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Schwartzel : An Awesome Talent

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece on Charl Schwartzel, South Africa's rising star on the European Tour

Posted Jan 18, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

schwartzel

During a visit to Sun City in late January 2005, I found myself sitting with two very gifted young South African golfers on the terrace of the Lost City Course.  I knew of Louis Oosthuizen from his victory in the Irish Amateur Open Strokeplay Championship at Royal Dublin in 2002, but this was my first meeting with Charl Schwartzel, who happened to capture the Brabazon Trophy for the English Amateur Open Strokeplay title, on the same weekend.

Even in late afternoon, we were under a burning sun and looking through its glare at 20-year-old Schwartzel, I remembered Darren Clarke's description of him as "an awesome talent."  One can only imagine what Clarke was thinking at Royal Johannesburg last weekend in his unavailing attempt at catching Schwartzel in the Joburg Open.

It's always fascinating to see rich, young talent deliver on its promise, if only for the fact that it happens so rarely.  For every Schwartzel, there are countless broken dreams as players with enormous potential somehow get lost in the drive to make it at the top-end of a notoriously demanding game.  I'm reminded of the great Peter Thomson who, when told of a particularly gifted youngster with talent to burn, would ask simply: "What does he do with the other eight hours?"  Very often, it's how a player occupies himself during his waking hours away from the golf course and the practice range, which will ultimately determine his career prospects. 

Schwartzel seems to have used the time most efficiently. After that Brabazon Trophy triumph, he became the third youngest player to secure his European Tour card through the Qualifying School when, aged 18 years and 81 days, he claimed 24th place behind Sweden's Per Nyman (remember him?) in November 2002.  By the time of our meeting at Sun City, he had gone on to achieve a European Tour breakthrough with victory in the dunhill championship at Leopard Creek in December 2004, after a play-off with England's Neil Cheetham.

And on the weekend before I headed up to Sun City, I was at Durban CC to see Schwartzel secure the order of merit on the Sunshine Tour as joint runner-up to Tim Clark in the South African Open.  From Bobby Locke to Gary Player and from Bobby Cole to current giants, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, South Africa has produced the winners of 18 major championships.  And you instinctively felt here was another one, given a little time.

Highlight of 2007 for Schwartzel was victory in the Spanish Open where, significantly, he had Els's former caddie, Ricci Roberts, on his bag.  The Madrid Masters followed a year later when he displayed considerable character in overcoming a shoulder injury and a debilitating virus to finish three strokes clear of Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez.  As he put it:  "I ground it out all week and then managed to keep it going on the final day."  Precisely the sort of attitude we expect from our champions.

At 25 and with back-to-back victories this month, Schwartzel seems destined to become one of the leading lights of the European Tour.  It would be nice to think that I saw it all taking shape on that January afternoon at Sun City, but that would be somewhat fanciful.  What I do remember, however, was the quiet determination of a player who seemed to be totally at peace with how he occupied himself during those "other eight hours."

- Dermot Gilleece

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