Branden – What is your favourite memory of Augusta?
Ernie – That first time you drive down Magnolia Lane is incredible. Trust me youÂll enjoy that. IÂve been coming here almost 20 years and I still love that buzz. A few years ago I played with Gary Player in his 50th Masters and he said it still hadnÂt worn off! Also my final round 67 in 2004 stands out. I was six-under par from holes 8 through 18 that day. Even though that tournament didnÂt end the way I wanted it to, IÂd say in the circumstances that was the best round of golf IÂve ever played at Augusta.
Branden – What would your advice be ahead of my first time playing at Augusta?
Ernie – One funny story I heard when I was a rookie here was talking to Jose-Maria Olazabal and on his first visit he said the turf was so perfect that he thinned his first few iron shots because he felt bad taking a divot. IÂm sure that wonÂt happen to you Branden! Overall IÂd say itÂs a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. IÂm sure this will be the first of many visits to Augusta in your career, so try to enjoy it and soak it all up. People will say you canÂt win on your first visit, but I donÂt know about that. Just ask Fuzzy Zoeller!
Branden – Do you have any advice to how to tackle Augusta National – it seems to be a course that can really bite back at the rookies?
Ernie – There are certain Âcrunch shotsÂ at Augusta where the tariff is very high and from 1 to 18 there is no other course where the margins between a birdie and a bogey are so small. You have to commit to your shots and be aggressive to your spots, even if thatÂs 25-feet right of the pin.
YouÂll know already that the slopes are more severe than they appear on television, so you hit a lot of iron shots from sloping lies and youÂve got the big elevation changes coming into some of those greens. The wind can switch around, especially in Amen Corner. Short game is the biggest thing at Augusta, though. The grass around the greens is mowed very tight and against the direction of play, so you have to be very precise with your strike. Obviously the speed and the slope of the greens get your attention, as well.
Other than that, itÂs really pretty straightforward [laughs].
Branden – What should I look out for when I am playing my practice rounds?
Ernie – You need every part of your game working well at Augusta, but like I said, the short game dominates. And you have to use your head. ItÂs not the sort of golf course where you can go out and say to yourself Âright, IÂm going to rip it up todayÂ. It just doesnÂt work like that. You have to play smart and be patient. I love that old Bobby Jones quote, ÂThere isnÂt a single hole out there that canÂt be birdied if you just think, but there isnÂt one that canÂt be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinkingÂ. That sums up the challenge quite neatly.
Branden – I have obviously watched the Masters a lot on television so I think I know what to expect, but is there anything that will surprise me when I get there?
Ernie – ItÂs hard to describe, but everything youÂve seen on television is magnified a hundred times. The colours, the atmosphere and the sheer beauty of this place Â itÂs a wonderful assault on the senses. Augusta is unique, a total one-off. Seriously Branden, itÂs a real eye-opener. YouÂre in for a great week.