Standing on a rather scantily clad snowy peak in the French Alps, the dramas of Glendower and Abu Dhabi seem a million miles away from where I am on holiday. Daydreams of many happy days spent on the aforementioned snowy peak are rudely interrupted though by the arrival of Mark James. The former Ryder Cup captain has an apartment here, having discovered skiing as a 40-year-old. Like many Johnny-come-latelies, he has become an avid, low single figure skier, who would far rather be dicing with death on an icy piste than squirming over a tricky 4ft putt.
James keeps a wary eye though on what's happening at his former workplace and was mildly interested to know my thoughts on how a one-time Masters champion and the reigning US Open winner could both surrender huge leads in successive weeks. He was the master at the helm in 1999, when Europe took a four-point advantage into the Ryder Cup singles at Brookline, only to see Ben Crenshaw's men claim a rare victory, so he knows all about surrendering healthy leads. Team golf is a little different though.
At the South African Open, held over the magnificent Glendower layout near Johannesburg, home favourite Charl Schwartzel was bidding for his first national Open title. On a course of narrow fairways lined with brutally tough Kikuyu rough, he appeared in complete control as he led by five shots going into the final round. After a Christmas break on his remote farm he had been at Glendower all week, desperately trying to rid himself of an accumulation of contradictory swing thoughts and return to the simple feel of his youth. He'd called in his father, George (a high quality player himself) to help accomplish that. On the Monday, Denis Hutchinson (a great putter who had learnt most of what he knows from the legendary Bobby Locke) and I found him grinding away on the practice putting green. He was complaining that he felt he had to stand open to avoid coming across the line. It quickly became obvious that in fact he was standing shut, and what felt like open to him was actually square. With that adjustment made and a few more technical tips from Denis, he looked like his old brilliant self. It was a classic example of how even the best can go astray with something as simple as posture and alignment. But so much of golf is about confidence. It can be easily dashed, and far less easily regained.
For three days Schwartzel's self-belief appeared to be returning. Suddenly on Sunday an old swing flaw returned. He started dropping the club too much on the inside and blocking the ball extravagant distances right. On the difficult 16th hole (where Henni Otto had blown the championship last year) Schwartzel made the same mistake, sending his ball over the green to a back flag and taking four to get down. On the par-3 17th, he again blocked it right into trees and only his brilliant short game allowed him to get away with bogey. So, a par was required up the last to play off with England's Andy Sullivan, who not long before had been contemplating what to do with the second-placed money he was sure he would be getting. At the first extra hole, Sullivan made a quite brilliant birdie from the left hand trees and the title was his, having come from seven shots back. A maiden victory for Sullivan and desolation for Schwartzel.
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