Ernie Els blog: The Open

SA Open Championship: Round 4Arriving in St Andrews this week it’s hard to believe I’ve been coming here for almost 25 years and that this will be my fifth Open Championship at the Home of Golf.
I consider myself blessed that this historic venue has been such a consistent presence throughout my career and I’ve enjoyed a lot of great experiences here, both in Alfred Dunhill sponsored tournaments and of course in the Open Championship. I finished 11th in my first Open at St Andrews in 1995 (pictured below), then was runner-up to Tiger in 2000 and 34th in 2005. Then in 2010 I was one of many players who got blown (literally!) off the golf course on Friday afternoon in the strongest wind I’d ever experienced. It was so severe that the R&A stopped play at one point. That year’s winner was Louis Oosthuizen, a former Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation member, so he has the honour this week of an Open defence of sorts. I’m sure he’ll relish that experience. It’s a shame that our actual defending champion Rory McIlroy isn’t here. I know all too well how disappointing it is to miss a Major through injury, but these things happen. That’s life. The important thing is there’s no lasting damage and he’ll be back soon.

Anyway, there really is nothing that quite compares with an Open Championship at St Andrews. This is where it all started; this is the Home of Golf. When you’re here you breathe in the history and the magic of this place. I absolutely love it. This is the perfect combination of my favourite golf tournament in the world married with one of the greatest venues in sport. To say there’s a special vibe might be the understatement of the golfing year!
Obviously it is familiar turf and that takes away some of the pressure in terms of your prep in the days leading up to the first round. You could say I’ve already had 25 years’ worth of scouting missions at St Andrews! So there are no surprises. For me, the practice days are all about getting dialed-in to the challenge of these enormous greens and working on your shot selections and how best to stay out of the deep pot bunkers. You have to play smart here and when the wind gets up, as it is forecast to do in the first couple of rounds, your imagination and creativity are just as important as the yardage book. It’s the ultimate all-round test of your game, physically and mentally.
And I certainly couldn’t ask for better company in the first couple of rounds, playing with fellow RBC golfing ambassador Brandt Snedeker and the legend Tom Watson, a five-time winner of this great Championship. That’s a really nice draw.
Talking of legends, I’ll be partnering another five-time Open Champion, Peter Thomson, in the Champion Golfers’ Challenge, which takes place on Wednesday afternoon on the 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th holes. It’s a thrill getting the opportunity to play a few holes with Peter, who is celebrating the 60th anniversary of his win at St Andrews in 1955. That was the middle leg of a hat-trick of Open wins for him; an incredible feat that no one else has achieved in the modern era. Phil Mickelson and Ben Curtis make up our fourball and we’ll have some fun and also play hard to try to win some money for our chosen charities. Then it’s down to the serious business the next morning. I can’t wait!
Before signing off I first want to salute the ‘Class of 2015’ who this week will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame at a ceremony in St Andrews, the first time this event has ever been held away from the Hall of Fame’s home in St Augustine, Florida. Major champions Laura Davies, David Graham and Mark O’Meara, alongside the late, great golf course architect AW Tillinghast are the latest worthy recipients of this great honour.

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