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March 8, 2017

Charl Schwartzel

Palm Harbor, Florida

JOHN BUSH: We welcome the defending champion of the Valspar Championship, Charl Schwartzel.

Thanks for joining us for a few minutes. If we can just get some comments on coming back to defend your title.

CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Yeah, great memories. Great to be back. The golf course, wow, very good shape. Last year they redid the greens, that are brand new, and they were pretty slow but now they are really phenomenal. Fairways are great. They have done a really good job. It looks like the weather is going to be great for the week, too, so it's going to be a really nice week to play golf out here.

JOHN BUSH: Talk a little about the state of your game coming into the week and your goals for the rest of the year.

CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Took quite a long time off over December and January. I was supposed to play in Hawai'i but had a little problem with my knee, so I didn't want to fly all the way from South Africa to Hawai'i in case I couldn't play. Ended up resting it. It was a good decision. I haven't felt the knee ever since.

Played in Malaysia on The European Tour, my first tournament out. Missed the cut by one. Caught bad weather in Riviera and missed the cut there, too.

But I'm still optimistic. My game feels in really great shape. Played last week in México, which I thought was quite a success of a tournament. You know, I'm sort of just starting out my year, and everything feels in great shape. I've worked hard, my swing's great, my putting feels good, so just need some rounds. I need to start playing some golf.

JOHN BUSH: You had a fluke injury this morning, are you okay?

CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Got hit by -- I played golf for 28 years now and I've never been hit by a golf ball, until this morning. First hole at ten past 7:00. It was a bit of a fluke. Really bad luck. We played with, my one amateur was on the left-hand side in the trees and my ball was also in the left, heart line of the trees, and he hit this one and it hit the tree and ricocheted right on to me and hit me on my wrist on the tendon here. My whole hand went numb.

I stopped after ten holes, tried to play but I couldn't hold the club anymore. So I've iced it and taken painkillers and anti-inflammatories but we've tested it and at least the nerve is good. So it's just muscle and swelling. So I can't move the wrist properly.

So hopefully it's good tomorrow morning. I'll just keep icing it.

Q. How did the amateur react to all this?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: He feels very bad. But you know, it's not his fault. He hit it forward, it hit the tree, and came bouncing back at some speed (laughter). I'm just happy, it was going for my private parts; hit a little stop. I think I've got better on my reflexes (laughter).

Q. When did you first come here, and what appealed to you about it when you got here, Innisbrook?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Well, the first time I played, I didn't play very well. But you know, the more I played it, I felt like it's a golf course where you need sort of experience to play. You need to learn how to play this golf course.

It looks like an easy course, because it's not very long on distance, but man, the way you've got to shape the shots, the way you've got to think, the variety of clubs you use, it's just a really good golf course. You've got to really think your way around it, and you very seldom get the guy that plays badly otherwise. You've got to bring a good game here to compete.

Q. Winning here last year, this is the first time in the U.S. since the Masters. You won in South Africa and you won around the world. How big of a boost was that, though, getting back on the PGA TOUR and winning over here?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: You know, you win the Masters and your expectations rise so much, and you have a drought for four or five years without winning; you start doubting yourself; what's going on.

I won outside of America, but it was really nice to come back here and win again. It makes you -- it's tough. To win on the PGA TOUR, it really is getting very difficult. The guys are playing so good.

Any time you can win out here, you've got to be really proud of yourself. You know, last year was a nice breakthrough for me just mentally to realize that you are capable of winning out here.

You know, now I feel at least if I get in those situations, it's nice to run on memory where that's when I won so many times in Europe. It was always, keep telling yourself that I won; that you can do it. So you've got something on your competitor that's maybe not won. You've got a mental edge over him.

Q. I've heard that a lot, and it's true, that it's hard to win out here, and I don't want to sound really stupid, but how do you know this? How do you measure this?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: You ask Nick Price and Ernie and those guys, they won lots of times. They were world No. 1s and won majors, and I've asked them, what do you think, you guys won a lot -- not that they weren't good, and they both agreed and said, they think it's a lot harder to win now than it was when they were winning.

