It’s Masters week, always a big moment in the golfing calendar, and for many the start of the golfing season as the weather takes a turn for the better.
The forecast for this week looks good, with a slight chance of rain on Thursday. The golf course is, as always, in absolutely fantastic condition.
My prep for this year’s Masters actually started a couple of weeks ago when I made a day-trip to Augusta National to play the course and get a feel for the shots that we will need this week. I’ve played 74 competitive rounds here, and probably at least that many again in practice rounds, but a pre-tournament visit is always prudent. You can see what little changes the tournament committee has made to the course and you also feel like you’re getting a nice little head-start on your preparations, so when you arrive on the Monday of Masters week you kind of hit the ground running.
Playing four rounds in last week’s Shell Houston Open – a wonderful tournament in its own right – also happens to be a great tune-up for the Masters. The GC at Houston is big course in a wooded landscape and everyone involved in the tournament has in recent years done a superb job setting it up to create a similar kind of challenge to Augusta National. We didn’t challenge for a win in Houston but my putting felt comfortable all week, with some solid ball striking, which is what you want heading into the Masters.
So, now that we’ve arrived on the pure, pristine grounds of Augusta National, it’s a case of pacing yourself leading up to Thursday’s first round. You want to do what you have to do, but be careful not to do too much. This is a mentally and physically demanding golf course – it takes a lot out of you during tournament week, so you have to conserve your energy. You want to get dialled-in to your distances and spend a bit more time than usual on your short game and putting.
As usual I’ll most likely play some practice rounds with the South African guys. We always have some fun together out there and it keeps the pre-tournament vibe nice and relaxed, which I think is important.
My great friend and fellow SAP ambassador Gary Player is also here (he and Jack Nicklaus hit the ceremonial opening tee shots on Thursday morning) so I’m sure we’ll catch up a few times during the week. Gary’s record here speaks for itself, but to me one of the most incredible statistics is that he played the Masters 52 times…or to put it another way he spent basically an entire year of his life at this wonderful tournament. It’s more than any other golfer in history and honestly it’s hard to see how that record will ever be surpassed. And trust me, Gary still gets excited coming back here. Augusta National definitely has that effect!
Finally, I just want to congratulate both Jim Herman, who won his first PGA TOUR title last week in Houston, and Andy Svoboda, who won the Brasil Champions event on the Web.com Tour. Both Jim and Andy have been great supporters of our Els for Autism Foundation events and it is wonderful to see them in the winner’s circle.
I also wanted to wish my old friend Roland Schoeman good luck as he heads back to South Africa to compete in the time trials for this summer’s Olympic Games. If he makes it, Roland will become South Africa’s first five-time Olympian!
So, I hope you enjoy the coverage from Augusta on television or, if you’re one of the lucky band of patrons, enjoy the action for real. It really is a very special week for the fans, just as it is for us players. I’ll write again soon and tell you all about my week.
In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @TheBig_Easy.
Ernie’s Masters Career Stats
Cuts made: 15
Rounds played: 74
Scoring average: 72.11 (10th on all-time list)
Lowest round: 66
Rounds under par: 31
Rounds in the 60s: 12
Best finish: Second (2000 & 2004)
Last year’s finish: Tied-22nd