10 Apr 2020

Charl Schwartzel Exclusive – 2011 Masters Memories

By Thomas Wragg

Every golfer dreams of being presented with the iconic Green Jacket in front of previous winners and tens of thousands of patrons at The Masters. One man who realised that dream was Charl Schwartzel, who, in 2011 produced one of the most memorable conclusions in recent memory over the hallowed turf of Augusta National.

 The South African, who at the time was ranked 29th in the world, was making only his second appearance at The Masters having finished 30th on his debut outing in 2010. But the Johannesburg-born player looked as comfortable as a seasoned veteran as he started the final day tied second alongside three players on eight under, four strokes off Rory McIlroy’s overnight lead.

McIlroy looked destined to seal his first Major title having led for all three rounds but a back nine meltdown led to a round of eight over par which threw the tournament wide open. Schwartzel grabbed the bull by the horns and shot an electric 66, which included birdie blitz on the last four holes, to seal a two-stroke triumph over Australian duo Jason Day and Adam Scott.

Schwartzel became the third South African to win The Masters with his triumph in 2011

“I’ve been sitting in my house a lot this week looking at my trophy,” said Schwartzel, when I gave him a call on what would have been the first round of this year’s tournament.

“I never take it out of the safe, but this week I’ve got it out and it brings back some amazing memories. For me, winning a Major was a dream come true and The Masters at Augusta was the biggest dream I had. So, it was as good as it gets. And in the fashion that it happened on that Sunday with so many guys having the lead and then losing the lead again – it was a very exciting day and to come through and win it the way that I did will stay with me forever.

“Rory got off to a poor start but I got off to a great start – and so did Tiger. But by the time we were a couple of hours into the final round there was a group of players within two or three shots who all could have won the tournament. And to have that finish, with that electrifying feeling of making all those birdies with the crowds going wild, all over the golf course – I get goosebumps now talking about it.

“It really is something that I would love to experience again because there’s nothing like it. People ask ‘what’s it like’ but there’s no way of explaining it unless you’ve felt it. And I want that feeling again. Walking up the 18th fairway with a one shot lead, knowing you have left it 15 feet from the hole was the best feeling of my life.”

Rory’s collapse

McIlroy held a four shot lead heading into the final round before his back nine meltdown saw him finish 15th

Despite Schwartzel’s heroics on the Sunday, the tournament is largely remembered for McIlroy throwing away the title with a nightmare run of triple-bogey, bogey and double bogey from the 10th.

“Everyone talks about Rory losing it, but it’s a little far off the mark,” he said. “He’s a hell of a player, he’s phenomenal. So, for him, maybe it feels like he shouldn’t be losing four shot leads. But it’s Augusta on a Sunday. It’s hard and he’s human.

“We all played well and he had a poor day. I’m sure that it will haunt him, but he’s so good that he’s likely to have a few more that haunt him because he’s going to give himself so many chances. Who really knows?

“In this game, we lose a lot more times than we win, and we go through a lot more pain. So, when you get those wins, you must embrace them and celebrate. But of course, it’s never nice to see someone lose a tournament, especially with Rory as he was in the spotlight. Yes he was four ahead – but if I didn’t win, either Adam or Jason would have won.”

Mental toughness

Major Championship victories require all facets of the game to be firing for four grueling days against the best-of-the-best. But just as pivotal is the mental side of controlling your nerves. Competing in front of packed galleries and knowing that millions around the globe are glued to the TV can make even the world’s best crumble under the pressure.

“Mental strength is a key component for success on any golf course for any tournament, not just at Augusta,” he said. “But that year that I won, was the most level my head has been and the least that I was thinking about things that could go wrong. I was just very robotic, like I was just walking and hitting the next shot, then the next shot and so on. And I think it might have helped that the leaderboard kept changing during the final round because I wasn’t bothered to look at it because it was all over the show.

“I just kept my head down and did my thing. I just hit my shots, and I was hitting it so well. The first time I got out of that ‘robotic’ routine, was walking from the 17th to the 18th tee because then all of a sudden, I noticed that a lot of the guys had finished and were in the clubhouse. And I saw the leaderboard there and Rory and Angel Cabrera behind me were way back.

“I was leading and Adam and Jason were finishing up on 18. When I was standing on the 18th tee I was very nervous. It was everything I had dreamed of as a kid and there I was, living it. In my mind, I was thinking that a par would do it. The thought of ‘par to win the Green Jacket’ was flashing around in my mind.