And you can just see it. The guys with technology that we've got, everyone is working out; the playing field is so much more level, where in the past, maybe if you worked harder than the rest, you're going to be a bit better. But now everyone works hard and now everyone is playing well. Everyone is preparing. So the competition is really, really tight. You've got to be sharper than the rest to win out here more.

Q. Could you just talk a little about how your game evolved after that Masters win to last year? Did you actually play different? Did parts of your game get better, parts of your game get worse? Can you talk about those five years and what was different, if there was a different?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: The very sort of year after the Masters, I still played well. I got a few good finishes. Between a third place and finish and a win, sometimes it's really so minor.

So I was out there a few times, came close, but then got frustrated and I started swinging a bit badly in '13 and '14. That compounds to not playing very well that year. Then '15, I went back to looking at original footages of my golf swing, and I started fixing it up.

So my consistency came back and I started playing a lot better. Then sort of end of 2015, I started really finding some form and came out here, and I continued. So it was like I could feel it coming, evolving. I was starting to play a lot more consistent, putting better, and out here, you don't need a weakness. If you have any weakness, you're not going to shape up. And my game was getting really sharp in all aspects. To be honest, I wasn't really surprised that I did win.

Q. I think every player has to go through the kind of experience that Jordan went through at last year's Masters. Wonder if you look back on your own career, if you can design a moment where you had a very public failure and had to overcome it and how you did it.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: I had one, 2015, SA Open. The South African Open to me is a title that, the National Open. That tournament is the second-oldest tournament in the world, and I really wanted to win it.

I had a four-shot lead with five holes to go or something like that. I was cruising. I mean, I didn't even think -- I thought ahead. It wasn't even like a -- it disappeared in front of my eyes. I made double on 16, bogey on 17, parred 18 and lost in the first playoff hole to a birdie. That was very difficult to swallow. Never done that.

And especially just sort of coming off 2014 where I played badly, it felt like everything was starting to come together, and I did that. You're going to have a lot more setbacks in this game, and it's just how you handle it. The next week I played decent, but it affected me for awhile.

Q. How did you eventually kind of put that in the back?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: You've got to put it behind you. It takes time. It's easier said than done. But time heals, heals a lot of things. But the quicker you start thinking about it and the quicker people stop talking about it, you get over it and you've got to make new memories.

Q. You mentioned the time off you took for your knee. Do you feel fresher?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Lots. In South Africa with the tournaments there, we still play in December, so you don't really have much of a break. So with this, it ended up being a good thing for me. I had an extra four weeks, and that allowed me to actually, when this healed, to actually do some really good practice, which is important in this game, too.

Q. When you have something like that happen, the obvious emotion is afterwards that you're angry and you're disappointed, but do you feel embarrassed when you're in front of everybody? Is that even something that flashes through your mind, or is it more just frustration and anger?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Yeah, I think you're embarrassed, too, because I've won so many times on The European Tour, and you see another guy that's got lots of experience, and you do this, it's humiliating. And you're also really angry at yourself for letting it slip because you stand there and you think, if you just stayed in the moment, and didn't think you've got it. Because that's the only way you lose is you've already in your mind made up that you've got it. Where if you really stay focused and do what you're supposed to do, you would not lose it from there.

You know, so it's a matter of being angry with yourself or messing up, and then also you're really sort of embarrassed at what you've just done.

Q. You've since won here, Tshwane Open, and I'm probably leaving something out --
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: I won the Dunhill, too.

Q. You replaced it with good memories. Except for the fact that he brought it up today, how much do you think about it? (Laughter).
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Yeah, I haven't thought about it again until he just brought it up again. (Laughter).

Q. You talk about --
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Because I've replaced it with good memories again. I've won three times since. If you can't get over it, then you're never going to get over it.

