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On the Road with Ernie: The Final Fortnight

Ernie Els arrives in Florida this week to prepare for the final two official PGA Tour events of the season - this week's Chrysler Championship, followed by THE TOUR Championship. Read all about his final preparations and some of his most recent off-the-course activities, including how he celebrated his most recent birthday, in this edition of On the Road with Ernie.

As hard as it is to believe, this week is the start of my preparations to play in the final two official events of the 2006 PGA Tour schedule. The season has gone so quickly. First, it’s the Chrysler Championship at the Westin Innisbrook Resort in Tampa. This is probably Florida’s best golf resort, and I personally think the Copperhead layout is the best golf course that the PGA Tour visits in Florida. It has a lot of character, some nice design features and, unlike a lot of courses in this area it has some significant changes in elevation. I like it and with this being my first time back here since 2003 I’m really looking forward to teeing it up this week.

So, before we get on to this week’s business, how about last week? Well, last Tuesday it was my birthday – number 37, in case you’re wondering! It was really good to be at home with the family, because it meant we could do some things together during the early part of the week.

Also, as I mentioned in my last report, it was Tuesday that I took part in the last leg of Ian Botham’s latest walk for charity, which finished in London. I didn’t know much about the route or the format, but I spoke to Beefy and he said, “just pitch up at M&S before 11 o’clock and we’ll go for a little walk”, so I was there! It’s a great thing that Beefy has done with these Charity Walks and the support from the general public out there was amazing. I was pleased to be able to take part and lend my support for two very special causes – Leukaemia Research and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Later that evening I went to Stamford Bridge in London to watch a great game of football, with Chelsea beating Barcelona 1-0 in the Champions League. The atmosphere at games like that is something else; I mean, there must have been almost 50,000 people there and when Chelsea scored the only goal of the game just after the half-time break, the whole stadium erupted. I loved it.

For the rest of the week, I basically stuck to the game plan, as I was describing in my website report last Monday. That meant plenty of workouts at the gym with Josh, and a lot of time spent hitting practice balls and working on my short game. Luckily the weather in London stayed pretty kind to us, so I could get out there and work as hard as I wanted to. And you know, it felt like a productive week’s work.

Coming up this week…

I flew from London to Florida on Sunday morning. It is obviously a bit earlier than I would normally travel to a tour event, but there was a very good reason for that. I mean, this week’s Chrysler Championship has more significance than most PGA Tour events, because I’m currently right on the top-30 ‘bubble’ on the money list and I need to put in a decent performance to guarantee my place in the end-of-season Tour Championship. It was bad enough missing out on this tournament last year while I recovered from knee surgery. Trust me I don’t want to miss it again. So, by getting here early I get to start my preparations early, too.

One little added bonus of arriving in Florida at the weekend was I got to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Philadelphia Eagles at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sunday afternoon. I’m no expert on American Football, but I love all sports at the highest level and, as I was saying about the Chelsea football match last week, I love the atmosphere at events like this.

I hear the Eagles were big favourites to win this game, but the home team upset the odds with Matt Bryant kicking a decisive 62-yard field goal just as time was running out. It was pretty exciting stuff. And I’m told (by those with a lot more knowledge of the sport than me!) that it was the third-longest field goal in NFL history.

Anyway, back to business…and moving on to the subject of caddies, you’ll recall things went pretty well with Malcolm Mason in the American Express Championship at The Grove a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve got him on the bag again here in Tampa.

I also brought my personal trainer Josh Salzman out here to Florida. I trained hard last week back at Wentworth and I want to keep that up in the days and weeks ahead. I suppose this past year or so I’ve come to appreciate the importance of fitness, maybe more than I ever did before I got injured. I tend to do all my fitness work away from the golf course, so that when I get to the course I can just concentrate on my play and my practice. I know some other players are different, but that’s the way I like to do things. I mean, your practice shouldn’t be a workout.

As I’ve said before, with Josh’s help I’ve improved my upper-body conditioning this year and obviously the knee is improving all the time. One of the other things I work on is trying to boost my energy levels by focusing a lot on cardio. I’m a big guy so I’ve got to work on keeping my weight in check – and basically, the lighter I am, the more energy I have. I feel like my improved level of fitness is helping me not only today, but also in the next five to ten years.

Okay, just one final thing before I finish. The Yahoo! Answers on-line poll that ran last week has now finished and it seems to have gone well. We had almost 700 answers in total and I want to thank everyone out there who took the time to contribute their thoughts and opinions. We had a lot of interesting ideas.

I’ve picked a winner already – basically, the comment which I felt most captured the importance of introducing kids to sport, while still emphasising the fun element. You can read this and all the other contributions still on the Yahoo website. Why not check it out. I see that Jamiroquai front-man Jay Kay has followed on from me this week!

That’s it for this report. I’ll write again next Monday.

Bye for now…and have a great week.

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