- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2011

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - Good news travels much faster than when Gary Player first won the Masters.

It was only fitting that on the 50th anniversary of Player becoming the first non-American player in a green jacket, he watched another South African, Charl Schwartzel, become the first champion at Augusta National to finish with four straight birdies.

Player wasted no time sending his congratulations _ on Twitter, of course, in a sign of the times. In the hours after Schwartzel won against a leaderboard that featured players from every continent on which golf is played, the 26-year-old champion sent Player a reply.

“Proud to follow your tradition!”

Player was an anomaly at the time he won, the first global player in a game that is more international than ever before. Schwartzel’s victory Sunday at the Masters was only the latest example of worldwide parity in golf.

For the first time since 1994 _ and only the second since the Masters began in 1934 _ non-American players hold the four major championships. Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland won the U.S. Open last summer at Pebble Beach, followed by Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa at the British Open and Martin Kaymer of Germany at the PGA Championship.

“The world is big,” Schwartzel said after the third round. “America is big, but the world is bigger. There’s more people. It might change again. There’s just a bunch of good players out there from the European Tour and even Asia.”

Schwartzel is not a late bloomer in the game.

His father has a chicken farm in Vereeniging, near Pretoria, and he played golf three times a week. Schwartzel was a toddler when his father and Ernie Els played together in a team event they won at a local club in South Africa. He would caddie for his father in Wednesday and Saturday games, and they played together on Friday.

“And that’s how it started,” Schwartzel said.

As a teenager, he took part in Els’ junior program that traveled around the country to compete. Another kid from the other side of the country, Oosthuizen, also was part of that program. Oosthuizen hoisting a claret jug last summer at St. Andrews did not go unnoticed.

“That was a huge inspiration,” Schwartzel said. “We grew up together from a young age. We played every single team event, and we represented South Africa for so long. We basically are the best of mates. So we know where our level of golf is, and just to see him do it made me realize that it’s possible.”

Schwartzel winning allowed for 50-year bookends of South Africans in a green jacket. This final round, however, also was reminiscent of 25 years ago, when Jack Nicklaus stormed through a leaderboard that featured Tom Kite, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros to win a sixth green jacket at age 46.

That will live in Masters lore because it was Nicklaus. This one was compelling because of the sheer number of players who had a chance. The significance of 1986 _ in terms of global golf _ goes beyond the scores that week.

It was in 1986 when the Official World Golf Ranking was introduced, with Europeans at Nos. 1-2-3 in the world. The Masters, along with the other two American-based majors, had a distinctive Stars & Stripes feel to it.

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