Q. On the balance of things like that happening, everyone learns from something, does that mean -- that doesn't mean that you have to think about it more?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: That's why I say, for me, by being angry about it and thinking what I did, I've learnt. Next time you're in that situation, stay focused. It's different if you make one bogey or something. Other guys make three birdies, and you really haven't lost it.

But what I did was lost complete focus. I wasn't hitting the right shot at the right time. 2-iron at the 16th hole, 9-iron, middle of the green I make par and I've still got three-shot lead. But drive into the lip of a bunker and end up making double, just stupid.

Q. I don't know the details of the other wins. Did you ever, in any of the other couple, have a sizable margin going down the stretch, and did it cross your mind? Because Jordan brought that up at Pebble.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Both the Dunhill, but Tshwane, I had like a three- or four-shot lead going into the last day, and then I was really determined not to do the same thing and I won by eight.

JOHN BUSH: Charl, as you know, it's a Presidents Cup year, and yesterday Captain Price announced Mike Weir as his fourth assistant. Can you comment on Mike joining the team, and thoughts on The Presidents Cup?

CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Yeah, Mike, it's going to be fantastic to have him around. Geoff Ogilvy was my partner in 2011, and he's going to be lots of fun; that's if he doesn't make the team.

Mike, he has so much experience, and I've spent a lot of time with him, especially at the Masters in the locker room there. You know, I think he's excited. That Presidents Cup two years ago, year and a half ago, really made the guys sort of very, very excited for this one coming, because that was very close.

I think playing on more familiar grounds here and with more familiar faces: Mike and Nick, Ernie, Tony Johnstone, he's just very funny. Having them around is going to be very good for the guys. They are already starting to talk about it, so that's very good. It will be a very exciting one I think.

Q. Knowing your past, the struggles and then obviously winning last year, in the beginning of the season now, how much more confidence going into this tournament do you have for the rest of the season knowing you've won here, starting off better, but knowing you've had the recent success? Does that help you going forward with any confidence or focus knowing what you've done here before?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Yeah, it's always nice to come back when you've known where you've had success. As soon as I drove into the resort, those feelings of last year started coming back. You've just got that little bit more of excitement, and walking around the course today; limping around the course today, I had these great memories.

Because we teed off on the back nine, and it was like, the putt I made on 13, I was standing there, geez, that was a long putt there, but the memory is great. It gives you lot of confidence.

Q. How do you approach the Snake Pit here? What's your preparation playing 16, 17, 18?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Well, the Snake Pit is really only 16, if you're asking me. 16 is a dangerous hole. Whatever makes you feel comfortable off the tee, whether it's an iron just short in the fairway and a 3-wood, that's fine. It's avoiding the water and the trees on the left, really. You can't bail. You hit left, you make bogey, anyways. You hit it in the water, you're going to make probably double.

So it's getting it off the tee just in play and if you're going to play that hole, 2-over for the week, you're going to be in contention in this tournament.

17 and 18 is not really that difficult of holes. I mean, hitting 6-iron, 7-iron into 17, and 18 is your choice, what you want to do. If you drive it, you've got to wedge it. If you hit 2-iron off the tee, you've got 8-iron in. To me, those holes are not that dangerous. But 16, be careful. Just get the ball in play.

Q. Could you just discuss, everyone remembers your Masters finish and four straight birdies. Can you talk about the opening hole of the final round and the pretty interesting shot you hit there?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: At Augusta? Yeah, I remember being quite nervous on the first tee, but hit my drive straight down the middle, and then probably one of the worst second shots I've hit the whole week: 6-iron went into the crowd on the right. Left myself about the most difficult chip you can find in Augusta, and somehow, that specific shot, I practiced for maybe two months, before that tournament. I only practiced with a 6-iron. Never used it on any other club. That just happened to be a 6-iron, same sort of shot that I had been practicing. It was really difficult. I was trying to get it within anything of ten feet would have been fantastic.

