05 Apr 2023

Charl Schwartzel – My Masters memories

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 tournament 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 a birdie blitz on the last four holes, to seal a two-stroke triumph over Australian duo Jason Day and Adam Scott.

“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.”

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?”

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, I wasn’t thinking about things that could go wrong. I was just very robotic, I was just walking and hitting the next shot, then the next shot and so on. 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. 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.”

Schwartzel returns to the scene of his greatest triumph once again this week as he looks to become the 18th player to slip on the Green Jacket on more than one occasion. Victory for a player ranked outside the world’s top 180 seems unlikely, but with a sprinkling of Masters magic ingrained into him, you can never say never.

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