Charl Schwartzel conflicted by loyalty
NORTON, Mass. -- Not long after Charl Schwartzel won the Masters in April, he was back in South Africa in his hometown of Vereeniging on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The 27-year-old son of a local chicken farmer had come home to a hero's welcome as the sixth South African to win a major championship. At a local gas station one afternoon, he fell into a casual conversation with a young black man. As the man pumped gas into Schwartzel's car, he began to peer into the golfer's face with a knowing look.
"You look familiar," the man said.
"I don't think I am," said Schwartzel, who presumed the man didn't know anything about golf.
"No, no," said the man. "You're the man with the green jacket. You won that green jacket."
This has been a typical encounter for Schwartzel in South Africa since April when he birdied the last four holes at the Augusta National Golf Club to win the Masters.
Schwartzel arrives this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship, after a trip home, as only one of two eligible golfers to skip the Barclays last week. (J.B. Holmes is the other after undergoing non-life threatening brain surgery.) Schwartzel said the event didn't fit into his schedule and thought it was too much golf.
Playing in only his 14th PGA Tour event of the year and ranked 28th in the playoff standings, Schwartzel isn't the most educated student of the four-tournament series.
"I don't know what's going on in the FedEx Cup," admitted Schwartzel, who after this week still needs to play one more tournament in the U.S. to reach the 15-tournament minimum to keep his eligibility on the PGA Tour. "I just know the end result.
"I think that it can get so complicated that it can actually not work out for you. There are things that you can't control. The only thing that I can control is to play the best that I can."
Since his Masters victory, Schwartzel has played some steady golf around the world. In 2011's major championships, he had the lowest aggregate score of all 11 players who made all four cuts after a ninth at the U.S. Open, a 16th at the British Open and a 12th at the PGA Championship. But he hasn't been in the winner's circle since his triumph in Augusta.
"I feel like I've been playing great," said Schwartzel, the 12th-ranked golfer in the world. "I mean at the PGA, for example, my ball landed on fairway grass four times off the tee and I ended up in the water and I made double bogey every single time. There are lots of little things that could go your way. But I'm not looking for excuses.
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"Your expectations rise a little bit. You don't want to disappoint. You have to perform. You can fall into the trap of thinking that you have raised your bar too high. It could work to a negative effect. I think that I have stayed pretty humble and tried to continue what got me the win at Augusta. And that's probably why I continued to play consistent."
Before Augusta, Schwartzel was not well known in the U.S., but he was a proven commodity on the European Tour, where he has won seven times since he joined in 2003. He has played mostly in the shadow of his more famous countrymen: Gary Player, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
"It's a tough task to follow in what they have done," he said. "You do feel like you could have been overlooked, but that's the beauty of this game, you control your own destiny."
In 2011, he joined the PGA Tour but his heart is with the European Tour, where he is ranked second in their season-long Race to Dubai -- the equivalent of the FedEx Cup. He got off to a very strong start to his European Tour season with a win and three other top-five finishes at co-sanctioned events on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa.
"I don't want to turn my back on the place where I started," Schwartzel said. "In Europe is where I played most of my golf. I have to support the tour.
"But I love playing in America. I'm going to have to really look at my U.S. schedule closely next year because it's difficult to compete if you're only playing a minimum number of events."
Yet he got his globetrotting ways honestly. Beginning with Player and later with Els and Goosen, the best South African golfers have always played schedules that took them from the Sunshine Tour in South Africa to tours in the States, Europe, Australia and Asia.
"I don't know where I live full-time," Schwartzel said. "I have a home in South Africa. It's the place where I rest the best."
In mid-November, Schwartzel will play in his first Presidents Cup on the International team as they face the Americans in Australia.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "It's going to be very exciting. I don't think I was ever the best at match play, but it's something I like."
Starting on Friday at the Deutsche Bank, he is looking to get into contention early. He he likes the TPC Boston layout.
"The course is in fantastic condition," Schwartzel said. "I feel like it's a course that you could make quite a few birdies. The fairways are soft and the greens are firming up."
But don't look for him to grind hard if he doesn't have a chance to win come Monday afternoon.
"If you're playing from back in the pack, you're just playing for a spot and trying to find something for the next week," he said. "And that's not really why you want to play golf. You want to be out there competing in the tournaments to see if you can win.
"The more I'm in contention the more I feel like I can perform my best."
Yet based on his consistency around the world this year, it would be a surprise to see him not battling on Monday for the $1.4 million first prize.
"I long for the pressure," Schwartzel said. "I feel like the more pressure I get, the better I perform. A lot of times I would complain to my caddie and say that I didn't have any drive. I always need a bit of pressure to get me really going. It makes you concentrate harder. I just seem to play better."
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com
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