McCabe: Patience paid off for Schwartzel
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Around Augusta National on Masters Sunday ...
Surrounded by rock and cacti at Dove Mountain in Arizona, Charl Schwartzel felt he was on the threshold to Augusta National. It was February 2009, and though he was thousands of miles away, he could see Georgia pines and smell the azaleas.
Then the young South African lost in Round 2 to Ian Poulter at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. No top 50 in the world, no Masters invite. He was crushed. But his caddie, the veteran Ricci Roberts, said to the 24-year-old: “Be patient. Your time will come.”
The next summer, at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, Schwartzel celebrated with friends and countrymen. The warmth that enveloped him wasn’t for his share of 14th; it was for his boyhood friend Louis Oosthuizen, winner of the Claret Jug. Still . . . Schwartzel wondered why he hadn’t yet matched his mate’s major deed.
Chubby Chandler, who manages Oosthuizen and Schwartzel, among others, assessed the situation. “I told Charl, ‘Don’t worry. Your time will come.’ ”
“Perhaps the strongest ingredient in the makeup of a champion is patience.”
Byron Nelson said that, though Lord Byron never explained whether patience had a timetable. So when on the morning of April 10, 2011, Charl Schwartzel woke to a brilliant sunshine in his rented home in Augusta, Ga., one thought consumed him.
“I had a mindset that it’s going to be now or never,” he said.
• • •
Now or never? He was just 26. It was just his second Masters. He was four strokes behind. What about patience?
“I fully believed that if I played my best now that I was going to pull it off. I had no doubt. When you have doubt, it becomes an obstacle.”
Curious, this overflowing of self-confidence, though Rosalind, his wife, had seen it with Charl’s quest to earn a helicopter pilot’s license. It required 5 a.m. wake-up calls, “and I’d make him a lunch, just like having a child in school,” she said. “But once Charl decides he’s going to do something, he does it properly.”
So, yes, she sensed his focus and, eerily, she felt similarly. They did not talk about it between themselves, but she did with the rest of the Schwartzel support group.
Her parents, Brian and Colleen Jacobs, were in the house with them. The entourage also included caddie Greg Hearmon and the looper’s longtime friend Hilton Greig, who had married Charl and Rosalind seven months earlier, and friends from Illinois whom Brian Jacobs had met years earlier.
Rosalind had grown up around golf. Her father was a former club pro in Meyerton, near Johannesburg. Brother Shaun played competitive golf. Her uncle is Gavan Levenson, a former winner of the South African Open who played four years on the PGA Tour, including twice in the World Series of Golf when Brian caddied.
Before heading out for the final round of the Masters, she studied Charl’s demeanor.
“He was calmer than normal,” she said. “We all said, ‘This is his day.’ ”
How little Rosalind knew the scope of that feeling, nor how quickly it would take shape. Her husband ran a 6-iron chip into the hole to birdie the first, then at the third, a sand wedge from 114 yards also found the bottom of the cup. Eagle.
Three under for three holes. Liftoff had been ignited for an epic Masters Sunday.
Back in South Africa, George Schwartzel – a pro golfer turned chicken farmer – watched the final round late into the night as it seemingly morphed into something different every 10 minutes.
From the coronation of the next best thing, Rory McIlroy, who led by four but painfully crashed, there was the electrifying return of the sport’s best thing, Tiger Woods, who birdied four of the first seven and eagled the eighth. A trio of Aussies – Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott and Jason Day – were scripting rounds of 67, 67, 68, respectively, to get into the mix, and Luke Donald, K.J. Choi and Angel Cabrera also made cameos.
In all, eight men had at least a share of the lead on a most magical Sunday. Yet Schwartzel felt it was his day.
“It’s a rare thing,” he conceded. In fact, “it had never happened before.”
Watching it unfold, Rosalind was struck by two things. One, “he’s very, very calm, certainly the calm one of us. Not a lot fazes him.” But two, after the thunderous start, her husband bogeyed the demanding par-3 fourth, then . . . nothing. “He went quiet.”
• • •
Ten seasons into his pro career, Schwartzel has surprised some, but not those who have watched his maturation.
Said Louis Martin, the one-time commissioner of the South African Sunshine Tour: “I know Charl. I’ve watched him grow up. Charl isn’t happy (with one major). That’s just the start. He wants more. He hasn’t even scratched the sides yet.”
But the man who knows Schwartzel best is mystified by some of the peripheral stuff.
