A major winner with a swing to die for – Royal Portrush has got another guaranteed star in the field for next year’s The Open after Charl Schwartzel’s performance in his native South Africa last weekend.
The 2011 Masters champion ended up in a tie for third at the South Africa Open – letting a halfway lead slip to his good friend and compatriot Louis Oosthuizen.
But a third-place finish was enough to secure his spot in Northern Ireland next year and continue his strong relationship with the Claret Jug.Open for business
The 34-year-old has already played The Open 14 times in his career, including the last ten in a row.
And with plenty of golf still to come between now and the first tee in Portrush – Schwartzel would have been confident of booking his spot on form.
But after securing it ahead of schedule, Schwartzel can now focus on returning to his best form and adding to his major haul.Bright start
Born in Johannesburg, Schwartzel’s perfect swing marked him out for greatness from a young age.
Hailing from a strong golfing family with his brother Attie a former pro, he was the then third youngster player to secure his European Tour card when only just turned 18 back in 2002.
That same year he also showed his first liking for links golf when he won the English amateur stroke play title at Royal Cinque Ports.
After turning pro, his progress was gradual rather than meteoric.
He showed great affinity for the Sunshine Tour and his home country – eight of his 11 European Tour career wins have come in South Africa.
But he also picked up the Open de Espana in 2007 and the 2008 Madrid Masters to mark his card for future successes.Masters magic
However, his major breakthrough came in 2011 shortly after he joined the PGA Tour.
And it was fitting that it was at Augusta that he claimed victory – 50 years to the day since fellow South African Gary Player became the first non-American winner of the tournament.
The victory was hard-earned, not least for reeling in Champion Golfer of the Year Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy’s collapse might have earned many of the headlines, but Schwartzel deserved his green jacket.He finished with four consecutive birdies, a feat previously unprecedented in the Masters’ 75 year history.
A keen hunter who is also a qualified helicopter and plane pilot, Schwartzel with his wife Rosalind and daughter Olivia call Vereeniging home.
And a year after his Masters success Schwartzel appeared at golf’s top table to stay when he reached a career high No.6 in the world.
His record at The Open also bears closer inspection.
Between 2010-2016 the South African cracked the top 20 an impressive five times including a seventh-place finish in 2014 at Hoylake when McIlroy claimed his revenge.
Back to the top
His second major victory has for far eluded him however, despite a 2016 Valspar title on the PGA Tour and a runner up at The Players just this year.
But overall 2018 was a slight dip for the South African who fell from 33rd in the world to 85th and threatening to fall back out of the top 100.
But his showing in South Africa – despite the disappointment of not finishing the job and taking the title – has reinvigorated him for Royal Portrush.
"I was hoping to do better in this tournament but I'm still happy that I get to play The Open in Northern Ireland which will be really nice," he said.
"Watching Ernie's last win and when Tiger won at Hoylake are two of my best memories of The Open, and obviously when my good friend Louis won at St Andrews.
"It's special. There's so much history behind it and it would be nice to have my name on the trophy one day."