“That was a nerve-wracking drive and I took a minute to gather myself. But that was a good example of getting ahead of myself and mentally what it can do to you.”

‘Meant to be’

Schwartzel’s victory also saw him become just the third South African to win the Masters on the 50th anniversary of Gary Player’s breakthrough win for a non-American at Augusta. Worldwide Golf columnist, Player, also won in 1974 and 1978, while Trevor Immelman triumphed in 2008.

“It’s thanks to guys in the media that pull up information like that that I know about it because I had no idea,” he joked when asked if he knew that it was the 50th anniversary of Player’s first Masters triumph. “That was the last thing on my mind. But with the way it was, and the way it is now – it almost felt like maybe it was meant to be. It’s one of those stories.

Gary Player won the first of his three Masters titles in 1961

“Gary gave me a hand-written note and left it in my locker before the final round, and then afterwards we spoke, he phoned and congratulated me. We’ve spoken about it quite a few times, especially at the Champions Dinners. He’s very good with those sort of things.”

Little Regrets

Having won a maiden Major Championship, you’d expect most players to enjoy the moment and take next week off. But Schwartzel was scheduled to compete in the Maybank Malaysia Championship and decided to stick to his word and take part. A decision he now regrets.

“I think looking back I perhaps shouldn’t have honoured my commitment to play in Malaysia the following week,” he said. “I would have liked to have spent that week going over the win and soaking it all in. Instead, I went straight into competing in another golf tournament with a 12-hour time difference. So, I didn’t have the best celebration and in hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone, and everyone would have understood. But I committed and I honoured it.

“Maybe a few years later when I sat back and watched some video clips is when it really sunk in with me – what I achieved that day.  That year that I won, because I switched on again to playing straight after the win, I wasn’t used to all the attention that came with it – the press conferences and the expectation. And I think that happens to a lot of first-time winners.”

“Knowing what I know now, I probably would have done things a bit differently. That first year was a blur. Only a year later when there was a new champion in Bubba Watson I started relaxing and the focus was on him, then I saw the highlights of my win one day and I was like ‘wow, that was amazing’ and then it hit me, the scale of what I’d accomplished.”

South African BBQ

Fast-forward a year and it was Schwartzel’s turn to take part in one of the most unique traditions in golf – the Champions Dinner. The most exclusive dinner in golf has been an annual Tuesday night tradition since 1952 when Ben Hogan, the 1951 winner, suggested and hosted the first dinner.

Since then the winner from the previous year acts as host and selects a menu for all previous Green jacket winners. Schwartzel stuck to his roots with a menu that included an authentic South African BBQ paired with some of the country’s finest wine offerings.

“I don’t know if it’s just the chefs there being nice to me – but they said it was one of the top three of all time from their point of view, so I was very happy with that judgment,” he says while laughing.  “Everybody at the table loved it. They all finished their food – some asked for seconds. And as a host you like to see that. You don’t want to see people leaving a whole plate of uneaten food there to be taken away.

“Of the dinners I’ve been to since my win there’s not been a bad one. Everybody’s been good at serving food. They’ve all been different but they’ve all been spot on. I would have struggled with Sandy Lyle’s haggis back in the late 80s, that’s the one that I would have probably passed on.

“To be part of the history of The Masters as a winner and invited to play each year and sit down at the champion’s dinner, it’s hard to explain how good that feels. To be able to go back and play it until they ask me to stop is an amazing thought and is something I’ll cherish. I was so sad this week because what normally would be taking place isn’t, and we’ve got to wait a few months for it. And that Champions Dinner is a very special few hours that we have.”

Rescheduled Masters

Schwartzel will have to wait until November until he can tuck into Tiger Woods’ Champions Dinner with Augusta National confirming this year’s tournament will take place from November 12-15. The drive up the iconic Magnolia Lane will certainly look a bit different than usual but Schwartzel is looking forward to the change.

“Having the Masters in November this year will be strange because you assume that they will have the 2021 Masters in April, so it will be a really short turnaround for the winner,” he said. “It’s going to be different, that’s for sure. But sometimes a little bit of a change like that is good. The course is going to play a lot harder. It’s going to be colder so it will play longer.

“I’ve played there in February when it’s really cold and it can be almost unplayable from the back tees. In April with the warm temperatures, the ball goes a bit further, but in November it will be a monster of a course, very difficult. And it won’t be in full bloom so it will be interesting to see what it will be like in November.”

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