Friends, partners - Maybe even champs

Updated: 2011-08-26 07:57

(China Daily)

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Friends, partners - Maybe even champs

Charl Schwartzel (left) and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa walk to a green during a practice round prior to the 2011 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 5. [Photo/Agencies]

Boyhood friends will team up with goal of fulfilling lifelong dream - winning a World Cup

As teenagers growing up in South Africa, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen would regularly chatter excitedly about how proud they would feel if the opportunity ever presented itself to represent their nation in golf's World Cup.

Less than 100 days from now, the childhood friends will finally realize that dream when they tee off under the flag of South Africa in the 2011 Omega Mission Hills World Cup at Hainan Island in China.

As the excitement builds towards the start of the prestigious biennial event, being played at the new Mission Hills Resort on Hainan Island from Nov 24-27, the 25 teams already qualified were welcomed by a group of children at Mission Hills China, each sporting tee-shirts with the flags of the countries and regions taking part.

And as the youngsters posed for the picture on the 18th green at the Blackstone course at Mission Hills Haikou, there was no disguising the sheer pleasure that two World Cup rookies, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen, feel about partnering with one another in the name of South Africa.

"We are really excited about it," said Schwartzel, the reigning Masters champion from Augusta National who, as the highest ranked South African on the Official World Golf Ranking at the cut-off point on July 18, was in a position to nominate his playing partner.

That in itself was not exactly a dilemma for Schwartzel, who will be 27 at the end of this month. After deliberating for a nano-second, he selected 28-year-old Oosthuizen, just as they had discussed as aspiring juniors more than a decade earlier.

Schwartzel added: "We've both come a long way and are good friends, having played a lot of junior, amateur and now professional golf together. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a dream come true for both of us to play together and represent South Africa in the World Cup.

Friends, partners - Maybe even champs

"We won the World Junior Team Championship in Japan in 2000 so it would be quite something if we can pull off the 'double' as professionals."

Oosthuizen was the first of the pair to acquire Major Champion status, winning The Open at St Andrews last summer, and that victory over the fabled Old Course was subsequently recognized by Schwartzel as the catalyst for his own Major breakthrough in April.

"I can't wait to get to China," enthused Oosthuizen. "I remember when we were boys growing up and playing golf together, we always talked about playing for South Africa in the World Cup and, if possible, playing our first one together.

"So it was great that Charl was in a position to choose his partner and he picked me. I am honored to play with him. He is such a good friend and I think the two of us will make a great team. We played a lot of amateur golf together and have won together in both India and Japan for South Africa so I think we will have a good week."

However, friendship is one thing. Winning is another altogether - and that is what Schwartzel and Oosthuizen have uppermost in their minds as they try to chalk up a sixth South African victory in the World Cup. Only the United States has won the title more times.

Gary Player and Harold Henning set the ball rolling for South Africa in 1965, followed by Dale Hayes and Bobby Cole in 1974. More recently, Ernie Els and Wayne Westner triumphed on home soil in 1996 - winning at Erinvale by a record 18 strokes - while Els was successful again in 2001 with Retief Goosen before Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini struck gold in 2003.

Schwartzel continued: "Being able to enjoy the honor of representing your country is awesome. You've got to be comfortable with each other. If that is the case, and you hit a bad shot, your partner knows you didn't do it on purpose and you just move on.

"Professional golf is quite a selfish game, so it is nice to get the chance occasionally to play as a team and being as good friends as we are, I think Louis and I will definitely be able to inspire one another and urge each other along.

"Because I was higher in the world ranking it was always going to be my choice, but I teased him for a little while that I was having to think about it and might pick someone else!"

Oosthuizen appreciates that South Africa has a historically strong connection with the World Cup, and senses that his peers are fully behind his new alliance with Schwartzel.

"We are certainly getting that feeling on the range," he said. "Obviously Ernie and Retief won in 2001 and then Trevor and Rory in 2003, so we have had success in the past. However, it would be really great to get South Africa's name back on the trophy again and we'll be trying our hardest to do just that."

Among those teams also confirmed for the 2011 Omega Mission Hills World Cup are Ireland, represented by the 2011 and 2010 US Open Champions Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell; Germany, which will be led by last year's US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer and his partner to be announced. The United States (Matt Kuchar) and England (Ian Poulter) will also name their partners later this month.

Definitely in the field are the two highest placed European finishers from the US PGA Championship in Atlanta. Anders Hansen, third at Atlanta Athletic Club, has selected Thomas Bjorn to represent Denmark while Robert Karlsson, who was tied for fourth, has yet to name his partner as he bids to win a second Omega Mission Hills World Cup.

China Daily