After so many close calls over the years, Sergio Garcia finally won his first major championship and the sports world rejoiced. USA TODAY Sports
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — First things first.

Sergio Garcia will not be wearing the green jacket when he exchanges wedding vows with Angela Akins in July.

“No, I don’t think so. The jacket is very special, but our wedding is its own special part of our lives,” the recently minted Masters champion told USA TODAY Sports. “It wouldn’t be the right way to go there.”

There’s a time and place for everything, he added, and a proper tuxedo is on order. And besides, he’s worn the green jacket just about everywhere else since he drove off Magnolia Lane a month ago with the coveted garment on his back, his 0-for-73 futility in major championships in the rearview and the resounding chants of Ser-Gee-O, Ser-Gee-O, Ser-Gee-O still ringing in his ears.

The weight of being the best player never to have won a major had been lifted and the Spaniard began to celebrate, first during a media blitz in New York, then in his home in Switzerland, during a vacation in Ireland and then during a stay in another of his homes in Spain.

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The green jacket has been to the top of the Empire State Building and one of the mountains in the Alps. It was on the pitch when Garcia took the ceremonial kickoff prior to the El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona as 80,000 roared inside the iconic Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. And it was swarmed by locals and friends as Garcia made a triumphant return to Club de Campo del Mediterraneo in Spain, where he learned the game under the tutelage of his father, Victor.

“Until it happens you don’t realize what the green jacket means to others,” said Garcia, his voice sounding a bit tired and a touch hoarse during a phone interview late Sunday night after he settled into his rental home in this seaside community. “It’s great to be able to walk around with the green jacket on and share it with others, with your country, with people who care so much for you.

“I knew the green jacket was something big but I didn’t know how big it was going to be, not only in the U.S. but in Spain. People who sort of knew who I was now really know who I am. It was pretty spectacular at the Clasico … the reaction from the whole stadium, shouting my name, the people screaming my name outside the stadium, it was very special.”

The celebration continues this week at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s marquee event that begins Thursday at the TPC Stadium Course. Yes, the green jacket is here, as is his fiancée, Akins, the former Golf Channel reporter he met 16 months ago. So, too, are good vibes.

Garcia, 37, who is now No. 6 in the world, won The Players in 2008 in a playoff against Paul Goydos. He also finished second in 2007, lost in a playoff in 2015 won by Rickie Fowler and finished third in 2014. In 2013, he was tied for the lead with Tiger Woods with two holes to play when he hit two balls into the water on 17 and another on 18 to fall into a tie for eighth.

In all he has six top-10s and owns the longest active-cuts-made streak with 13.

“It’s my most favorite golf course in the U.S. That obviously helps,” said Garcia, who has 31 wins worldwide including 10 PGA Tour titles. “It’s a course where I feel very comfortable, for the most part. That has led to some really good finishes. And The Players is really one of those tournaments you really want to have on your résumé.

“I’d love to have it more than once.”

While he was “chilling” in Switzerland, he watched a replay of the final round twice. He didn’t see the pouting, petulant whiner of his past who looked for excuses to blame the golf gods for another bad break and tragic loss. Instead, a calm, collected and patient Garcia embraced potential ruin, overcame a two-shot deficit with six to play and won on the first playoff hole against Justin Rose.

“It was good to watch it and think about the feelings that I had that final day,” Garcia said. “The way I was mentally and the way I felt the whole week. How calm I felt the whole week, how I accepted any situation that was in front of me. Good breaks and bad breaks. It was one of the big reasons that gave me a chance to win the green jacket at the end.”

Another big reason was Akins, who peppered a mirror in the rental home during Masters week with inspiring quotations from Seve Ballesteros, Audrey Hepburn, Theodore Roosevelt, Buddha and Angela Akins. Yes, an adage she came up with stood out to Garcia.

“Don’t forget to be awesome.”

“They all had the little touches that meant so much, especially the personal ones from her,” Garcia said. “They all had a little oomph and a little extra kick. They were the perfect addition to the whole week.”

In the hours that followed his maiden major victory, Garcia received nearly 500 phone messages, texts, emails and letters, from the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Andy Garcia and Rafael Nadal. Every single one was cherished by Garcia, all will not be forgotten.

But now it’s time to get back inside the gallery ropes. Garcia didn’t touch a club for 10 days after he left Augusta National Golf Club but then got back in the gym and on the practice range and golf course. There is still a lot of golf left in the European Ryder Cup hero, a lot of majors to play, a lot of other titles to pursue. A green jacket doesn’t change the quest.

“I’m not going to lie to you because it was a long wait and it meant a lot to win a major,” said Garcia, who will defend his title in the AT&T Byron Nelson next week in Texas. “But at the same time, I don’t think it’s changed anything. We’re very proud that we got the chance to win the Masters and become a major winner, but at the same time we still have to keep going and keep working hard. It hasn’t changed me in any way personally.

“We have to keep going forward. My career didn’t end at the Masters.”