But as it took off, it went up and it was nicely on the high side and rolled in. I saw K.J. Choi walk forward and he stopped, and when he stopped, I knew he must be something I can't see and it went right in the middle of the hole. That was one of those things where you're like, wow, this might just be my day.

And I got to the very next hole, hit driver right down the middle of the fairway there, hit 6-iron in on the par 5 and I make par, and I was like, what a waste of the first hole, hitting 6-iron into the second and you're making par. And then backed it up with an eagle on 3. I was like, hey, it's my day (laughter).

Q. How important was that shot at the time? Did it get rid of the nerves?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Yeah, that got rid of the nerves but that got the adrenaline pumping. That's the sort of start you're looking for. Those first three holes were up-and-down, because I went up high on 1 with adrenaline. On the second hole, I walked off disgusted hitting 6-iron, making par; that felt like a waste, and making that second shot on 3. And then Rory just made bogey and was all-square through three holes and then game was on.

Q. How often does anyone bring up that chip-in on No. 1?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: People talk about the four birdies' finish, but I remember that first hole up until 3. And I didn't have a 3-putt all week until the fourth hole. And the fourth hole I hit it front left and had about an 18-foot putt up the hill there and 3-putted. And then I played great. But there was so many guys in contention, you know, everyone was taking the lead, guys making birdies.

But I still remember playing phenomenal golf, tee-to-green, it was amazing, all the way till 18. And make the putts on 15, 16, 17, 18. It was awesome.

Q. What forced you to go practice that shot a month earlier and why with a 6-iron? Do you practice from drop zones?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: It's just at Augusta, I was not chipping -- I wasn't chipping the ball that well. So I figured, what's your weakness. I can't chip-and-run the ball very well. That's always been -- so I'm going to practice the shot because you do get it at Augusta, because when you go down those hills, with them cutting the grass into, you can't get the spin on the ball with a lob-wedge.

So you have to find a different way to either bump it with a sand wedge or pitching wedge just short where it goes on, and I found that inconsistent because you're bouncing it into the grain again. So I found I could get something on the ground quicker, maybe this way, I can get it rolling and I can control it better.

So I just started practicing with a 6-iron and felt comfortable. Every week I found, I would stand and I would lead shots with a 6-iron, run it up and I just -- there's no reason for it. That's just what I thought. And I used it during the week, too, and became really confident. I was just hitting it good, and then that specific shot on that, because all the people were standing, it was on the stand at Augusta, because sometimes you get that sand, pebble, coming through the grass. There's no way you can use your lob-wedge, so just 6-iron.

Q. There seems to be so many guys that when you go into Augusta now, that people talk about favorites. There's maybe more guys than ever that people point to going there. Do you ever feel like maybe you get overlooked when you go back there and you feel so confident because you know you've done it?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: That doesn't bother me, because end of the day, people talk about the guys that are in form. Guys that are playing well, that's what everyone sees in media. That's what I think everyone gets wrong. The TOUR is getting so strong. There's so many guys that can win that. Sure, the TV crew, how do you feel follow four or five groups out there and other guys are playing well, but the guys just around them are really that close to playing just as good.

You know, fair enough if they talk about everyone else, but any time I get there, I feel like I've got just as good a chance to win as anyone else.

Q. Going to this tournament with this freak accident with your wrist, does that make you nervous or a little leery how you're going to play? What's your thought process going to play with something like that so random to happen?
CHARL SCHWARTZEL: I mean, I never pulled out of a tournament with an injury after I've started. I'm planning on playing; whether I have to limp around or not, I'll tee off. I just hope it's not something serious because I feel like I'm playing really well and I want to play. I don't want to now have to sit out because of this silly injury.

But I think it will be fine. I'm going to ice it the whole afternoon. The guy said it's swelling on the tendon, so it's going to be fine.

JOHN BUSH: Best of luck this week.

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