Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Front Page - BY BARRY HAVENGA


FIVE YEARS AGO LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN WALKED UP THE 18TH HOLE OF THE OLD COURSE with a seven-shot lead in the Open Cham­pi­onship. He be­came the first South African to win the claret jug at St An­drews, the home of golf, since Bobby Locke tri­umphed in 1957. Oosthuizen’s mo­ment of glory pro­vided the in­spi­ra­tion for Charl Schwartzel to slip into a Masters green jacket nine months later. Fast for­ward to 2015, how­ever, a time when they should be in the prime of their ca­reers – Oosthuizen is 32 and Schwartzel 30 – and we find they are ac­tu­ally go­ing sig­nif­i­cantly back­wards in the game. They are no longer among the best 30 play­ers in the world, their progress hav­ing been plagued by a com­bi­na­tion of off-course and short game is­sues. De­spite hav­ing been based in Amer­ica since the start of 2011, nei­ther has won on the PGA Tour in more than four years.The ques­tion has to be asked: Are they ma­jor cham­pi­onship one-hit won­ders? South Africans wor­ship their sport­ing idols. We are fiercely pa­tri­otic and love to cheer our com­pa­tri­ots on the world stage.We had Nick Price, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen win­ning nine ma­jors be­tween them in a 20-year spell from 1992 to 2012.Their suc­cesses have led us to ex­pect a great deal from our new young stars, be­liev­ing that they will em­u­late their own he­roes.

At first, ev­ery­thing seemed on track. Our most promis­ing young­sters looked built from the same mould.Trevor Im­mel­man won the Masters in 2008, Oosthuizen the Open in 2010, and Schwartzel the Masters in 2011. But only Louis, and just on the one oc­ca­sion, has con­tended for an­other ma­jor since those vic­to­ries, when he lost a play­off to Bubba Wat­son at the 2012 Masters. Even more sur­pris­ingly, none of them have since won on the PGA Tour. It’s al­most as if, hav­ing achieved their goals of win­ning a ma­jor, they have now put their ca­reers on cruise con­trol.

Be­fore Oosthuizen, the last player to win the Open and fail to win a tour­na­ment in Amer­ica was the dour Scot, Paul Lawrie, a jour­ney­man pro who has mainly plied his trade on the Euro­pean Tour. Oosthuizen, at No 31, re­mains the high­est ranked South African on the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ing, but 25 years have passed since we didn’t have a South African player in the top 30.

Schwartzel, in 73 PGA Tour ap­pear­ances since win­ning the Masters, has only recorded two top-3 fin­ishes. Oosthuizen was twice a run­ner-up on the PGA Tour in 2012 (the Masters and Deutsche Bank Cham­pi­onship), but in 76 PGA Tour ap­pear­ances since win­ning the Open, he has recorded a to­tal of three top-3s. Ernie Els, in his PGA Tour ca­reer of 396 events, has had 54 top-3s.

Golfers have gen­er­ally been sym­pa­thetic to­wards our young play­ers, hop­ing that the tide will turn, but as the years go by the ques­tion is be­ing in­creas­ingly raised in golf clubs around the coun­try:What has hap­pened to Louis and Charl that they no longer ap­pear ca­pa­ble of win­ning in Amer­ica?

To try and an­swer this ques­tion, I ap­proached sev­eral peo­ple in the lo­cal golf in­dus­try, ask­ing them to com­ment on what they thought was con­tribut­ing to the decline of our two young stars. How­ever, while they were all quick to of­fer an opin­ion, they chose to speak off the record, not wish­ing to in­cur the dis­plea­sure of ei­ther player or their re­spec­tive man­age­ment com­pa­nies.

I noted their com­ments and also asked two of Golf Di­gest’s most ex­pe­ri­enced and re­spected writ­ers – Amer­i­can Jaime Diaz and Scot John Hug­gan, who cover the ma­jor tour­na­ments ev­ery year – for their im­pres­sions.They were at least pre­pared to put their names to quotes.

“From what I hear from play­ers and coaches, Louis and Charl have op­po­site prob­lems which af­fect them,” said Diaz. “Louis cares too lit­tle and Charl cares too much. I’m sure that is way over­sim­pli­fied, but it’s a good start­ing point.”

Hug­gan’s im­me­di­ate re­ply: “Those are two of the best swings in golf, but they’ve kind of just drifted along the last few years. Some­thing must be wrong.”

Ev­ery­one I spoke to was unan­i­mous in say­ing, firstly, that off-course is­sues – Oosthuizen’s in­juries since win­ning the Open, and Schwartzel’s dys­func­tional fam­ily life – is af­fect­ing their play. Se­condly, the opin­ion was that their short games are not sharp enough to com­pete with the best in the game at present.

