Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel admits he gets goose bumps when he stands on the first tee at St Andrews, but it is only in the last few years that he has discovered how best to play the famous course.
The South African is at the ‘Home of Golf’ for this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where the stars of the game are joined by leading names from sport, media and business for the prestigious Pro-Am over the courses of St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie.
Schwartzel, who missed last year’s tournament, has made the cut twice in seven appearances – coming tied 22nd in 2006 and tied 13th in 2008 – but believes his experiences have helped him discover the right tactics.
“I played St Andrews as an amateur in the St Andrews Links,” he said. “It was special. It's only recently, the last three or four years, that I've actually started enjoying it, and I think it's only because I started realising how to play it.
“The first, 17th and 18th – if you don't feel something when you go down those three holes, there's something wrong with you. It's got that feel about it. Standing on that first tee at St Andrews gives you goose bumps, every single time you step up there. It's difficult to describe for someone who has never played it.
“There's a lot more to St Andrews than just a big open field. I sort of started getting used to it and understanding how to play it and now I really, really enjoy playing the golf course.”
The fabled links course, where Schwartzel’s compatriot Louis Oosthuizen won The Open Championship last year, is his favourite of the three, but he admits he still has not quite got to grips with Carnoustie.
“I’ve struggled on Carnoustie before,” continued Schwartzel, whose father, a ten handicapper, will also play in the tournament. “I’ll play it differently from how I normally play it. I think I’m going to play it a little less aggressively on some of the holes. I’m going to see if I can play with a little more care. It might mean playing aggressively on some of the holes and less on others, but we’ll see what the wind does.
“Kingsbarns and Carnoustie are very different from St Andrews. With St Andrews you can play it in the wind. Carnoustie is really difficult if you get it on a bad day. And so is Kingsbarns, where there are some demanding shots. But on the other hand, if you get Kingsbarns on a good day, that's probably where you can score the lowest. I enjoy playing St. Andrews the most and then Kingsbarns and then Carnoustie.”
Being announced on the tee as Masters Champion, though, will give Schwartzel an extra confidence boost.
“Winning the Masters gives you a lot of confidence,” the 27 year old added. “It gives you a big boost. I honestly feel like I've been playing well since then. I don't feel like my game has taken any sort of dip or anything.
“The attention has quietened down a little bit. We now have four Major Champions this year, so the attention has moved around a bit, whereas the few months before the US Open were the most hectic.”