How much time do you get to spend in your native South Africa during the year?
“Not enough,” Ros said.
With Schwartzel taking up his cards on both the PGA and European tours in 2011, time spent in his brand new home outside Johannesburg has been limited. The Schwartzels spend about 25 percent of their time in South Africa, which isn’t much for a young man as comfortable walking through the African bush as he is making birdies down the stretch to win the Masters Tournament.
“It’s tough, it really is,” he said of his dual status as a world golfer. “What it’s meant is a lot more time away from your personal life.”
Following in the global traveling footsteps of South African predecessors Gary Player and Ernie Els was not an aspect of being an elite golfer that Schwartzel coveted. As the second youngest player to earn his full-time European card through Q-school at age 18, he was content with that.
“It never interested me to play in America in the beginning,” he said. “I was very happy with where I was. It was only a couple of years ago that I decided I wanted to start playing world golf.”
With that comes a whole host of logistical difficulties.
While the majors and World Golf Championship events count toward the mandatory minimums on both tours, filling in the remaining events is a lot trickier for someone based at the extreme end of the African continent.
The shortest one-way flight from Johannesburg to any tournament Schwartzel plays is nine hours to Dubai. It’s 11 hours to the United Kingdom, 10 hours to Perth, Australia, and 16 hours direct to Atlanta. Schwartzel says it takes him three days to get fully acclimated to his new time zone when he leaves home for the U.S. and about six days to fully adjust coming home.
“You have to be careful about flying across time zones for just one week,” he said. “You’ve got to plan it properly so you’re out there for a stretch. The biggest challenge is not to commit to tournaments because you have to. If you play too many places too many times in a row, your golf actually goes down. So what’s the point of playing if you’re not playing well.”
Schwartzel barely fulfilled his PGA Tour requirement of 15 events at the BMW Championship, where he just missed qualifying for the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.
“I look back and I’ve only played the minimum events in America and it feels like I’ve been out there forever,” he said.
Thus Schwartzel is still trying to figure out what to do in the future.
He still wants to retain his card on both tours but wonders if it’s worth it. He finished his U.S. season 32nd in the season-long FedEx Cup standings and is currently a distant third in the European Tour’s on-going Race for Dubai, too far back to realistically catch leader Luke Donald.
“There’s no point in playing the minimum on both (tours) and hovering in the middle,” he said. “I want to play one where you can actually compete to win the money list – the FedEx or the Race for Dubai, whichever one you pick. It’s no good saying you played both tours but you finished 30th and 30th.”
Schwartzel’s golfing idol, Els, has often been questioned about the gruelling extent of his world travels and the toll it might have taken on his Hall of Fame career. And Els has long been based in more accessible residences such as London and Florida.
Schwartzel sees the lessons of Els’ example, but believes he’ll have to learn for himself how to handle the extreme travel.
“Every golfer is quite stubborn,” he said. “People can say it might be too much for him but maybe it works for you. The only way to find out is to do it yourself. I’m sort of doing what he did but experiencing it myself to see whether that is going to work for me.”
Despite playing 22 events already this year in seven different countries, the Masters champion’s season is far from over. While many top American golfers will play sparingly from the end of September until the start of the 2012 PGA Tour schedule in January, Schwartzel still has eight tournaments left to play in six different countries on five continents.
“There’s not much for a break,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s my choice. I’m doing those tournaments by choice.”
The events Schwartzel is most looking forward to are the Presidents Cup in Australia (where he’ll get to be on the International team with Els) and the World Cup in China the following week (where he’ll partner with longtime friend Louis Oosthuizen representing South Africa).
“I’m excited about the Presidents Cup and being a part of Greg Norman’s team,” he said. “And I’ve never played the World Cup. But it’s over there and with Louis, so I might as well play.”
He’ll also play in Bermuda and Dubai. But on the bright side, he’ll end the year with a couple of events in his own back yard at the Nedbank Challenge and South African Open.
Of course, as his wife would say those backyard events for a home-loving South African are not enough.