watched his tee shot at the 15th hole bounce barely into the rough during last
Thursday's opening round of the U.S. Open. Barely into the rough? At Oakmont,
that was the golfing equivalent of Texas Hold 'Em's all-in. Hit a shot anywhere
in the deep stuff, and you had a problem. "It was the worst lie I've seen
in my life," Schwartzel said, laughing one of those
it-wasn't-actually-funny laughs. The upshot? "I hit a full-blooded lob
wedge that went about 10 yards." � That was Schwartzel's unofficial Welcome
to Oakmont moment, when the course first landed a blow that drew blood. And the
15th, which was Schwartzel's sixth hole of the day because he started on 10,
wasn't through with him. After he hit his third shot to the middle of the
green, about 25 feet from the hole, his par-saving putt all but waved bye-bye
as it picked up speed and raced 15�feet past the cup.
"I left my sunglasses on," said an embarrassed Schwartzel. "I
didn't see the slope well and hit it completely the wrong speed."
He missed the
comebacker, making a double bogey that put him four over par. That's not how
you want to start the U.S. Open, especially when you're the guy many
aficionados predict will be the game's Next Big Thing. From that point on,
however, Schwartzel played like a budding star, salvaging a five-over�75
and then shooting a 73 on Friday to make the cut with two shots to spare.
"It's nice to make the cut in the Open," he said, "but that's not
my goal." Schwartzel kept battling on the weekend with rounds of 73 and 76,
and finished 30th, second among the South Africans, behind Tim Clark (17th) but
ahead of Ernie Els and Rory Sabbatini (who were tied at 51st).
A shy, soft-spoken
Johannesburg native who turned pro almost five years ago, the 22-year-old
Schwartzel has drawn comparisons with Els. Although Els is three inches taller
and at least 50 pounds heavier than the rail-thin, six-foot-tall Schwartzel,
both players have classic, flowing swings and easygoing personalities and have
had successful seasons in Europe. Schwartzel remains in stealth mode in the
U.S. even though he won the Spanish Open in April and climbed to 46th in the
World Ranking, which qualified him for the Players Championship (a 58th-place
finish), the Memorial (62nd), next month's British Open and the Bridgestone
Invitational in August. He passed on the Accenture Match Play in
February-- Schwartzel would've drawn Els in the first round--to return to South
Africa and lock up his third straight money title on the Sunshine tour, where
he has two career victories. "No South African had ever done it," he
says of the three-peat. "I had a chance to be part of history. There will
be more Match Plays for me."
If Schwartzel can
tag on a few more high finishes between now and the PGA Championship, he might
even make what is shaping up to be a terrific International team in the
Presidents Cup. After the Open he stood 19th on the points list. "Charl has
always been destined to be a great player," says his coach, Pete Cowen, who
also works with world No.�7 Henrik Stenson of Sweden. "I first saw him
in Durban when he was 15 and playing in the South African Open. At 16 he had a
plus-six [six�under par] handicap." Says Ricci Roberts, Schwartzel's
veteran caddie, who used to loop for Els, "He has a pure swing and a good
head on his shoulders. He's quite impressive."
Schwartzel is one
of four young South Africans making noise on the European tour this year. The
others are Anton Haig, Richard Sterne and Louis Oosthuizen. Haig, 20, is a 6'
4" bomber who won the Johnnie Walker Classic in March. Sterne, 25, took the
Wales Open earlier this month, while Oosthuizen, also 25, has a pair of
fourth-place finishes and is 47th on the European money list. The foursome
lives in Manchester, England, and they could be a fivesome soon if Charl's
brother, 20-year-old Adriaan, turns pro as expected later this year.
"Anton is 30
yards longer than the other guys and has ridiculous potential," says Chubby
Chandler, whose International Sports Management agency represents Schwartzel.
"Richard is long, but not as long as Anton, and has a very assured way of
doing things. But Charl is the player who's going to get there in the end.
They're almost like a rat pack. One steps up and wins, then another, then
another. They're growing up together, and they're going up together."
Four has an understanding: When one of them wins, he buys dinner for the
others. After his victory in Spain--his first win on the European
tour--Schwartzel cheaped out by taking his pals to a low-budget Chinese joint.
But, he says, "they were nice to me [about it]."
Why not? There
figure to be a lot more meals on Charl's tab.
Read Inside Golf
by Gary Van Sickle at GOLF.com.