At a windswept Doha Golf Club today, Charl Schwartzel stood up to the challenging conditions firing in an opening 70 leaving him just one shot from the lead after round one in the International Series Qatar.
Teeing up for the third consecutive week on the Asian Tour, the 2011 Masters champion first played in the country 20 years ago. Reminiscing about his Doha debut, he said: “I’ve been coming here since I first got my tour card in 2003, which was my first full year out.
“This was always one of the better stops. They’ve lengthened it and made other changes but being here brings back nice memories. I haven’t been here for a while so it’s nice to be back.” The South African is joined by 10 fellow countrymen in the 132-man field and reflecting on his earlier years as a professional, recognizes the role he now plays.
He said: “Last night there was a bunch of young South Africans standing around me, asking me questions, and I thought, you know... that was me 20 years ago, asking Ernie Els and Retief Goosen all these questions, those are my idols. Now, all of a sudden these guys are looking up to me.
“It’s interesting how time evolves. I feel as fit and as strong as I’ve ever been but you’ve got these young 20 year, 21-year-old kids. They hit the ball far, they're fearless and they've got opportunity to play for a lot of money now and make names for themselves. I think that this International Series will help a lot of the Asian side of it to get exposed to more competition and make them better players.”
The International Series comprises of 10 events on the Asian Tour schedule, enhanced to provide more playing opportunities with elevated prize funds and a pathway to the biggest stages in golf. Staged throughout the year across Asia, Europe and the Middle East to a mix of established and emerging golf markets, each event guaranteeing a minimum prize purse of $2m.
The 38-year-old, whose most recent of his 16 professional victories came at the inaugural LIV event in London, added: “These International Series events are fantastic for the Asian Tour, to help them grow, get stronger fields and at the end of the day, someone will be able to get a spot in LIV, which for an up-and-coming player that'll be an amazing achievement and a chance to play against 48 to the best players in the world.
“So, I think what they're doing is a great idea and I'm happy to be a part of it.”