In 1997, the second year he participated in the Pro-Am, Garcia and Stankowski won the team competition, with Garcia playing to an 18 handicap. But the actor has since whittled his index to nine, a hard standard to match under tournament pressure.
“Of course I get nervous,” Garcia says. “The best players in the world get nervous on the first tee, so why shouldn’t I? But I also think of fear and confidence as coexisting. It’s like acting, in that sense. Often your best work comes when you put yourself in an uncomfortable place.”
Comparing acting to athletics comes easily to Garcia, who first swung a golf club long before he memorized a script. Born in Cuba, he was raised in Miami, in a modest home that made up for in warmth what it lacked in wealth. Across the street from his family’s house was a small par-three course, and, a few blocks down, an 18-hole municipal course. Inspired by Arnold Palmer, whose charismatic style he found captivating, Garcia scraped together money for a starter set of clubs and taught himself the game, often lighting out at daybreak to squeeze in a free round.
“If you played that early in the morning, you’d have sprinklers going off all around you, but you didn’t have to pay,” Garcia says. “After that, it was a dollar-fifty.”
From an early age, Garcia excelled at sports. He quarterbacked his Miami Pop Warner squad to a city championship and started in the backcourt on his high school basketball team. But acting was his calling. In his early 20s, with a degree in drama from Florida International University, he migrated west, intent on following the path of screen stars he’d admired, such as James Coburn and Steve McQueen.
In his lean Hollywood years (“When I got started, auditions were hard to come by, let alone roles,” he says), Garcia lived by his father’s mantra: Never take a step backward, not even to gain momentum.
Early success began in the 1980s, playing drug kingpin Angel Moldonado in 8 Million Ways to Die and then G-man George Stone in The Untouchables. Then came casino slickster Terry Benedict in Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, and Ocean’s Thirteen (pictured below). Along the way, Garcia also earned a fixed place in the industry’s brightest constellation with Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for best supporting actor for his fiery performance as Vincent Mancini, in The Godfather: Part III.
“I’ve had some success,” Garcia says. “But to borrow from something I once heard Michael Jordan say, ‘I have succeeded only because I have failed many times before.’”
Having mothballed golf for decades while he worked to make his name, Garcia re-embraced the game in his late 30s. He joined Lakeside Country Club, a sylvan layout across the street from Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, which has long been the home of Hollywood’s big hitters, from Frank Sinatra to Jack Nicholson. Garcia calls his membership “an investment in my sanity.”
“Any day on a golf course is a great day,” Garcia says. “Sometimes I get frustrated, but I never get mad.”So engrossed is Garcia in the pleasures of the game that he pays small heed to details that drive so manygolfers to obsession. Course rankings? Some of Garcia’s favorite public tracks are Pebble Beach and Spyglass, two of the three venues in the AT&T Pro-Am rotation, but unlike most enthusiasts who’ve played those landmark layouts, he doesn’t keep a course map in his head.
“What’s that little par-three at Pebble that plays out toward the water?” Garcia asks of Pebble’s iconic seventh hole. “All those holes along the water are just magical, but I don’t pay a lot of attention to which number is which. The way I see it, I’m just going for a beautiful walk with some clubs in my hand.”