HUMBLE, Texas Charl Schwartzel looks like a boy as he sits there. A boy with the capability of growing a beard and winning the Masters, sure.
But he has a shy smile and a soft voice and even though he is 27 years old it is easy to imagine him as a little kid.
And that may be because, even a year after he won the Masters, this is all pretty new for him. Winning The Masters changed his life in a million ways. Some of them big. Some of them small. Like having a press conference.
"You know, it's obviously I get to do a lot of this a lot more," he told a room full of reporters.
That was Thursday, before the Shell Houston Open at Redstone Golf Club. Schwartzel, from South Africa, was not the biggest star in Houston this weekend Phil Mickelson was there but he represented one of the biggest storylines. He is living in that strange space between success and what comes next. Can he do it again at The Masters this coming weekend? Is he for real? Or is he just a little brush fire about to be extinguished by the likes of Tiger, Phil and Rory?
Schwartzel got doused a little in Houston this week. He missed the cut, shooting a 2-over 74 in the second round. Hunter Mahan won it at 16-under. Mickelson tied for fourth. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy didnt play.
Houston notwithstanding, Schwartzel said winning The Masters last year has actually improved his golf game. And it has improved by staying the same.
"I think a lot of people try and change things after winning a big tournament like that," he said. "My biggest goal was to remain the same, to do everything I did before, because that's what made me win."
In other words, it was about confidence. Confidence that he was doing the right things. Confidence he only needed to be himself.
Funny thing was, while Schwartzel was trying to remain the same, everybody else started seeing him differently.
"There's a mutual respect between the players," he said. "I think they all obviously, you know, the Masters. I think it's the Major that stands out the most. That's the way I feel about it. I think a lot of guys do. By winning it, you gain a huge amount of respect from everyone."
Because of the timing and course setup, the Shell Houston Open is typically considered an ideal tuneup for the Masters. Theoretically, its results would be predictive. That was only partially true for Schwartzel. He tied for 30th, but felt good about the way he played.
"I was striking the ball well, and I was very good on Sunday with myself, with my finish, but very confident going into Augusta," he said. "I felt like I knew exactly what I was doing with the golf ball."
So then he went and birdied the last four holes at Augusta National and took the green jacket. It has changed his life, but it hasnt changed him. He golfs the same way, he lives the same way and when he talks about it all, he seems a little green and a little bashful.
Because maybe thats just the way he is. Because he has a point to make, too. He may seem new, but hes been around.
"You have to understand, I played on the European Tour and was pretty successful, won a couple times, and you walk around there and people know you," he said. "When I came to America, people know of you, but they don't really know who you were. You could hear people saying, "Who is that?" It's the way it was. After winning a tournament like that at the Masters, all of a sudden overnight everyone knew who you were. It's pretty different.
Well, some things.