Editor's note: Ernie Els has been writing a blog for PGATOUR.COM in 2013 and this is his latest installment. For more information on the World Golf Hall of Famer, visit www.ernieels.com.
After a relaxing week at home, exactly what we had planned, we’re now just getting ready to leave Florida and fly to Scotland for this week’s Dunhill Links Championship. I’m partnered with my dad again, which is perfect.
It’s obviously very different to a regular tour event and in my opinion there’s definitely a place for this kind of event in our schedule. The professionals enjoy it and the amateurs love to be playing at the Home of Golf, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and top players in a competitive environment. We’re out there to win, but it’s a bit more relaxed and as a player you just try to embrace that.
For me the heart of this tournament’s appeal is three great links courses – the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns – and everyone knows how much I love links golf. The weather invariably plays a big part here, but all things being equal Carnoustie is the toughest test, while the Old Course is my favorite. All three are wonderful golf courses in their own right, though, and the fans in Scotland are probably the best in the world.
It’s a fun week and I have some fond memories of playing here over the years:
1. Friends & Family: One of the best things about this week is spending time with the family and staying in the Old Course Hotel, one of my favorite hotels in the world. Most years I partner with my dad, which is very special. We don’t get to spend much time together and these days we don’t play much golf, either. This tournament kind of makes up for that, which is really nice. We haven’t won this thing yet, but Dad maybe needs a couple more shots on these golf courses and I need to play better! Maybe this year…who knows?
Also, it’s a week for catching up with old friends. Most years my great friend Johann Rupert and his professional playing partner make up a Four-ball with my dad and me. Johann has done so much for the game around the world and he’s done an incredible job with this tournament. It’s gone from strength to strength and the charity fundraising element is a big deal as well. This tournament would not be the success that it is without his vision.
2. London Calling!: In the 2002 tournament I wasn’t doing that great, to be honest. In my defense, my mind probably wasn’t totally on the job! At the beginning of the week Liezl had said to me that she had a feeling our second child was going to arrive ‘any day now.' I thought about not playing, but we spoke about it and we figured that if anything did happen I was only in Scotland and I’d be able to get down to London in time for the birth. As it turned out, it was a close-run thing.
On Sunday morning at 6 a.m. the phone rang in my hotel room and it was Liezl saying she was about to have the baby. The next few hours were a bit of a blur. I packed my bags quicker than I ever have in my life, dashed to the car and on the way to the airport phoned tournament director Peter German of IMG to inform him that I was ‘out of here.' We got on the plane and landed at Farnborough airport just before 9 a.m. where I had a car waiting to drive me to the hospital in Guildford. I arrived there at 9.30 a.m. and Ben was born at 10.23 a.m. As I say, a close-run thing, but I was thrilled to make it there in time.
3. Near Misses: The first time we played this tournament in its current format was 2001 and that, as it happens, was probably the closest I ever got to winning. Mother Nature was pretty cruel to us that year and we’d had a bunch of delays for fog and rain, so the final round was carried over to Monday. I’d shot rounds of 65, 70, 68 and then closed with a 68, making birdie on the 18th green on the Old Course to finish 17 under. It looked like that might be good enough for at least a playoff, but sitting in the scorer’s hut I watched on television as Paul Lawrie drained a 40-footer from the Valley of Sin to beat me by a shot!
A couple of years later I shot 20 under, but again got beaten by a shot, this time by Lee Westwood. My standout memory of that tournament were the final two holes on the Old Course on Sunday, when I birdied the infamous 17th hole and then on 18 played what is still to this day one of the best pitch shots of my career, from a really tough spot, to make birdie there and close with a 64.
When you play well, shoot four good rounds and yet don’t win, it’s obviously disappointing, but you can’t ever have any complaints. You just have to take your hat off to the other guy and say ‘well played’.
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