Charl ready for Congressional challenge

He came 16th last year, and now Charl Schwartzel is on a different golfing planet ahead of the US Open which gets underway in two weeks at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland on June 16.

That it’s Youth Day in South Africa will be significant for Schwartzel only because he is one of the young players who are setting the golf world alight.

But, unlike many of his youthful competitors, he has experience now: This will be his fifth appearance in the US Open after his debut in 2006 at Winged Foot. He missed out in 2008 and he missed the cut in 2009 – it was in 2009 at Bethpage that he got his best round of 70 – but he started with a share of 48th in 2006 and of 30th in 2007.

And, more importantly, his record has the heft of his superb Masters victory.

While his record – like the record of just about every major winner outside Tiger Woods in recent history – has been spotty since that epic come-from-behind charge at Augusta National on April 10, he himself always believed that if he were ever to win a major, it would be the US Open.

Part of the foundation of that belief has been because US Open courses are set up long and tight, and the greens are frighteningly fast. All of that plays into the strengths of Schwartzel’s game.

He’s built his success around the concept of error-free golf – as far as that is possible. His Joburg Open victory in January, for instance, was built around the extraordinary second round where he carded a 10-under-par 61 without a single dropped shot.

He joked with reporters about it afterwards, suggesting they might jinx him if they talked to him about such faultless golf.

And his final round in the Masters was constructed around his fast start in the final round – he went birdie-par-eagle in the opening three holes, dropped a shot on four, and then he held things together for 10 consecutive holes before he made another birdie.

It was the first of his decisive four in a row which won him the tournament, but by staying out of trouble while the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods were faltering around him, he was able to strike effectively when he did.

So, in two weeks time on the Blue Course, which has hosted all of the significant tournaments contested at Congressional, he will attempt to reproduce some of that Joburg Open and Masters magic.

The course is often considered among the best 100 courses in the United States and was redesigned by Robert Trent Jones in 1957 and Rees Jones twice, in 1989 and 2006.

It measures 7,250 yards from the back tees. It is a par 72 (but plays as a par 70 for all PGA Tour events with holes six and 11 being played as par fours).

On this course, he should fare better than his 16th at Pebble Beach last year. He may even achieve what has been almost unthinkable of other players in the Tiger Woods era, and win a second major in a row.

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