As he prepares to make his Masters debut Branden Grace, a former member of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, talks to his boyhood hero Ernie Els
Branden – What is your favourite memory of Augusta?
Ernie - That first time you drive down Magnolia Lane is incredible. Trust me you’ll enjoy that. I’ve 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t end the way I wanted it to, I’d say in the circumstances that was the best round of golf I’ve ever played at Augusta.
Branden - What would your advice to 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. I’m sure that won’t happen to you Branden! Overall I’d say it’s a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. I’m 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 can’t win on your first visit, but I don’t 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 ‘crunch shots’ 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 that’s 25-feet right of the pin.
You’ll 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 you’ve 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, it’s 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. It’s not the sort of golf course where you can go out and say to yourself ‘right, I’m going to rip it up today’. It just doesn’t work like that. You have to play smart and be patient. I love that old Bobby Jones quote, ‘There isn’t a single hole out there that can’t be birdied if you just think, but there isn’t one that can’t be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking’. 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 - It’s hard to describe, but everything you’ve seen on television is magnified a hundred times. The colours, the atmosphere and the sheer beauty of this place – it’s a wonderful assault on the senses. Augusta is unique, a total one-off. Seriously Branden, it’s a real eye-opener. You’re in for a great week.