While his big win in the Alfred Dunhill Championship took place in the 2016 European Tour Season, 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is actually playing his first tournament of the 2016 calendar year in this week’s Tshwane Open.
It will also be his first start in the tournament which returns for the second year to Pretoria Country Club, and it comes after his longest break from golf since he turned professional as an 18-year-old in 2002.
“I’m feeling really rested after the break,” said Schwartzel as he stepped onto the range ahead of his pro-am date on Wednesday, and of the first round of the tournament on Thursday. “It was good to just be away from tournament pressures and to have time to just spend time with my family.
“And now I feel refreshed and ready to go again. I’ve practiced a lot, worked on the things that I was working on before the break, and, although I’ll have to see how things go under the pressures of tournament play, I’m happy with my game,” he added.
Much of Schwartzel’s break for the first six weeks of the year was the result of a stomach virus which saw him having to withdraw from the BMW South African Open Championship, but when he extended the break for the next few tournaments, it was clear that it had become a strategy for a player looking to regain his mojo.
And if it’s back to any significant extent, defending champion George Coetzee will have a major challenge to his desire to defend the title he won on his home course last year.
Schwartzel has finished in the top 10 in each of his last three appearances on the European Tour, including that record-breaking fourth victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in November.
That four-shot win at Leopard Creek brought him his 10th European Tour title and, remarkably, all but three of those have come at home.
Three of South Africa’s most promising young talents, including two of Schwartzel’s fellow winners from the 2016 European Tour International Schedule, will also be in the field.
Close friends Brandon Stone and Haydn Porteous have both entered the winner’s circle for the first time this season, at the BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni and the following week’s Joburg Open respectively.
“It’s great to see those youngsters coming through,” said Schwartzel, although, at 31, he can hardly be counted out of any conversation which talks about young golfers.
And he’ll be looking to emphasise that point with a good performance from Thursday when the Tshwane Open tees off.
With reporting from The European Tour