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PGA Grand Slam of Golf: Charl Schwartzel

Charl-Schwartzel-480

PGA GRAND SLAM OF GOLF APPEARANCES: 2011
MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP WINS: 2011 Masters
WORLDWIDE VICTORIES: 7
BIRTHDATE: August 31, 1984
BIRTHPLACE: Johannesburg, South Africa
RESIDENCE: Vereeniging, South Africa
FAMILY: Wife, Rosalind
SPECIAL INTERESTS: Hunting, cars
TURNED PROFESSIONAL: 2002

By Jim McCabe, Special to PGA.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A person can learn a lot about golf while working on a chicken farm outside of Johannesburg. That is, if the owner of the farm takes time away from the chores to show you a thing or two he gleaned from his previous life.

Playing on South Africa's Sunshine Tour had proved arduous for George Schwartzel and working a farm agreed with him. So years ago, the decision to change his career path was an easy one, made even easier by Schwartzel's ability to regain his amateur status.

His passion for golf would go with him to the chicken farm and that meant it could be passed on to his sons.

"My dad with my golf. He put endless time into it," Charl Schwartzel said.

But while George Schwartzel may have taught his son that the swing should be kept simple -- "right grip, right stance, rhythm, posture, balance," Charl said – he told him that professional golf was a difficult road and patience was paramount.

Nowhere did that play out as it did in the major championships, where the young Schwartzel was humbled.

Turning professional in 2002, Schwartzel's first 11 appearances in the majors resulted in seven missed cuts, though at every swing he felt he learned. He made the cut at the 2009 PGA Championship, then in his Masters debut in 2010, which was followed by a T-16 in Graeme McDowell's U.S. Open triumph at Pebble Beach.

Then on a calm Sunday last July, Charl Schwartzel celebrated a fourth straight cut made in the majors, only his share of 14th was overshadowed by something truly festive — his best friend from South Africa, Louis Oosthuizen, had won the Claret Jug in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Schwartzel was among the many South Africans who gathered at the legendary Jigger Inn off the 17th hole of the Old Course, all of them saluting Oosthuizen. When he pulled alongside Andrew (Chubby) Chandler, their manager, and gushed about Oosthuizen, Schwartzel got a hand on his shoulder and some inspiration.

"I told Charl, 'Don't worry, your time will come,'" Chandler said.

Fact is, Schwartzel himself was overwhelmed after becoming the first winner to clinch the green jacket with birdies on each of the final four holes. The heroics completed an inward 32, a round of 66 and a 14-under-par 274 total that was two clear of Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day. What's more, it was a noteworthy way to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of compatriot Gary Player, who in 1961 became the first person born outside the United States to win the green jacket.
Said the 26-year-old Schwartzel, "I don't even know where to start."

How about the first hole of the final round — Schwartzel pitching in for birdie with a 6-iron from short and right of the green. Or two holes after that, when the young South African holed a sand wedge from 114 yards for an eagle 2. But let's be honest, to understand what elevated the 75th Masters to epic proportions, we must start at the end.

Enveloped in pulsating sunshine and sultry heat, it was a final round that brought the saying, "The Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday," to another level.

Of course, it turned out that way for a painful reason — the meltdown of 22-year-old Rory McIlroy. From four shots clear of Schwartzel, Day, Angel
Cabrera and K.J. Choi to start the final round, the young man from Northern Ireland threw open the door and let the crowd enter the fray. And enter
they did with seven others in addition to McIlroy at one point or another having at least a share of the finalround lead.

Tiger Woods, included.

Yes, today's most scrutinized and accomplished player showed that Augusta National somehow is the elixir for all that ails him. When he birdied the par-3 sixth and eagled the par-5 eighth to shoot 31 on the first nine, Woods was tied for the lead at 10 under. One could almost envision a fifth green jacket headed his way, only Woods, who would shoot 67 and finish T-4, three-putted for bogey at the 12th, which enabled McIlroy to get back in front. At 10 under, McIlroy stood on the tee at No. 10, but minutes later he stood where no Masters competitor had ever gone, so short and so crookedly left the golf audience was introduced to cabins only members knew existed. With a triple-bogey at 10, a bogey at 11, and at 12 one of the ugliest four-putt double bogeys you'll ever see, McIlroy was through. His 80 matched Ken Venturi's effort in 1956 for the highest score by a 54-hole leader.

McIlroy gone, Scott (67) stepped into the lead, only to be chased by fellow Aussies Day (68) and Geoff Ogilvy (67), though before you could say, "I'll have a bloomin' onion," Schwartzel ended a stretch of 10 consecutive pars with a birdie at 15, then another at 16, to tie Scott as the crescendos bounced off the Georgia pines from Amen Corner to the clubhouse.

"It must have been unbelievable to watch on TV," said Ogilvy, who did just that in the clubhouse as he saw his 10 under total get passed by Day and Scott, then blitzed by Schwartzel's birdies at 17 and 18. "They'll be showing the replays of this one for a while."

For as long as they do, South Africans will have reason to choke back tears, be they chicken farmers who watched the unforgettable action on television in the middle of the night, or billionaires like Johann Rupert, who watched in person at Augusta National.

"I'm very proud," said Rupert, arguably the most influential supporter of golf in his country and across the European Tour. "This is good for our country, good for our golf."

But it was best for an unheralded young man with such a brilliantly coached swing that he handled the golf part flawlessly; what challenged him was the human element.

"So many people, so many roars that go up," Schwartzel said. "That's the biggest thing. You've got to breathe. Sometimes you forget to breathe."

Which reminds us: A scintillating 75th Masters is over. Time to exhale. Especially you, Charl Schwartzel.

Jim McCabe, previously a longtime writer with The Boston Globe, currently is a senior writer for Golfweek magazine.

This story appears courtesy of the 2011 PGA Grand Slam of Golf Official Journal.