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On the Road with Ernie: 2007 Season Preview

With a 2007 European Tour win already under his belt (South African Airways Open), and after some time off around the holidays, Ernie is set to get back to work this week at the Qatar Masters. Find out what Ernie's been up to recently and what his expectations are for the new season in the latest edition of On the Road with Ernie...

Okay, this is it then; the start of another golfing year. The European Tour season is well into its stride now; this week’s Qatar Masters is the 9th event on the schedule. And obviously I’ve played a couple already myself, back in South Africa in December. But this is the first tournament of the new calendar year for me and that always feels like a new beginning. I love it. I’ve got the whole year ahead me; so much to achieve and everything to play for. This is my 18th year as a pro, but that buzz never wears off, to be honest with you. I can’t wait to tee it up this week.

The Christmas and New Year break was great, though. Had a couple of weeks with the family down at the house in Herold’s Bay, which is always a treat. I feel like I can really switch off and relax whenever I’m there. I think the win in December made it that much sweeter. You know, in some ways it lifted a lot of pressure from my shoulders. It had been a long time between wins – longer than at any time in my pro career, actually. I guess it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Then just before the New Year we travelled to the beautiful island of Mauritius. I played golf with some friends on New Year’s Eve and we had a bit of a party that night…well, quite a big party, actually. It was a great night!

Then on January 2nd I had a site visit with my head of design Greg Letsche to the Anahita Golf Course which is now well into its construction phase. Things are really taking shape there; the irrigation and construction is complete on the front nine and on the last three holes. Greg and I reviewed the overall strategy for the course and made a few subtle changes here and there. It was great to see so much progress being made and I tell you something, when it’s finished it will be awesome. Several of the holes play down by the Ocean and the views are spectacular. It’s going to be a special place.

We then flew back to the house at Wentworth at the start of January. Samantha was starting her third year at school and there were some things I wanted to do, one of which was spend some time on the West Course with Chris Kennedy and the Club’s Managing Director Julian Small. We’ve been looking at the stats from last year’s BMW Championship and HSBC World Matchplay and discussing ways we could maybe improve on the improvements, so to speak. At the heart of our discussion is always one important theme; to continue to preserve the challenge of the West Course and make sure that good shot-making gets its just rewards. The most recent changes are quite subtle compared to what we did before, but they’re all for the better we think.

Originally the plan was to stay at Wentworth for a couple of weeks and fly from there straight to Qatar at the weekend. But the weather forecast in England wasn’t that good for last week. So we made a last minute decision to return to South Africa again last Monday. Basically, I wanted to be able to spend some time working on my game before I arrived in Qatar and that wouldn’t have been easy the way the weather was in London. They had some serious wind and rain there, so it was a good decision.

Coming up this week…

I’m posting this report just before I get on the plane and leave for this week’s Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club. It feels like it’s been a long break since I won the South African Airways Open in December. As I was saying earlier in this report, I really enjoyed my time off. But I’m eager to get going again now and start playing some competitive golf. I think all sportsmen are the same – certainly all the golfers I know, anyway. We enjoy some time away from the game, but before long we get itchy feet again. I know I need to feel that competition; it’s what drives me.

Anyway, it’s going to be good to be back in Qatar again. This is the start of back-to-back tournaments in the desert and I’ve come to really look forward to my trips out here. In 2005 the tournaments were played the other way round – Dubai Desert Classic first and then the Qatar Masters the week after – and I was lucky enough to win them both. It wasn’t quite so spectacular last year – 13th in Qatar and then the week after I obviously lost out in the playoff to Tiger in Dubai.

But I’ve got high hopes this week. When you’ve won on a golf course, any time you come back you tend to have a good mind-set. And you know, there’s something about the golf course here in Doha which seems to suit my eye. I like it a lot, especially when it gets a bit blustery like I remember it did on the Sunday I won in 2005. That’s when you have to use your imagination and move the ball around a bit; I love playing golf like that. It’s one of the reasons I love links golf so much.

Overall it’s a good test of golf and the front nine alone must be one of the longest we play all year, 3,801 yards, including a 639-yard monster just before you turn for home! Still, there are always birdies to be had out here, partly because the greens are such a joy to putt on. The putting surfaces are smooth and true.

My game feels good and my confidence is back to something like where I want it to be after winning in South Africa in December. I’d obviously love to win again here in Qatar; that would be pretty special. I know this is the 10th playing of this event and hopefully we can do it justice and give the fans a good show.

Thinking ahead generally, I’m very excited about this season. Finally I can say with conviction that I’ve put the knee injury behind me; right now I’m probably fitter than I’ve ever been. It’s almost like a new beginning again; I feel like I’m re-dedicating myself to the game. I noticed that a lot of writers and newspapers picked up on the quotes I made late last year about my three-year plan to catch Tiger in the world rankings. I stand by what I said. I mean, everyone needs motivation in their professional lives, to help push you upwards and achieve more. That’s part of my motivation, along with winning some more majors.

As I said before, no one is going to get near Tiger any time soon. His lead is too big. So I see 2007 as the start of a three-year plan, where I try to catch him. It’s a hell of a tough ask, but I really believe I can do it. Again, as I said before, I really wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t.

Okay, we’re back in the groove again now with the website reports, so as usual I’ll write again next week.

Until then, bye for now.

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