Imagine if one of golf’s superstars had birdied the final four holes to win the Masters Tournament. The buzz might never die.
When Charl Schwartzel did it to win the 2011 Masters, it was greeted with amazement. The appreciation for his accomplishment didn’t have staying power, however, at least among the American public.
Schwartzel, who is trying to become the fourth player in Masters history to win consecutive green jackets, isn’t concerned that he might not have received his due for being the first Masters champion to win the way he did.
“It is what it is,” Schwartzel said. “I’m not a guy that worries about those sort of things. I don’t look into it that deeply. For me, I won. I won my first major championship, and especially the way that I did it.”
That Schwartzel birdied four in a row at the end to win the green jacket is impressive enough. But it came during a wild final round during which seven other players held at least a share of the lead.
“I think every player holds that one up pretty highly, respectwise,” said Geoff Ogilvy, who tied for fourth place. “I don’t think there is a player on tour who doesn’t think that was one of the best finishes ever. It was unbelievable.”
The 2011 Masters is considered a classic, as much perhaps for the overall drama of the day as for what Schwartzel accomplished.
“History will get kinder and kinder to him on that one,” Ogilvy said of Schwartzel. “I don’t think anyone is going to win a major again birdieing the final four holes.”
Paul Casey remembers being in a car listening to the late drama of Sunday’s round unfold. He had already signed for his final-round 71 and was on his way out of town.
“He birdied the last four holes!” Casey says now. “That’s unbelievable. To birdie the last four holes with how tight it was … They were pretty much announcing so-and-so was going to win the green jacket … no, so-and-so is.
“I remember at one point driving down the road and (Golf Channel announcer) Kelly Tilghman saying, ‘It looks like it’s going to be shrimp on the barbie for the Champions Dinner next year’ because she thought Adam Scott was going to win.”
In the past 51 weeks, Schwartzel has felt the newfound esteem of his peers.
“There’s a mutual respect between the players,” he said. “By winning it, you gain a huge amount of respect from everyone.”
Why, then, didn’t Schwartzel get more credit for what he did? Why didn’t the public embrace him more? Part of the reason was he nearly disappeared from the consciousness of the American fans. The night of his victory at Augusta National, he was on a flight to Malaysia for a European Tour event. He didn’t return to play in the States for more than a month.
Fans also didn’t know much about Schwartzel before he made his historic run.
“Maybe it was because it was so confusing and there was so little time to take in that Charl was about to win the Masters,” Casey said. “Maybe that had something to do with it. Charl is very quiet. He’s not as outgoing as some of the guys out here. He’s one of the nicest guys on the range. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy. It’s who people latch on to and who they don’t. You can’t predict it.”
Said Ogilvy: “It’s hard to make an impact in the media or public eye sometimes in golf. There are a few guys who seem to take most of the attention.”
Schwartzel said the spotlight placed on a select few is nothing new.
“It’s always been like that,” he said. “Tiger’s (Woods) always been popular. Rory (McIlroy) has always been popular. So it’s nothing new for anyone.”
McIlroy’s final-round meltdown and his graciousness in defeat might have also taken some of the attention away from Schwartzel’s fine play.
McIlroy started the day with a four-shot lead, but shot 80 to finish tied for 15th place.
“I think a lot of guys did make a big thing about Rory’s collapse,” Schwartzel said. “If you think about it, I still shot 66. He still would have had to have shot 69 to have beaten me. People don’t seem to look at that.”
Last year’s victory could make it easier for Schwartzel this week.
“It does you so much good self‑confidence wise when you are out here,” he said. “Now all of a sudden you took away the effect of trying to show them who you were on the golf course and still trying to play good golf. That’s taken care of and now you can focus on playing the game and almost feel like people are willing you on. If they don’t know you, why are they going to will you on?”