Cur­rent PGA Tour statis­tics con­firm that ob­ser­va­tion. This year, Schwartzel ranks 179th and Oosthuizen 154th in Strokes Gained Putting. From 75-100 yards from the green, Schwartzel is 193rd and Oosthuizen 81st. In Scram­bling, Charl ranks 131st and Louis 64th. Both are un­able to get up and down more than 60 per­cent of the time they miss a green in reg­u­la­tion. It’s no won­der that Schwartzel’s scor­ing av­er­age on the 2015 PGA Tour is just 72, which ranks him 162.

“There is a def­i­nite trend on tour right now,” says Diaz. “It doesn’t mat­ter how well you hit it, the short game and putting is more im­por­tant than ever. And I don’t think Charl and Louis are much bet­ter than av­er­age with the put­ter and wedge.” Hug­gan agrees, stat­ing that mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has brought play­ers closer to­gether, and to excel to­day th­ese two spe­cial­ist clubs have to out­per­form the rest.

Oosthuizen has en­dured a tor­rid time with in­juries. Fol­low­ing his Open victory, back home on a game drive, he tore lig­a­ments in his left an­kle af­ter step­ping into a hole while climb­ing out of a 4x4. Oosthuizen also has a his­tory of back prob­lems. With the com­mer­cial de­mands of be­ing Open cham­pion, he ad­mits now to re­turn­ing to the game too early. With­out be­ing con­scious of it at the time, he started com­pen­sat­ing in his swing for the weak an­kle, which placed new strains on his balky lower back.

Oosthuizen was No 6 in the world at the end of the 2012 sea­son, thanks to two Euro­pean Tour vic­to­ries and a play­off loss to Bubba Wat­son at the Masters. But 2013 was a for­get­table year where he missed the cut at Au­gusta Na­tional and then with­drew (af­ter start­ing) be­cause of back is­sues from both the US Open and Open. He failed to tee up at the PGA – a neck in­jury on that oc­ca­sion.

Two new phys­io­ther­a­pists pro­vided a break­through for him to­wards the end of 2014. Oosthuizen first of all vis­ited Allen Gru­ver in Phoenix, Ari­zona, who helped align his body into a more com­fort­able po­si­tion. He now works with English­man Kevin Duffy on a weekly ba­sis when on tour. “Louis is now able to fi­nally play pain-free, af­ter an in­con­sis­tent two years in that re­spect, which makes it eas­ier to plan his sched­ule,” said manager Louis Martin of In­ter­na­tional Sports Man­age­ment, af­ter Oosthuizen had reached the quar­ter­fi­nals of the WGC Match Play in San Fran­cisco in May.

Schwartzel’s off-course prob­lems are more sen­si­tive in that they ev­i­dently in­volve close fam­ily mem­bers. Sources indi- cate that since Charl and wife Ros­alind were mar­ried in 2010, his re­la­tion­ship with his par­ents, par­tic­u­larly fa­ther Ge­orge, a for­mer Sun­shine Tour pro him­self, is not nearly as close as it was. When Charl moved away from the fam­ily farm out­side Vereenig­ing, he chose to build a home at the ex­clu­sive Blair Atholl es­tate close to Jo­han­nes­burg. A rift al­legedly ex­ists be­tween the in-laws. Charl’s fa­ther-in-law Brian Ja­cobs, a PGA club pro from Mey­er­ton, which ad­joins Vereenig­ing, is now in­volved in man­ag­ing Charl’s golf.

Diaz be­lieves that if a golfer is go­ing through off-course is­sues, it’s dif­fi­cult to have a clear mind dur­ing com­pet­i­tive play. “It’s tough to sep­a­rate golf and life. Stuff is com­pli­cated, no one is im­mune,” he says. “There is such a fine line be­tween con­fi­dence and pres­sure. Charl has a beau­ti­ful golf swing, but if you’re ner­vous, bad things can hap­pen. Greg Nor­man got ner­vous, Tiger now gets ner­vous.”

Schwartzel has ap­peared edgy and tense on the course the last two years and has rapidly de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion among the public and me­dia as be­ing dour and down­beat. His body lan­guage doesn’t look good. Since win­ning the Masters his only vic­to­ries on the Euro­pean Tour have come in the low-key Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship at Leop­ard Creek, which he won in 2012 and 2013.While he pro­duced mag­i­cal golf on those oc­ca­sions (he was a cu­mu­la­tive 41 un­der par), he has failed to cap­ture the same con­fi­dence else­where. Seem­ingly set to win the SA Open at Glen­dower in Jan­uary, he blew a four-shot lead on the back nine, and sub­se­quently lost a play­off to English­man Andy Sul­li­van, ranked 149 in the world. Schwartzel’s 20-me­tre-wide push with a six­iron on the par-3 17th was an ex­tra­or­di­nary miss.

