April 10, 2011
A major is not too big to win
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
AUGUSTA — For 364 and a half days a year, Augusta National Golf Club is the picture of decorum, as civil and reserved a setting for golf as exists on the planet.
Then, on the back nine every Masters Sunday, all hell busts loose as grown men scratch and claw and go weak at the knees, all over a simple green jacket. Roars echo through the Georgia pines, seldom as often or as loudly as they did Sunday.
“Sometimes you forget to breathe,” said the newest Masters champion, South African Charl Schwartzel.
This 75th Masters was even rowdier than most. With only a handful of holes remaining in this one, nobody seemed willing to go away. It was going to take something inspired to make the difference.
And then along came South African Charl Schwartzel, on the 50th anniversary of Gary Player’s victory in the 1961 Masters, that opened the door to dozens of international winners over the years.
Schwartzel had watched his lifelong friend, Louis Oosthuizen, shock the world with his British Open victory at St. Andrews last summer, an event and an accomplishment that inspired Schwartzel to take his own considerable game to a new level.
“That was a huge inspiration,” he said. “To see Louis win The Open Championship the way he did, you know, we grew up together from a young age. We played every single tournament against each other, and we represented South Africa for so long.
“You know, we always travelled together, so we basically are the best of mates. To see him win there made me realize that it is possible, and just sort of maybe take it over the barrier of thinking that a major is too big for someone to win.”
Schwartzel’s biggest fan has been Ernie Els who has mentored him and provided him with all manner of support, especially in North America. Schwartzel even lived with the Els family for a time while he got accustomed to life in the United States. He’s a little sheepish about getting a green jacket, something the Els has been wanting his whole career.
“Ernie, had some fantastic Masters performances; some that’s been stolen out of his hands you could say,” said Schwartzel. “Sometimes that’s the way it goes. He won a U.S. Open and British Opens. It’s not like he can’t win any majors. He’s more than capable of winning them. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. But to answer your question, I didn’t think I was going to put on a Green Jacket before him.”
Schwartzel learned the game from his father and he dedicated his win to him.
“My dad taught me from the start,” he said. “When I was four years old, I played my first nine holes. He taught me from the word go the right grip, the right stance, rhythm, posture, balance. There’s five key things that we always worked on.
“Whenever something goes wrong, it will be one of those five that have gone haywire somewhere. He always kept it simple.”
On a crazy day like Sunday, it’s important to have simple touchstones to keep all the evil thoughts from creeping in. He gave his playing partner, K.J. Choi, credit for helping him stay sane.
“The atmosphere out there was just incredible,” said Schwartzel. “I think playing with K.J., he sort of plays the same game as I do. We both go about our business. He always looks calm, whether he is or not. I think that sort of kept me calm.
“There are so many roars that go on around Augusta. Especially the back nine. It echoes through those trees. There’s always a roar. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard. But sometimes I would look at it and not register what I was looking at, and I think that sort of helped.
And, at the end of it all, there he was on the 18th tee, leading the Masters by a shot, needing to summon two more accurate swings.
“When you’re standing on the 18th tee with a one-shot lead coming up Augusta, it’s not easy. That little tunnel going through there gets very narrow.”
He blasted a drive, long and straight, leaving himself 133 yards. He chose a pitching wedge that settled 12 feet away from the cup. Then finished the job, like the Masters champion that he is.