play in, how many matches you have to contest, how many you have to win. Without a doubt it’s one of the pinnacles of my career.

‘When you get to a Ryder Cup, however, like we are now, it’s forgotten. Now it’s about what can I do to help my team-mates, what can I do to make sure we win.’

That last match in Paris might also have been his most extraordinary performance of all. It’s one thing handling the pressure of being a pick and another level entirely when, on top of that, you’re hitting the ball sideways.

Garcia, as he put it, still flipped the switch to prove all the doubters wrong. This time, no one doubts, and certainly not the captain who acknowledged a few days ago, with considerable understatement, ‘we haven’t always got along’, but is unwavering in his total respect for Garcia at the Ryder Cup.

Twenty-two years ago, it was the hopping, skipping 19-year-old Sergio, fist-pumping and irritating the Americans to distraction. Now it’s the family man ready to change into someone entirely different once more.

‘Does it mean more, the older you get?’ he says. ‘I know what you mean, and definitely in a way it does, in terms of how hard it is to make the team. But it’s always meant everything to me. Growing up I watched Seve and Ollie in the Ryder Cup and I always wanted to be like them and make them proud.’

In so doing, he’s made all Europe proud as well.