After a year of proudly travelling with his green jacket, South Africa's Charl Schwartzel returns to defend his Masters title knowing that handling the treacherous greens at Augusta National is the key to success in the first major of the season.
A fearless Schwartzel birdied the final four holes last year to clinch his first major title by two strokes over Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day and says he was rewarded for weeks of Augusta-specific putting practice.
“At Augusta, if you know the greens well, you can actually use them to your benefit rather than thinking that you should be scared of them. But you really need to know them like the back of your hand,” said Schwartzel, who had struggled on the greens when he finished tied for 30th in his Masters debut in 2010.
“I was fortunate. I asked a few guys, some of the best putters in the world, I asked them what they did on the very fast greens, and they gave me a bit of advice. It worked out for me.
“I practised for about six, seven weeks before I got there to putt on those fast greens. I think that's what made me feel so comfortable. I wasn't scared of the greens at all.”
That was evident during last year's final round at Augusta National when he showed composure by draining a 20-footer on the 18th to complete a six-under-par 66, the low round of the day.
Under intense pressure, Schwartzel had made putts of 18 and 12 feet on the 16th and 17th holes as he pulled clear of the Australian pair.
It is tough to find greens that can replicate the speed and complex lines of Augusta but Schwartzel said for the two months prior to the event he did his best to find something similar.
“Every week that I played, I went and found the fastest spot I could find on the putting green. Obviously downhill putts. The biggest thing you actually learn is to make a small stroke,” said Schwartzel.
“You play week in and week out on fast greens, but not nearly as fast as you get at Augusta. The biggest adjustment is to learn to make a little stroke and be consistent with it. I think that's what helped me.”
This year, the 27-year-old says one his biggest tests will be dealing with the increased scrutiny as defending champion.
“The biggest challenge this year is there's obviously going to be more eyes on you, people would want to see whether you can live up to the challenge,” said Schwartzel.
“But that's something I have to get around in my head not to worry about. I have to go out there and treat it as a new tournament, just give it my best.”
The odds are stacked against a repeat win for Schwartzel but he has certainly made the most of his year as Masters champion, revealing that he has taken the emblematic winner's green jacket with him on tour.
“There's something about the jacket. Every single time you put it on, you get this very, very proud feeling. I wore it I don't know how many times,” said Schwartzel.
“It travelled with me the whole of last year. Basically every single function that we went to, I wore it. Every time you put it on, it's a special moment.” – Reuters