During the SA Open at Randpark Golf Club, a few realities struck me …
One of which occured on the 9th fairway in the practice round. I was playing with Erik van Rooyen when a SuperSport cameraman rolled up in a golf cart to capture some footage.
Our tee shots were about 10 yards apart on the fairway and I was first to play. My approach was purely struck from 115 yards and the ball spun to within three feet of the hole, and I turned around to give a cheesy grin to the cameraman. But instead, he had chosen to film Erik reading his yardage book. It was a friendly reminder that I am without question still one of ‘the other guys’ on Tour.
The Sunshine and European Tour co-sanctioned events always present players like myself with a mixture of emotions. You know that by stringing together four great rounds, you could change your life and begin living the dream of playing on the European Tour full time. However, you also look around when you’re on the driving range or putting green (or 10 yards apart on the 9th fairway) and realise you are competing against the guys you look up to, and even cheer for, every other week of the year. I do find it weird going from being in the zone during a putting drill one minute, to taking a selfie with my favourite player as he walks across the green the next.
Earlier in the practice round that player was Charl Schwartzel. I resisted the urge to take a selfie. Instead we chatted about David Leadbetter, as Charl’s been spending time with him and Nick Price in Florida as he prepares for his PGA Tour bounce-back. I brought it up, as Charl was wearing a Leadbetter-inspired cowboy hat and my bag, with a Leadbetter Golf Academy logo on the front, was only six feet away.
The last thing we chatted about on the putting green was a memory from nearly 20 years ago, when we played a singles match against each other at Chapman Golf Club in Harare. I was one down with two to play as we stepped on to the par-three 17th. Charl teed off first, ballooned a 7-iron to the right and found the largest greenside bunker in Zimbabwe. His ball was short-sided and plugged a few inches below the sand. Finally, an opening for me. All I had to do was hit the green, lag a putt up close, then tee off on the final hole all-square.
Part one was executed perfectly, as my tee shot came to rest within 15 feet of the hole. Next up was Charl’s bunker shot, from a buried lie, with no green to work with. ‘Bogey at best,’ is what I was thinking. He climbed into the trap, dug in his feet and glanced up before steeply chopping down behind his ball.
Through a cloud of sand, the ball appeared. It landed softly on the green, having taken its first bounce into the upslope. It rolled end-over-end, before taking the slightly right-to-left break and then dived into the hole for a miraculous birdie. My own birdie attempt lipped out and we shook hands on 17.
Charl has always had that extra fight and grit in his game. With 12 events left on a PGA Tour medical exemption this season, there is no doubt he is going to need it this time. But, as I learned the hard way all those years ago, just when you think he’s done for, that’s the moment he will show you he’s not.