No more goals for Schwartzel – just playing perfect golf

While many players are comfortable talking about their goals – even if they couch the conversation in such clichés as ‘one step at a time’ – 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel bristles when asked the ‘goal’ question.

“I don’t even want to think about it,” he almost snapped – as much as the quietly-spoken 28-year-old world number 23 can snap – when requested to outline his plans for the following 12 months after his second round in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek Country Club.

“I don’t even think about anything,” he said. “There’s been too much talk about what I want to do, but the more you force the issue the less you do it. I just want to keep playing with no expectations. Tee it up, hit the ball down the fairway, hit it on the green, make the putt and see where it leads me.”

For all the reams and reams of analysis golf writers produce, perhaps the truth that Schwartzel expressed with that heartfelt description of the boundaries of his professional world came closest to the reality that other golfers cloak in terms that disguise the utter unpredictability of the game they play.

“In the back of your mind you know what you want to achieve,” he said. “We all want to win golf tournaments, but I can’t be thinking about wanting to win golf tournaments, because that’s not how I’m actually going to win.”

That sounds incontrovertible, because it surely follows that any hacker armed simply with the power of positive thinking would be knocking Rory McIlroy off his perch right now.

And it seems that what Schwartzel expressed is the unvarnished truth behind the kind of thing his good friend Louis Oosthuizen had said just two days earlier when asked if he dreamed of being world number one.

“I do now!” he said. “I always try to set goals, but not unreachable ones. I think it’s going to be a very big task, but at the moment the goal is to get to number two and then see what I can do from there.”

In the little description of how he plans to set about it, Oosthuizen merely hinted at what Schwartzel was trying to say: In the inevitable platitude beloved of coaches and analysts in all sports today, ‘it’s about the process’.

“I have to just stay right where I am and plod along,” said Schwartzel. “If I play the best I’ll win. That’s the way I see it.

“By playing better, by winning, the world ranking and the money lists will take care of themselves. You can’t take a step ahead and say that you want to do what Rory did and win both money lists or become world number one. Sure, I want to, but that can’t be my goal,” he added.

Perhaps the key to understanding Schwarztel’s thinking lies in his deconstruction of what he means when he said he wasn’t ‘striking the ball’ that well in his 11-stroke victory in Thailand last week. Surely, if he wins by that much, he’s hitting the ball well?

“It doesn’t involve scoring, really,” he said. “It just makes me a lot more confident walking the course and knowing where I’m going to hit it. I’m more precise when I strike the ball over certain distances. I’m still scoring now, but there’s a difference between hitting the ball well and scoring.

“When you’re hitting it well you feel in control. The way I’m hitting it now it feels like I’ve got to dig a lot deeper to grind a score out. It’s not as consistent as it normally is. I just hope to start striking it better and feel a bit more at ease when I’m out there.

“I think I should make birdie on every hole. I ask myself, ‘How could I not birdie that hole?’

“I’m always thinking of the best possible outcome. I’m not saying that I’m not on top of my game, I’m just saying that I’m not striking the ball like I know I should.

“When you’re not hitting the ball as you should, the wind affects it and makes you not sure where to aim. If you’re swinging well the wind doesn’t even touch it, and you know exactly what you’re going to do with it. It just makes it easier to play.”

So while the fans and the scribes see Schwartzel winning by 11 strokes, he knows something was not quite right when he won in Thailand. “It was terrible,” he said. “I didn’t hit it well at all, but the golf course just suited me. I missed fairways on the right holes. I couldn’t reach the green on those par fives, so I missed them and laid up, which is the same thing as hitting the fairway. I just hit the fairways where I needed to.

“Here is the same and I’ve missed a few fairways, but it hasn’t penalised me. When I can hit it better, then I won’t be missing those fairways either. Then you start building confidence.”

That’s what he’s after – not some elusive ‘goal’. “I don’t want to expect anything. Expectation is not a good thing – I just play,” he said.

When he got over his injury and identified the bad habits his swing had taken on as a result of protecting his body from more pain, he started ‘just playing’ again.

“What I was thinking and what I was doing were two different things,” he said. “It was nice once I identified what was wrong, because it gave me a desire to play. I knew I was onto something, and then I realized I could do this again.”

So the ‘process’ was what helped Schwartzel get his first win in 20 months after his Masters victory. And it helped him gain perspective on the whole ‘goal’ thing too.

“Winning is not as easy as everyone thinks it is. You can play well sometimes and not win,” he said. “The whole Masters thing is gone almost two years now, so let’s leave it and get some new ones. Let’s talk about something new now, make some new memories. We can fuss about it in 20 years’ time, but for me now, let’s make some new memories.”

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