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On the Road with Ernie: The International

Ernie's in Denver preparing for The International, the first tournament he ever played on the PGA Tour, and an event he won back in 2000. Learn more about the tournament and the Castle Pines golf course, as well as how Ernie's been preparing for this event and the upcoming PGA Championship, in this edition of On the Road with Ernie...

I’ve had a great couple of weeks with the family in South Africa, but it’s time to get back to work now. And having missed last year’s International through injury, I’m really looking forward to playing again at Castle Pines. This was actually the first PGA Tour event that I ever played in, thanks to getting a sponsors invitation way back in 1991. That meant a lot to me at that stage of my career and I’ve loved coming back ever since. It’s one of my favourite tournaments of the year.

As I was saying in my previous report, I tried to put in plenty of work on the practice ground last week. Although having commented on the website how great the weather had been back in South Africa, it quickly turned a little wet, to say the least. In fact, we had 320mm of rain in two days in George at the start of last week, which broke all rainfall records. It was unbelievable! That cramped my style a bit. But I managed to fit in plenty of practice time around that, plus a little bit of business at the vineyard and a couple of site visits to prospective new golf course design projects, so all in all it was a very productive week.

My main focus was obviously in making sure I kept my swing in the groove in preparation for the next three weeks on the PGA Tour. It’s a big stretch – with this week’s International followed by the US PGA Championship and then the WGC Bridgestone Invitational – so I wanted to give myself the best chance to play my best golf, not just for the next few weeks but for the rest of the season as well. That’s what it’s all about for me; making sure that I step on to the first tee knowing I’ve done everything I possibly can to give myself a chance of winning.

And I desperately want to win a tournament this year, so that I can get to the Mercedes Championship in Hawaii at the start of next season. That’s my big goal right now, so I’m focused on that and working hard towards it.

It’s one of the reasons I flew to Denver a couple of days earlier than usual, so I could spend two days solid on the practice ground and really get into the swing of things.

I’m raring to go now.

Coming up this week…

It was just over 18 hours flying time from Cape Town to Denver at the weekend, but the long journey here is always worth it. Castle Pines is one of the most beautiful golf courses we play on the PGA Tour, high up in the mountains of Colorado. And my record here is good. I won it in 2000, equalling the record points total, and since 1997 I’ve finished outside the top-7 only twice. What’s also really nice about this week is we stay with the same friends we have done for the last 10 years. Like I said before, I love everything about this tournament, including the point-scoring format.

I guess you could say it’s really just a modified version of the well-known Stableford points system; you get two points for a birdie, five points for an eagle, nothing for pars and only minus-one for bogeys. Basically, it rewards aggressive golf, because you gain more points for a birdie than you lose for a bogey.

It’s one of those events where you turn up and you’ve got to slot it straight into aggressive mode – you know, try to make a bunch of birdies and just restrict your bad holes to the occasional single-bogey. If you can do that, you’ve got a great chance of being up near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon. Trust me, steady par golf gets you nowhere here!

It’s a golf course that definitely seems to suit my eye. As I said, it’s a stunning location and many of the holes feature spectacular backdrops. The pick of the bunch I’d say is the par-4 10th hole. I’m not alone in liking this hole; it was ranked the best 10th hole in America a few years back, by the prestigious magazine Golf Digest.

And it is also one of the longest we play all year, at just over 7,600 yards. The par-5 1st hole is 644 yards; the 14th is 623 yards and there are five par-4s measuring more than 460 yards. But we’re at altitude remember, something like 6,000 feet above sea level, so it doesn’t play as long as you’d think. Not as long as it looks on paper, anyway. But it still helps if you can bomb it high off the tee, because that’s how you get the most advantage out of the thin mountain air. It’s certainly not a low-ball hitter’s golf course, put it that way.

And obviously with birdies and eagles at such a premium, you’ve got to putt well to do well here. You’ve got to make your share.

Anyway, it’s early morning here in Colorado and I’m going to head off soon and hit some balls, so I’ll sign off here.

I’ll write again next Monday and give you a rundown of how things went this week, plus a preview of the year’s final major at Medinah.

Bye for now, then.


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