Els reflects on FedEx St. Jude, U.S. Open setup
Editor’s note: Ernie Els is writing a blog in 2017, and this is his latest installment. For more information on the World Golf Hall of Famer, visit www.ernieels.com. It was good to get another four rounds under my belt in last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis. Having got out of the blocks a bit slowly, with three bogeys in my first five holes, I played some really solid golf coming in to shoot 68. Then we followed that up with a 69 on Friday to be in a nice position going into the weekend. Even though we didn’t push-on over the weekend, I’ve got to say that compared to where my game was in the first 3-4 months of this season, there’s a definite improvement right through the bag. That’s evident from the number of birdies I’m making most weeks. As always, you’ve got to stay patient and just keep trying to do the right things. We all know this game can turn around in a heartbeat. Just before we move on, a quick word of congrats to Daniel Berger on his back-to-back wins. I’ve done that a few times in my career and it’s a sweet feeling, no doubt about it. Also, we have to give a shout-out to South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli who won his maiden Tour event in Austria at the weekend. That’s a sweet feeling, too! So, on to Erin Hills and this week’s U.S. Open. We flew here on Sunday afternoon and, even after all these years, it’s still exciting getting to the golf course, checking-in, and feeling that major championship buzz. This is a new venue for everyone, which is unusual in a major, so we’re all pretty much starting on the same page. The few players that had seen Erin Hills ahead of this week described it as a ‘great course’ and having had my first look today, I’d agree with that assessment. It’s hard to describe the scale of this place. Seriously, this is a huge property! The golf course sits in a rolling, prairie-style landscape with fescue grasses that make it look a little bit linksy in some respects. I like that. Set-up wise, the fairways are generous by U.S. Open standards. There are some blind tee shots, and even a few blind second shots, so one key aspect of these early practice rounds is making sure you’re comfortable with your sight lines. A blind shot is only blind once, as the old saying goes. As with all U.S. Opens it’s going to be vital hitting your share of fairways, not least because the rough is very severe, but also because you’re going to need to work your golf ball both ways into the greens and most likely have to contend with some windy conditions. Hitting from the fairways is a big advantage in that respect. I must say the whole golf course is immaculate. It’s been closed the past six months, so the playing surfaces and overall condition and definition are really exceptional. The greens in particular are perfect and pure, so you can make some putts here. And the fact is, you have to make putts if you’re going to give yourself a chance to win a U.S. Open. The two times that I won this thing, I had a really great week on the greens. Talking of which, this is the 20-year anniversary of my second U.S. Open win at Congressional. Generally speaking I’m not the kind of person who tends to look back or get overly nostalgic about the past, but I spoke to the European Tour over the weekend for a story they’re running on their website and that did bring back some special memories. Another of the things I was reminded of was the fact that I went into that week at Congressional with not much form. But things really started to click into place during the practice rounds and my confidence grew and grew as the week went along. As I was saying earlier in this piece, it’s amazing how quickly things can turn around in this game. So you never know what a week has in store for you; that’s one of the great things about golf. One thing we do know, however, are our tee times. I’m paired with fellow former champions Webb Simpson and Lucas Glover, at 8.35 a.m. CT from the 1st on Thursday and 2.20 p.m. from the 10th on Friday. The goal between now and then, as always in majors, is to get your prep done so that you’re comfortable with the golf course, but at the same time be mindful not to do too much. Pace yourself, basically. This is one of the toughest weeks of the year, mentally and physically, so you’ve got to leave plenty of gas in the tank. Ever since I made my U.S. Open debut with a top-10 finish at Baltusrol in 1993, I’ve made no secret of the fact that this is one of my favorite weeks of the year. I just love everything about this great championship and I can’t wait to get started. If I can get the ball in play off the tee and hit a few more fairways than I have in recent months, then honestly I like my chances of making some noise this week. That’s always the plan! Follow me on Twitter @TheBig_Easy.
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