Schwartzel, to his credit, at least plays reg­u­larly in the SA Open in an at­tempt to win his coun­try’s na­tional cham­pi­onship, but Oosthuizen hasn’t teed up in the Open since the 2010 tour­na­ment at Dur­ban CC.

“With his slen­der build, I feel like Charl has to swing re­ally hard to get it out there,” Diaz re­marks. “He’s not as smooth as he once was and of­ten ap­pears very tense.”

Now ranked No 44 in the world, an­other con­cern re­gard­ing Schwartzel is his high turnover of cad­dies. Since win­ning the Masters with fel­low South African Greg Hear­mon on the bag, he has used

Glen Mur­ray (now back with Ser­gio Garcia), and more re­cently Ros­alind and friends Al­bert Kruger (at the Masters) and Richard Ma­ree.

Nick Faldo has com­mented sev­eral times on TV broad­casts that he sees Schwartzel burning the edge of the hole more than most. Is he sim­ply mis-read­ing putts? n in­dus­try source close to the play­ers also raises a per­ti­nent point about mod­ern pros. How mo­ti­vated are they to keep grind­ing away when they be­come rich very early in their ca­reers? Schwartzel has earned $9.4 mil­lion in prize­money alone on the PGA Tour and Oosthuizen $8.1 mil­lion. “Af­ter you ac­quire your third house and have of­f­course hob­bies, golf be­comes a bit of a chore,” says a prom­i­nent teach­ing pro. “I re­ally don’t think they ac­tu­ally en­joy the game any­more. They pre­pare well for the ma­jors, and get amped up for that, but that’s not re­ally enough is it?”

Leg­endary Amer­i­can foot­ball col­lege coach Bear Bryant would say, “It’s not the will to win that mat­ters – ev­ery­one has that. It’s the will to pre­pare.”

Diaz agrees that the land­scape has changed dramatically since the 1980s and ’90s when pros played more tour­na­ments. “You don’t have to win any­more.The money is so big that by be­ing a top-50 player you lead a very com­fort­able life. It’s be­come a prob­lem for the tours, be­cause th­ese days just show­ing up is a big deal, even at huge-money events like World Golf Cham­pi­onships.”

It seemed odd that nei­ther Schwartzel nor Oosthuizen played in the Euro­pean Tour’s re­cent flag­ship event at Went­worth, the BMW PGA Cham­pi­onship, con­sid­er­ing they are hon­orary life mem­bers of the tour, thanks to their ma­jor vic­to­ries. All the other top South Africans were in the field.

Oosthuizen is a laid back char­ac­ter who sup­pos­edly likes noth­ing more than driv­ing his trac­tor and spend­ing time on the fam­ily farm near Al­ber­tinia in the South­ern Cape. It’s a life­style com­pa­ra­ble per­haps to the leg­endary By­ron Nel­son, who re­tired from the game at 34 to be­come a Texas rancher. How­ever, Nel­son did have 64 wins by then, in­clud­ing five ma­jors.

Famed English teach­ing pro Pete Cowan, who has worked fre­quently with Oosthuizen, told Sports Il­lus­trated South Africa mag­a­zine some years ago, “If Louis had Charl’s work ethic, he’d be as good as Rory.”

The short game stats don’t lie. If there has been a less­en­ing of their work ethic it usu­ally shows up in how sharp they are around the greens. And at present they are par­tic­u­larly blunt.

Charl and Louis, who grew up play­ing am­a­teur golf to­gether – they were in the same South African team at the 2002 world team cham­pi­onships – have al­ways mo­ti­vated each other, and re­sponded pos­i­tively to each other’s suc­cesses. With Oosthuizen seem­ingly turn­ing a cor­ner with his fit­ness, if he wins again soon it could in­spire Schwartzel to exit his slump.

Hug­gan, and other peo­ple I spoke to, warned Golf Di­gest about the risk of dis­tress­ing Oosthuizen and Schwartzel by run­ning this story, but the is­sue needs to be dis­cussed. Hug­gan him­self made a de­ci­sion to say in print that Colin Mont­gomerie cheated dur­ing the 2005 In­done­sian Open, and Monty has not spo­ken to him since. While this ar­ti­cle is not mak­ing claims like that, play­ers can re­act in var­ied ways to crit­i­cism.

Golf Di­gest would like noth­ing more than to re­port on their come­back vic­to­ries, which we be­lieve are likely to oc­cur be­fore too long. But at present we feel a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide anal­y­sis on the cur­rent prob­lems with their games and their lives.

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