Charl Becomes His Own Master

In 2009, Charl Schwartzel travelled into the heart of the Namibian desert to find something he thought he might have lost forever. Always a quiet, almost shy, individual, Schwartzel was worried that he had lost the fire in his game.
“It used to be there,” he said. “When I turned pro, it was there, and then I don’t know what I did, but it sort of disappeared.”
So the 26-year-old travelled to the town of Otjiwarango, where he stayed with one of his father’s friends. He spent two weeks alone soul-searching. For Schwartzel, such trips into the African wild have always helped him to clear his thoughts.
When he felt ready to hit golf balls again, Schwartzel walked into the local hardware store and bought a two-foot square piece of carpet. Then he took it out into the desert and began hitting balls. And slowly, he began answering all the questions he had floating around in his young head.
In 2009, Schwartzel also undertook his own African safari, touring through Africa in a 4×4 and a tent. With Rosalind, now his wife, they travelled through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia.
“I came under fire from many people who thought I should be competing in Europe rather than trekking around Africa. But this trip was something I had wanted to do for the longest time,” he said.
Schwartzel clearly found something within him on those two trips, because when he returned he took his game to a new level. With back-to-back victories in the 2010 African Open and Joburg Open, Schwartzel won his fourth Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.
It’s been this ability to do some serious thinking about his game and his career that has shaped Schwartzel into the golfer he is today. And it was evident in the composed manner in which he won The Masters.
He does not allow himself to be pressured by others, and this was nowhere more evident than in 2007. It was late on a Sunday evening when Schwartzel sat staring at his packed suitcase. He was set to board a plane to play the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson, Ariz.
But a goal he had set for himself a year earlier caused pause for a very long time before he made his decision. Then he phoned his father, George, and asked him his opinion. “You do what’s good for you,” was his father’s reply.
That’s when he decided to unpack and instead make his way to the Country Club Johannesburg for the Sunshine Tour’s final event of the 2006-07 season in a bid to win a third consecutive Order of Merit title.
“There will be plenty more Match Plays in my lifetime. The chance to win a third (straight) Order of Merit title only comes around once,” Schwartzel said at the time.
Later that year, he qualified for his first Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, and recalled one of his greatest memories of this event.
“My dad and I had come to watch the tournament when I was younger,” he said. “I was watching Ernie Els putting on the practice green. Then he left to tee off, leaving behind his golf ball. So I nipped under the rope and stole it.”
And, suddenly, after his Masters triumph, Schwartzel admits that it now all makes sense. The meticulous nature. The precision in his game. The unhurried approach to his career. And the quiet confidence that amazed sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout, who worked with Els and Retief Goosen and said he would have loved to do so with Schwartzel.
But the truth is that Schwartzel has never needed such help, preferring instead to work things through himself and in his own time.
“I’ve always worked hard and I’m very particular about things. I think having that kind of personality helped me in the Masters. Around Augusta, you need to be so precise,” he said.
And he shows a similar depth in understanding with his family, in particular his father and younger brother Attie, who is struggling through the growing pains of his own pro career. Yet Charl remains devoted to his brother’s cause, phoning him with advice and support, and worrying about whether he makes the cut in a tournament or not.
A few years ago, I watched George and Attie working on a driving range amidst the long shadows of a winter’s afternoon. George would watch for as long as it took, because that is what he does. He did it with Charl, and now with Attie.
Charl has clearly moved on. He took those sacred hours on driving ranges with his father, and went out into the world with them and won tournaments, and now his major. But the higher he goes, the farther away he moves from that driving range and the figure of his father standing behind him.
No doubt he stands on a driving range somewhere in Europe or America, and when he searches hard within for what he knows is there but which may have just slipped from the view of his inner eye, it’s then that he may be heard to whisper under his breath, “I wish dad were here.” It wouldn’t be Schwartzel if he didn’t think that way.
“And you don’t know how true that is,” says George.


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