Sergio Garcia Surprises Golfers at Bethpage Black With Free TaylorMade Drivers
Sergio Garcia was the villian at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, but he was greeted like a hero last week when he returned to New York’s most famous muni with free drivers for everyone.
Snagging a tee time at Bethpage Black in Long Island is notoriously difficult. Not to mention actually getting around the course that welcomes you to the first tee with a warning sign about its difficulty. Throw in Garcia watching you tee off on the opening hole with a full gallery surrounding the teebox, and you’ve experienced a fraction of what it’s like to be a PGA Tour pro.
Thanks to TaylorMade, several unsuspecting players were lucky enough to do just that at Bethpage Black.
Garcia waited in a nearby parking lot until 8 a.m. the Tuesday morning after the U.S. Open before walking down to the driving range. He approached the booth, paid for his driving-range tokens and grabbed a large bucket of range balls from the nearby stall. Some players prepping for their tee times didn’t even recognize the ninth-ranked golfer in the world as he walked to one of the green mats on the right side of the range. A crowd soon gathered around Garcia as he warmed up with an iron. The jokes started coming when Garcia pulled out his driver.
“Windshield!” one player called out as Garcia bombed one to the edge of the range. “No, he didn’t even reach the fence,” another replied.
“These are Bethpage Black special low-compression range balls,” someone said. Garcia replied, “You’re right, they do feel funny.”
With all the attention on Garcia, the players barely noticed the swirling camera crew filming Garcia’s every move and the TaylorMade tour van parked behind him. Then blue-shirted TaylorMade employees barreled out of the back of the van with staff bags full of the SLDR S drivers and set them up under a huge TaylorMade tent. That got more attention.
“Who wants more distance?!” someone bellowed into a megaphone, and players began to jockey for their spot in line to be fitted by Garcia and to receive all sorts of TaylorMade gear. Garcia helped players with their swings, recommended the proper specs and sent them to the tent to grab a new shiny driver.
“This was so cool,” said Brett Emsden, a native of nearby Huntingdon. “When I checked in, one of my buddies said Sergio was at the range. I thought he was talking about another member of our foursome. Not the Sergio.”
“I was so nervous,” said Steve Blanck, who was at Bethpage celebrating Father’s Day with his dad. “I couldn’t even get my ball on the tee. But a free driver and fitting from Sergio is a great way to cap off this trip.”
Blanck rushed to his 8:57 a.m. tee time from the driving range opposite the clubhouse. Set up on the first tee was a full gallery and camera crew, complete with Golf Channel’s Tripp Isenhour emceeing the opening tee shots of every player with a tee time between 9-10 a.m. Steve Dudley, whose high school’s home course was Bethpage Black, was one of the first groups off the tee and striped his tee shot right down the middle.
“They gave us a driver, which was unbelievable,” Dudley said. “I was totally shocked and nervous because this was the first time hitting the driver on the course.”
Garcia went back-and-forth with every player with a huge smile on his face as they stepped on the tee, giving away dozens of balls for shots landing in the fairway while TaylorMade staffers held up “Quiet” signs to replicate a PGA tournament experience. It was a vast difference from the first time Garcia was on the main stage at Bethpage Black. At the 2002 U.S. Open held at Bethpage, Garcia came under fire from the galleries for his constant gripping and re-gripping of the club and incessant waggling, eventually leading to Garcia giving the fans a middle-finger salute.
“He’s gotten a gazillion percent better,” said Joe Rehor, director of golf at Bethpage Black.
Rehor said the TaylorMade event was all part of a plan that came together in a month’s time to bring Garcia back to Bethpage Black. TaylorMade wanted a well-maintained public course that was in great shape, and Bethpage checked all the boxes.
“We wanted the real Bethpage guy who was pushing another guy out of the way to get his free driver,” Rehor said. “It was all natural. This is the place they should be launching this stuff. This is the grassroots of golf. This isn’t a high-end country club where you have guys walking around with their noses up in the air. You have the salt of the earth here.”