DUBLIN, Ohio — They arrived in plaid shorts and legs the color of golf balls and wide straw hats waging an unwinnable contest with the noon sun.
The air at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, was thick with the smell of warm grass and fertilizer. A man wielded three fat cigars as he snapped a cutter back and forth. Smoke soon wafted skyward. That mixed with the cries of “Hit tight!” and “Go! Go!” each time Phil Mickelson or Luke Donald, the world’s top-ranked golfer, smacked the ball a few feet away.
The final member of the threesome that afternoon two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament - a slender fellow with a deeply tanned face - was tougher to recognize for the sun-scorched fans packed six deep. At least without the green jacket earned for his unexpected Masters victory in April.
“What’s his name?” one woman asked, after he landed a shot within 10 feet of the hole on No. 3.
A plane tugging an advertising banner droned above.
Her companion was flummoxed.
“Swarzel?” he replied.
The name is Charl Schwartzel. It’s been butchered, rearranged and mispronounced up to and including “Schwarzenegger.” Retelling the Schwarzenegger bit, the quiet South African flexed his right arm. Then he flashed a smile, revealing brilliant white teeth, and quipped that at least his name is easier to pronounce than close friend and fellow South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen.
The confusion over how, exactly, to pronounce Schwartzel’s name is one way his life changed since rolling in a birdie on No. 18 at Augusta National Golf Club to capture the Masters by two strokes. The fabled green jacket all but belonged to Rory McIlroy, who brought a four-stroke lead into that final round. But McIlroy shot 80 (“Disintegration,” one London paper dubbed it) and cleared the way for Schwartzel’s triumph.
That earned Schwartzel the green jacket. Wherever the 26-year-old travels, the jacket comes along. You may not see him don it this week during the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. But it’ll be nearby.
“He loves the green jacket,” said Chubby Chandler, Schwartzel’s agent with International Sports Management who also represents McIlroy. “He takes it everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. … People are captivated. They want to touch him.”
That started with a cocktail party in Kuala Lampur before the Malaysia Open. Or the black-tie awards dinner for the European Tour in London. Schwartzel wore the green jacket while everyone else sported traditional black jackets. He was mistaken for a waiter.
“If you get to keep it only for a year and then leave it, you’ve got to pretty much enjoy it,” Schwartzel said. “No point in leaving it if you’re only going to see it every two months.”
That’s typical of the low-key Schwartzel. He’s the son of a chicken farmer and former professional golfer in Vereeniging, South Africa, south of Johannesburg. Raised in the shadow of fellow South African Ernie Els, Schwartzel has the swing, grip and posture of someone schooled in golf’s basics at a young age. He plays conservative golf, putts well on fast greens and likes big courses, ones that open up right in front of you.
Seven wins on the European Tour followed after he turned pro at 18. Until that Sunday at Augusta, Schwartzel compiled five top-10 finishes in parts of five seasons on the PGA Tour. Pronouncing his a name wasn’t a problem, at least in the U.S., for a player who was largely anonymous.
The Masters changed that, of course, and nudged the reserved Schwartzel out of his comfort zone.
“Charl was a shy lad when he came over. A lot of the Afrikaans boys are because of the language and whatever,” Chandler said. “He’s really blossomed in the last two or three years since he met his wife, Rosalind, and become much more outward-going.”
Media requests have rolled in along with public appearances, like a question-and-answer session in front of 1,500 supporters at Wembley Stadium before the Champions League final between Manchester United and FC Barcelona.
“I don’t think I’ve changed. Still smiling. That’s one of my big goals,” Schwartzel said. “I expect my mates to tell me if I do change. I don’t want to change.”