First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and I hope that 2017 is a healthy and prosperous one for you all. And, of course, welcome to another new golfing year…my 29th as a professional golfer. Time flies, as they say.
It’s been a while since my last report so let me first get you up to speed on what’s been happening these past 2-3 weeks. In mid-December I enjoyed a fantastic weekend in Columbia playing in the first ever Karibana Skins Game at the superb TPC Cartagena with my ‘three amigos’ Camilo Villegas, Angel Cabrera and Juan Sebastián Muñoz. All of us had a lot of fun out there and appreciated the support from an enthusiastic gallery. Congrats to Camilo on winning…and beating me by an inch on the playoff shot!
I have a great friendship with Camilo and he’s supported many of our Els for Autism events in Florida, so when he and his brother Manny told me about this new event in Columbia I could see the passion that they have for their homeland and that they want to show it to a global audience. We were there for only a couple of days, but this is definitely one of those trips that really had an impact on me. A great golf course, a magical city with amazing culture and architecture, and wonderful people. I want to thank everyone for the warm welcome and for making Liezl, me and the rest of the family feel so at home. It was the second time in the space of a few weeks that I’d visited somewhere completely new, which is unusual for me, and I absolutely loved that.
We then headed to South Africa for our break. As always, it was an opportunity to relax with family, catch-up with friends, and play some social golf at beautiful Oubaai, our first Ernie Els Design project to open in South Africa, and some of the surrounding courses. I know a lot of people there and there’s always a good game to be had…and always something on the line! It makes it fun and helps keep my game sharp.
On this occasion, the festive period also happened to be the ideal time for me to practise with a new set of TaylorMade Proto tour irons, which were shipped over to me just before Christmas. These clubs represent everything I’ve always liked about an iron; classic, traditional head-design with exceptional sound and feel off the clubface. I’m really excited about having these clubs in the bag for the 2017 season and I believe TaylorMade have a few other treats in the pipeline. Sounds good, boys!
That actually leads me nicely into taking a moment to thank all of my current sponsors – SAP, Boeing, RBC, ECCO, TaylorMade, Maui Jim and Pacific Links International – for their continued support and friendship. I am proud to represent such a family of sponsors and partners who support not only me, but also in many instances our various philanthropic efforts.
As much as I enjoy my vacation time with the family, especially at Herold’s Bay which is probably my favourite location in the world, it’s exciting to embark on another new year on Tour. I’m always fired up. It’s a clean slate and there’s so much to look forward to, not least this week’s BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni at Glendower. It’s a lovely venue this. A beautiful parkland layout and the guys tell me it’s in great shape. For me it has the added appeal of being one of the courses I played quite a few times in my amateur days, although not as much as I did at nearby Kempton Park.
Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to start the new season. As you can imagine, my focus is very much on trying to win my sixth SA Open title and I’m working hard to try to make sure that I come out of the blocks fast in 2017 and generate some early momentum. Those first few tournaments can often set the tone for your season.
However, I also take very seriously my responsibilities as the tournament’s official host. This is my third year and it’s an honour to continue in this role and to work with the Sunshine Tour and BMW to help grow our national open. It’s a tournament with a great history and, we believe, an equally great future.
In the field this week is plenty of great homegrown talent, including defending champion (and Olympian) Brandon Stone. All of them will get to match their skills against many of the game’s top international players, such as four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, and a few other legends including Sir Nick Faldo, Retief Goosen and Darren Clarke, to name a few Hopefully we can get a repeat of last year when we had eight South African players in the top-10. Whatever the final result, it promises to be a great week and I’m looking forward to it.
There’ll undoubtedly be a touch of sadness this week, though, as we mourn the untimely passing of a two-time SA Open champion Wayne Westner. He was some player and probably one of the best ball-strikers that I ever saw; Wayne crushing a 1-iron was truly a sight to behold! We played a lot of golf together back in the day and, of course, we won the World Cup of Golf together at Erinvale in 1996. Such great memories, thank you my friend. Obviously our thoughts and prayers go to Wayne’s family.
Moving on, it gives me great pleasure to tell you about the Friendship Cup, which took place at The Els Club Copperleaf from 8-9 January (pictured below). Four members of The Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation were competing against four members from Sir Nick Faldo’s Junior Series and four members from the South African Golf Development Board.
Sir Nick and I have spoken many times over the years about creating some event that provides our members and others with a great opportunity to compete with other international elite amateurs. This event fulfils that role. Also, more importantly, it enables our members to embrace new experiences, cultures and friendships. It is about developing the ‘whole’ rather than just one element of their games. Thanks to Wolfgang Raffalsky of Plastomark, a dear friend and long-time supporters of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, we have been able to turn this dream into a reality.
Finally, I’ll just wrap things up by taking this opportunity to send my thanks to everyone at the Sunshine Tour, European Tour, South African Open, BMW and The City of Ekurhuleni, and all the other tournament sponsors, for once again making The Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation and Els for Autism the SA Open’s beneficiary charities. This event is a really wonderful platform for us, helping spread awareness and raise funds. On that point, we draw your attention to a ladies ‘Hats & Heels’ champagne breakfast taking place in the tournament’s VIP Hospitality lounge by the side of the 18th green on Thursday 12 January from 9-11am. There’ll be a silent auction, with all proceeds going to Els for Autism.
That’s it for now. Follow me on Twitter @TheBig_Easy.