“He loves the bushes. There are no airs about him,” George Schwartzel said. “When I see him ask for a Sharpie, I don’t understand. He’s just my son. It doesn’t make sense. Why would they want his autograph?”
How about George’s autograph? Isn’t he the man who sculpted this brilliant golfer?
“He gives me too much credit,” the father said. “All I did was make sure he had the proper grip, stance and posture.”
Told that Charl gives him all the credit for a syrupy swing that is the envy of his peers, George objected.
“I’m petrified of coaching Charl.” Pause. Then this: “He was a model child. He’s a good human being,” the father said. “But Charl is 90 percent his mother (Lizette) and 10 percent me.”
At 18, Schwartzel earned his European Tour card, and in 2005, just his third year on tour, he won the Dunhill Championship in his native land. He began dating Rosalind in 2007, and she was at that year’s Spanish Open when he won again.
The next year, he took the Madrid Masters, and at the end of 2008, he had risen to No. 68 in the world.
He is Afrikaan, she is English, and while they can share the two languages comfortably, Rosalind said there had to be just one plan for this pro golf venture. She was onboard with his global pursuit from the very start.
“It had to be a joint effort,” she said, “or it just doesn’t work.”
The disappointments of early exits from the Accenture in 2009 and ’10 were things they talked about, as was the exciting head-to-head match at Doral’s TPC Blue Monster in 2010 when Ernie Els beat his protege, though in some ways Schwartzel was the big winner. He vaulted high into the world rankings, got his first Masters spot, earned enough for PGA Tour membership and told himself that should he ever get in that position again, he’d know what to do.
Which fast-forwards us to late in Sunday’s final round of the 2011 Masters, Schwartzel following that bogey at the fourth with 10 consecutive pars. It’s a formula for winning U.S. Opens, not Masters, and patrons were left to seek excitement elsewhere.
“Fans weren’t watching Charl. At least we didn’t see crowds until 15, 16, 17 and 18,” Rosalind said.
• • •
Stepping to the 15th tee, Schwartzel was 10 under, one behind Scott, who had birdied 14. Behind him, McIlroy had lost it, and Cabrera had cooled. Ahead of him, Woods had shockingly gone quiet, Ogilvy had run out of holes and Donald steam.
When Scott failed to birdie 15, a door was open and, oh, how Schwartzel charged through. Four consecutive birdies to win, something that had never been done in Masters history. Indelible memories, this historic sequence:
“I felt like I was in control of it,” he said. “You don’t get that feeling very often. Fifteen was a 6-iron (from 220). With that sort of flag, you are driving straight at it.” Long, he pitched to 8 feet, made it and was tied.
Up ahead, Scott birdied the par-3 16th to regain the lead, but Schwartzel focused at the 16th flagstick, cut, as always on Sunday, tight to a pond left. “Why would you hit straight at it if you can hit into the slope and get the same result?” His 8-iron was pure, so, too, the 15-foot birdie roll to tie.
Slightly pushing his drive at 17, the South African was blocked by trees. Forced to play a little 9-iron, he told himself, “You just cannot go long; that’s really the only thing. If you go over with that flag, you have got nothing.” His little cut shot was clever. A birdie from 12 feet gave Schwartzel the lead.
For this dramatic stretch, things had changed for Rosalind Schwartzel. Fans who had dropped off or run ahead were now back. But she was saved by the savviest of golf fans. “People recognized me and they were very nice,” she said. “They moved and would let me stand in front.”
By the 18th, she had been directed to the back of the green. She saw her husband in the fairway, courtesy of a perfect drive that left him 133 yards, uphill, and again he eyed the slope behind the flagstick.
At that point, “I had put all my heart into it,” he said, and he had followed so much of Jack Nicklaus’ advice from weeks earlier. Aggressive, but smart, is what the Golden Bear had told him, and now Schwartzel had one more play in that mode. He wouldn’t bail out and settle for par; he would make the proper shot and use the slope.
Remember, it was now or never.
“It just makes sense using those sorts of things,” he said.
His pitching wedge left him 14 feet, and a fourth consecutive birdie gave him 66 to win by two.
On the 50th anniversary of Gary Player’s historic Masters victory, another South African was being triumphantly saluted. So much breathless action had taken place, but amid the roars, there was a calm quiet as Rosalind embraced Charl.
“He was in a bit of a trance,” she said. “But I told him, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ He made me cry. That’s all we could say to one another.”