April 11th 2011
Courtesy GolfWeek Magazine
AUGUSTA, Ga. – George Schwartzel never required his son to work on the family’s chicken farm outside of Johannesburg. Charl Schwartzel worked in the fields because he enjoyed the quiet and solitude, the same reason he likes to pilot his private plane.
“It was never a job for me,” Schwartzel said. “I like working with my hands. I like to sweat. There’s nothing like early mornings on the farm.”
That work ethic was on display again recently at the Honda Classic. After a lengthy range session, Schwartzel cools his hands, calloused by his rough cord grips, in a large cooler. Most players prefer softer grips, but most tour players wouldn’t perform manual chores by choice, either.
Come Sunday afternoon, Schwartzel will be laboring in one of golf’s loudest, most claustrophobic arenas. He is four shots behind leader Rory McIlroy after shooting 68 Saturday at Augusta National, and will play with K.J. Choi in the tournament’s second-to-last pairing.
Schwartzel scrambled his way around Augusta National’s back nine to stay in contention.
After driving in the rough on the 505-yard, par-4 11th, Schwartzel got up-and-down from 94 yards for par. Another wayward drive on the reachable par-5 13th necessitated a lay-up to 193 yards. He hit the green and two-putted for par. He got up-and-down from 100 yards for birdie on the par-5 15th after yet another drive into the trees.
He could’ve drawn closer to the lead, but missed birdie putts of 12 feet and 10 feet on the next two holes.
“I stuck in there really well when I was in trouble, took my penalties and made really good saves and ... kept myself in it,” said Schwartzel, the son of a former Sunshine Tour player. “It was always going to be a tough day.”
George Schwartzel played the Sunshine Tour for a couple of years in the late 1970s before regaining his amateur status. After the elder Schwartzel’s pro career ended, the family moved to the farm in Deneysville where his mother, Lizette, grew up. The open space had its benefits: there was a field where George and his boys could hit balls. Schwartzel’s brother, Attie, plays on the Sunshine Tour.
George Schwartzel helped his son build a simple, technically-sound golf swing that is lacking in quirks. He remains his son’s only teacher.
“When your dad’s as good as that, you tend to get the basics right very early,” said Schwartzel’s manager, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler. “His basics are great. He’s got a very pure golf swing.”
Charl seeks advice from his father only when he’s home in South Africa. His father doesn’t travel outside their home country often, and they don’t use email to trade tips and video. Schwartzel likes it that way.
“I don’t make it complicated,” he said. “It’s difficult enough as it is.”
Schwartzel may be making just his second career Masters start – he finished 30th last year – but he’s able to draw on some good advice. Jack Nicklaus shared his strategies for playing Augusta National with Schwartzel at lunch at last year’s Els for Autism charity golf tournament.
“We started talking about hunting, and he took me through the way he played 18 holes at Augusta,” Schwartzel said.
Schwartzel, a six-time winner on the European Tour, is No. 29 in the Official World Golf Ranking at just 26 years old. He first gained notice in the States with a second-place showing to his mentor, Ernie Els, at last year’s WGC-CA Championship.
That finish, along with a top-30 finish in each of the four majors, helped Schwartzel earn his PGA Tour card. He has been staying at a rented house at Old Palm Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., since February.
“It’s been coming,” Chandler said of Schwartzel’s performance at Augusta.
Schwartzel is looking to win on the 50th anniversary of South African Gary Player’s first Masters victory, which also was the first win at Augusta National for an international player. The internationals are celebrating that anniversary by dominating the leaderboard. The top seven players through 54 holes here hail from outside the United States.
“I’ll take it even if it wasn’t his anniversary,” Schwartzel said. To win a major is never easy, but that’s fine with Schwartzel. He embraces hard work.