Schwartzel lifts our spirits
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
In sport, just as in life and events more broadly, South Africans have an especially uncanny knack of springing pleasant surprises when things look gloomy, don’t they?
It has been a turbulent old ride over the past fortnight or so, after all, for the many among us who follow the fortunes of our globe-trotting team or individual representatives across the major sporting codes.
First we suffered the numbing, mortifying experience all over again of the hitherto bristling Proteas tripping spectacularly at the first knockout hurdle of cricket’s World Cup.
Then we sat through an unconvincing first 90 minutes of Bafana Bafana’s key, long-awaited African Cup of Nations qualifier against Egypt at Ellis Park, more than a little anxious the national side might lose, let alone scramble a ho-hum point for a goalless draw ... until Katlego Mphela’s high-calibre, last-gasp finish sent the stadium into unexpected rapture.
Next we witnessed the South African challenge in Super Rugby suffer a bruising over consecutive weekends (and all this in a World Cup year of another kind) ... first the Sharks at Twickenham and then the Bulls at Timaru were outsmarted but also sacrilegiously outmuscled by New Zealand’s finest, the Crusaders.
And on Saturday the Stormers’ unbeaten run came to an end with a grinding squeal as the Queensland Reds sauntered to town and looted a healthily-populated Newlands palace.
But even as we digested all this unease and tumult, silver linings somehow never quite drifted irreversibly into the periphery.
Like the matter of Gary Kirsten -- modest, limelight-ducking and hard-grafting – coaching India, the planet’s second most populous nation, onward to the World Cup cricket spoils. (An Australian, Greg Chappell, had bowed out of the post after the 2007 event, one contrastingly viewed as “disastrous” for the Subcontinent superpower.)
Maybe we were guilty of slightly under-appreciating Kirsten’s achievement, obsessed as we were with rueful or even angry post mortems about South Africa’s own on-field failure, again.
But a country of over 1.21 billion people loved and continues to love him, even as he bade farewell and headed homeward to his family -- that is no small feather in South Africa’s “PR” cap abroad, is it?
Then, on Sunday -- or more pertinently in these parts, into our bleary-eyed, telly-watching Monday morning – along came Charl.
Yes, Charl Adriaan James Lindsay Schwartzel may roll off the tongue with some element of difficulty, but that is small beer in the greater scheme of things as this young Johannesburg-born golfer won the Masters, one of the very grandest prizes in that game, and thus his maiden Major.
Nobody would have predicted it with any great confidence.
Here, for instance, is what local guru Dale Hayes observed only last week in his pre-Masters thoughts: “Charl Schwartzel is still the best young golfer in the world, but he needs a big finish in a Major because a bunch of other youngsters are snapping at his heels.”
Big finish? Wow, did he deliver it!
Of course there are many, further bridges to cross before unassuming Schwartzel’s name can be mentioned in the same breath as Gary Player (nine), Bobby Locke (four) or even slowly-fading older contemporary Ernie Els (three) for volume of Major titles or slot in the South African hall of golfing fame.
But at 26 he has age on his side to a pretty bullish extent.
And here’s a thought: with The British Open’s Claret Jug (courtesy of 28-year-old Louis Oosthuizen) and the Masters’ Green Jacket indisputably the two most sought-after personal accolades in golf, isn’t it a quite marvellous, chest-banging fact that for only the second time both currently lie in South African hands?
The previous occasion was 1974, also the year of Richard Nixon’s much-publicised resignation over Watergate, when Player imperiously scooped the Masters and then The Open in the same calendar year.
The closest that side-by-side SA tenure of both had probably come to occurring again since then was when an Els in his prime was runner-up in the 2000 Masters to Vijay Singh and -- although 2001 was a dry one for him in Majors terms -- went on to claim his first Open at Muirfield in 2002, the last time he has clinched a big ‘un.
Locke might have had a realistic shout at earning this simultaneous “double” (he won successive Opens in 1949 and 1950) but, after finishing tied 10th at the 1948 Masters, future opportunities at that event were curtailed by his banning from the PGA Tour circuit a year later over a dispute around his tournament participation pledges.
By the time it was lifted in 1951, an irked Locke pretty much gave up on competing in the United States.
The Claret Jug and Green Jacket in “our” hands at the same time once more ... yes, this may be all the tonic we needed for our lingering CWC 2011 blues.
Let’s savour it: we can do so unimpeded until at least mid-July, when The Open is staged once more at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent, and Oosthuizen defends the jug.Rob is Sport24's chief writerDisclaimer:
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