17 and still waiting – Another major passes by for Southern Africa’s finest golfers
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – Another Major golf showdown came and went at Augusta National, with Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia winning his first green jacket after a dramatic play-off victory, but for the 17th straight time, Southern Africa’s finest professionals came short in their quest to win one of the world’s four top tournaments in the world.
The last Southern African golfer to win any of the four Major tournaments – the Masters, US Open, British Open and the US PGA – was Ernie Els when he triumphed in the United Kingdom in 2012.
Since then, the region – which has produced some of the best golfers the world has ever seen, including three-time Major title winner Nick Price of Zimbabwe who sky-rocketed to number one on the globe in the ‘90s – has seen its leading stars battle in vain in search of glory in the past five years.
It’s not that they haven’t gone down without a fight.
After all, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, who won the Masters in 2011, turned on the style in the final two days of this year’s tournament but could only finish third behind winner Garcia, who grabbed his first Major title, and Justin Rose.
Schwartzel eventually finished three shots behind Garcia and Rose, who finished on minus nine-under-par 279, with the South African rallying to finish on six under-par 282.
He pocketed a cool US$748 000, for his four-day adventure in Augusta, while Garcia took home US$1.980 million for winning the tournament and Rose emerged US$1.188 million richer for finishing second.
The 32-year-old Schwartzel thrust himself in a very good position to challenge for the title after shooting a 68 on Saturday to follow up his opening day 74 and 72 and, as he was within shooting distance of the leaders, there was hope he could grab his second green jacket and end Southern Africa’s lengthy wait for a Major title.
“I hit the ball beautiful,” Schwartzel told the tournament’s official website on Saturday after he crept within just two shots of the leaders. “I drove it really good and gave myself a lot of chances.
“If I keep swinging like I am, you never know, you get on a run and you can make a scare up on the board.
“Today was obviously a lot easier conditions than what we have had the first two days, the greens, I thought were still quite receptive for Augusta standards. I’m sure tomorrow they’re going to show their teeth, but there was a good score to be made out there.”
And those familiar with his success in 2011 had every reason to believe this charge could end up with Schwartzel grabbing another green jacket in a tournament that was robbed of the star quality of Tiger Woods and the game’s number one, and hottest player, Dustin Johnson, through injury.
Back then, the South African hit four consecutive birdies from number 15 to the closing hole for a two-shot victory over the Aussie pair of Jason Day and Adam Scott.
Schwartzel knew the world hadn’t forgotten what he did back then.
“Probably what I did last time, shoot 66 and finish with four birdies in a row, which would work,” he said.
While there was a charge on Sunday, he couldn’t put together the birdie blitz that could enable him to write another success story, falling three shots behind the winners but – given the way Southern African golfers have largely struggled in the big tournaments of late – he was still very impressed by his show.
After all he finished way ahead of his South African pack with Brendan Grace tied 27th, in the end, at three-over par 291 to take home US$78 100 in prize money while Louis Oosthuizen finished tied 41st after shooting 295 and pocketing US$46 200.
Els, the last Southern African golfer to win a Major, finished last among those who made the cut after an 83 on Saturday blew him away while he closed with a 78 for a 308.
He was playing in his 23rd Masters in 24 years and, at 47, maybe the young guns have taken over from him.
“I’ve had 23 goes at it and had a great time,” Els told the Augusta Chronicle. “I’ve got to do something special to get back there. I’m not really looking at it as my last one, but if it is, it is.”
“I’ve put a lot of energy into that event, and that’s why after 23 times there I’m not really looking at going to win.”
And the former world number one hints this could be the beginning of the end for him at the very top given that he is now ranked 392nd in the world.
“I’m starting to get a couple niggles here and there with my body. If I can stay healthy, I just want to have good events until I’m done,” he said.
“I’ll probably go back there as just a spectator. I’ll go have a cocktail and hang and watch. It’ll be good.”
And, Schwartzel – who grew up wanting to be as successful as Els – expresses the sadness of seeing it all begin to end.
“I think deep inside you would know he’s walking around Augusta playing because of what he’s done in the game,” Schwartzel said.
“But he might still hope somehow that maybe he gets it right. But I think if reality sets in he’s just like ‘have a nice time.’
“I feel sorry for him, I really do. I can see his mind is still thinking and believes – and he practices now harder than he used to – that he’s still as good as he was 10 years ago. Somehow he’s just not able to do it now. Maybe the simple answer is just age. I don’t know. I’ve heard him talk about it. I can see it almost hurts him. It’s frustrating and I think humiliating for him, too.”