Sergio Garcia still has a year of high school to complete, doesn't yet have his driver's license and may be the first player in the history of professional golf to pull out of a tournament because of an acne attack.
And yet, put the 19-year-old Spaniard on a golf course, and he performs like a seasoned veteran. Ten weeks after turning professional, Garcia believes he already has the skills to contend in major championships, including the British Open, which starts here Thursday.
"I know if I keep playing well, the expectations are going to be high," Garcia said today. "I'm just focusing on what I'm going to do. I like you to be happy with me, but you have to know sometimes that the sport is not as easy as it looks. I will try to keep playing well. . . . I don't know how I'm going to do. I'm playing pretty well. Inside of me, I feel it's going to be a great Open championship, and if I have a chance to win, I'll do my best to be there."
Already there is talk that Garcia is destined to join Tiger Woods and David Duval as the game's dominant players early in the next millennium. He was low amateur and tied for 38th at The Masters. Two weeks ago, in his sixth tournament as a pro, he won the Irish Open on the European PGA Tour with scores of 69, 68, 67 and 64 in the final round. In his first round a week later at the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, he opened with a 62 and eventually finished second.
"Sergio and I have played a number of times," said Woods, who won his first pro event in his fifth start. "I've hung out with him, chipped with him, putted with him, hit balls next to him. He's a great guy and it's nice to see him win.
"When he first turned pro, I had said I was able to get off to a great start and build momentum. That's what he's been able to do. When you get off to a good start at a young age, you're vivacious and you feel like you can play well against anyone at any time. I think he's shown the world how talented he really is. As far as a rivalry, I don't think there is one yet. I hope there will be."
Anyone who has seen "El Nino" play knows it's only a matter of time. He does not hit the ball quite as far as Woods does, but is far more accurate than the American star was at the same age, and arguably even now. His iron play has been extremely precise, and he has a wonderful short game.
Today he was even seen hitting a shot from the rough left-handed, something he practices because, "It's good for the back." He says he has played nine holes left-handed four times, carding a 53 the first time, 42 the last.
"When Tiger came along," Sweden's Jesper Parnevik said, "he blew everyone's brains with the way he played. Sergio has the same mindset as Tiger. He came out thinking he would beat everyone and he's proving that he has the ability to do it."
The ability was honed by his father, Victor, a master professional at the Club de Campo del Mediterraneo on Spain's eastern coast. Young Sergio started swinging a broom at the age of 2, got a full-sized set of clubs at 9, was a national junior champion at 10 and a scratch player at 13. As a young child, he endeared himself to the members of his father's club by challenging them to putting contests on the practice green for free sodas. He rarely was parched.
Now, the stakes are considerably higher, but Garcia's thirst for success remains unquenched. He will play most of the rest of the season on the European tour, where he has already essentially clinched a berth on the Ryder Cup team, and make occasional forays to the United States. He has played two PGA Tour events this year, finishing third at the Byron Nelson in Dallas and tying for 11th at the Memorial in Ohio.
He has earned $202,000 on the PGA Tour and seems almost certain to finish among the top 125 money-winners and qualify to earn his card for next season. He has also won more than $500,000 on the European tour, and has contracts worth more than $3 million from sponsors who signed him the day he turned pro. Miami-based Jose Marquina, a family friend and now Garcia's manager, said the teenager will make his final decision in the fall about which tour to play.
Garcia is extremely polite, has a delicious sense of humor and seems to thrive in front of cameras, microphones and reporters' notebooks. In addition to Marquina, his parents, a personal trainer and doctor, another member of Team Garcia is a tutor hired to improve his already fluent English. They even conduct mock news conferences to prepare Garcia for the real thing.
In Dallas last spring, when he was introduced to Byron Nelson, Garcia took off his cap and knelt to speak with Nelson, who was sitting in a chair. Garcia said afterward he did not think it was proper that one of the game's greatest players would have to look up to speak to him, a mere teenager.
Garcia endeared himself to many fans that week when he told reporters the best thing about the golf course at Las Colinas was all the pretty Texas girls behind the ropes. And when he won in Ireland two weeks ago, Garcia, Marquina and Victor Garcia all followed through on their pact to shave their heads the day Garcia won for the first time as a pro.
The acne attack came the night before he was scheduled to play in Memphis. A pimple over his right eye was making it difficult for him to see, and he needed medical treatment over the next few days to clear up the problem. Marquina said he felt badly about withdrawing, but, "It couldn't be helped. He doesn't like to disappoint the fans."
Today, at the start of his news conference, Garcia politely told a room full of reporters, "If you don't mind, I'd like you to call me Sergio in the media if possible, because I feel much better about it than Garcia. If you could write Sergio instead of Garcia it will be perfect."
Was he trying to emulate Brazilian soccer players? Madonna? Prima donna?
"No, the problem is that I've always liked people just to call me Sergio because it seems more familiar," he said, quite sweetly. "When I go on the golf course and they say, `Hey, Mr. Garcia,' I don't really like that. I prefer, `Sergio, can you sign this autograph?' I like to be recognized as Sergio, or Sergio Garcia, but not just as Garcia."
Garcia idolizes the great Ballesteros, known to most fans simply as "Seve," a five-time major champion and the swashbuckling hero of Spanish golf. Ballesteros has taken Garcia under his wing, often playing practice rounds with him and giving advice and counsel on and off the course.
Garcia said that when he practiced as a young boy back home at his father's club, he always dreamed about making that last putt to win the British Open title Ballesteros won three times.
"You go to the putting green and you think, `Fifteen-footer to win the Open,' " Garcia said today. "But I don't know. That's when you're young and imagining things. But let's see if I have the chance this week. That would be great. But if not, I know I have a lot of years to come."
CAPTION: Sergio Garcia, 19, won Irish Open two weeks ago, his sixth pro event. Tiger Woods won in fifth pro event.
CAPTION: In past 10 weeks, Sergio Garcia of Spain has won more than $700,000 combined on European, PGA tours.