Masters champion Charl Schwartzel first showed his potential on a big stage last year in the World Golf Championship at Doral when he went toe-to-toe with Ernie Els until losing ground at the end.
As the two South Africans shook hands on the 18th green, Els took note of the $850,000 that Schwartzel received as runner-up and said to his protege, “Congratulations. That’s your tour card for the U.S.”
GOLF IN SOUTH AFRICA
The activity involving South Africa's place on the global golf calendar is the latest indication of the growth of high-profile professional golf around the world.
Schwartzel became a PGA Tour member this year, as did U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. For all the talk about Americans being without a major for the first time in 17 years, their tour remains as strong as ever.
With few exceptions -- including Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, the top two players in the world ranking -- the PGA Tour continues to attract the best from all over the world.
That much appears to be lost on the commissioner of the Sunshine Tour in South Africa.
“The internationals now hold the power in golf,” Gareth Tindall said Tuesday in announcing a new World Golf Championship for South Africa. “For how long, we don’t know.”
Part of Tindall was speaking from national pride, and rightfully so.
South Africans historically have had to travel the most and the greatest distance to develop their games on a worldwide scale. Yet they now have won two of the last three majors, and they have five major champions in the last nine years, a list that includes Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman.
All of them are PGA Tour members now, but it’s important to remember where they started. So when PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem says it’s good for golf that other tours are strong, that’s because it makes his tour even stronger.
There is speculation that a new WGC for South Africa was the product of a compromise.
The global schedule in golf is getting so crowded that the South African Open was placed during the same week as the Presidents Cup in Australia. This became a problem when five South Africans occupied the first six spots in the Presidents Cup standing -- all five placing among the top 10 in their national open, with Els as the defending champion.
That led to threats the South Africans wouldn’t play the Presidents Cup.
Some questions remained unanswered.
The Presidents Cup announced its dates -- Nov. 17-20 -- more than a year before the South African Open said it would be played the same time. Why would the South African Open take that spot on the schedule unless it knew it could use that to its advantage in trying to land a World Golf Championship?
Els was furious in January when he learned of the conflict. Why wouldn’t South Africa have spoken to him first?
The date clash was resolved at the Masters when Sunshine Tour officials agreed to move the South African Open one week later, swapping dates with another South African event.
It also picked up a World Golf Championship, although some critical details have yet to be filled in. One is the sponsorship of a tournament with a $10 million purse. The other is when it would be played.
The International Federation of PGA Tours met last week at the Masters to sort out this mess.
“The sense was that a World Golf Championship event in South Africa would be a good thing if it could be worked out in terms of sponsorship and a date, and we gave them the OK to look into it,” said Ed Moorhouse, the PGA Tour’s co-chief operating officer. “There’s no secret it’s a pretty busy time of the year. We still have a lot of elements that need to be worked out, not the least of which is the date.”
Tindall said he was looking at the first week of December, which presents only more problems. That’s the date of Chevron World Challenge that Tiger Woods hosts in California, not to mention the big-money Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.
“They will have to move it, unfortunately for them,” Tindall said, referring to the Chevron. He said Woods’ event moved opposite the Nedbank last year without anyone speaking to South African officials, “so I suppose it’s a bit of payback time.”
Most new tournaments try to attract Woods. Tindall sounds like he’s doing all he can to keep Woods away.
Greg McLaughlin, who runs the Chevron World Challenge, said he would consider a date change, though the options are limited.
“It’s a very ideal date for us, the first weekend in December, and it works well for the network, our sponsor and all the players,” he said. “We’d look at other options, but there’s really not many options around that time frame.”
This is where golf has to be careful.
It’s great to see the game moving around the world, especially with so many great players coming from so many countries. Sunday at the Masters was a snapshot of modern golf -- players from every continent where golf is played atop the leaderboard at some point during the final round at Augusta National.
But it won’t work without cooperation.
The last two months of the year are busier than ever. Europe concludes its season in Asia with the Race to Dubai, Australia is in the prime of its season, Japan has some of its biggest events, and the World Cup is held every other year in China. Is there room for two World Golf Championships a month apart separated by 7,000 miles on opposite sides of the hemisphere?
Schwartzel said last week that while America is big, “the world is bigger.”
But the more golf grows around the world, the more crowded it gets.