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On the Road with Ernie: The Memorial

I almost don’t know how to begin describing this week’s Memorial. Obviously, it looks bad. But honestly, I’m not hitting shots all over the planet. I’m playing some good golf and getting in a position to shoot decent scores, but I keep missing putts. That kind of gets to you. Then in the final round I got unlucky with the new sand-raking technique they adopted this year. I’m a good bunker player, but in the space of three holes I went in two greenside bunkers and both times I had no shot. And I mean, no shot. It cost me a triple-bogey and a double-bogey. I kind of lost the plot after that. And trust me, that never happens to me. This was just crazy, though.

For the first couple of rounds it was a similar story to the past few months. Like I’ve said before, I’m playing okay. Not on top form, but put it this way – I’ve played like this and won tournaments before. The problem is, I’m playing well for three-and-a-half rounds and giving myself lots of birdie chances. But I’m making nothing. I guess the tendency then is to maybe push a bit too hard and you take risks you wouldn’t normally take; basically trying to force birdies. That doesn’t always work.

Anyway, any other time in my career I’d have managed to grind out a 70 or even a 69, 68 from the way I played on Thursday. But as it was, I made nothing and shot 74. Then on Friday we had the ‘longest day’. I think we stopped for six hours in total, due to some heavy rain. I actually went back to my hotel for a sleep, as I figured that was better than hanging around the clubhouse. It didn’t do me any harm. I was three over par when the rain first came, and in danger of missing the cut, but when I came back I made three birdies to shoot 70 and get back to even par for the tournament. With all the delays it was a 12-hour round of golf. That must be a world record. At least I was playing the weekend, for the 34th consecutive week in a PGA Tour event.

My third round was a mixed bag. Starting on the 10th I went par, bogey, birdie, birdie, par, eagle, double-bogey, par, bogey, to be out in level par! I never play nine holes like that. At the end of the day 73 didn’t reflect the number of quality golf shots I was hitting out there. Again, I found plenty of fairways and greens, but I had a ton of putts. It was another frustrating day at the office, as they say.

I didn’t think it was possible, but things were about to get worse. I haven’t had a chance to look back at my records – in fact, I’m not sure I want to. But there aren’t many times I’ve failed to break 80 in a tournament. Maybe a handful of rounds; and some of those have been in exceptionally testing conditions. There was the 80 I shot in the final round at Shinnecock in the 2004 US Open, but then again almost half the field didn’t break 80 that day. And then going back to the early 1990s I think I shot 82 on a wild and windy day at St Mellion in the old B&H Tournament on the European Tour. There are maybe a couple of others since turning pro, but that’s it.

But this one…well, this one came out of nowhere. The weird thing was, I actually played okay on the front nine; it was just a couple of silly three-putts which stopped me getting to the turn in red figures and heading for a decent sub-par round.

Then it all went totally crazy. I hit the wrong club into the 10th and got a terrible lie in a pot bunker, which was a result of the new way they had of raking the sand this week. I tried to play the right shot, but it was virtually impossible; the ball caught the front lip and ran back into my footprints. So then I had to play sideways into the crowd. From there I chipped down on to the green and two-putted for a triple-bogey seven. And the only thing I did wrong was hit too little club for my approach shot!

On the 11th, I hit two good shots on to the green and three-putted for a par. Then on 12 I put it in another deep bunker, and again the ridges in the sand meant I had no shot. The way the ball was sitting I couldn’t get any spin on the ball, so I knew it was going to run off down the slope into the water the other side of the green. I just stood there and had no options. I made double-bogey there. This was crazy.

As I said at the start of this article, it’s the first time I can ever remember losing the plot in a competitive round of golf. On those final three or four holes, my head just wasn’t there. Hopefully it will be the last time that happens.

I guess you could call this new way of raking the bunkers an experiment. I know why they wanted to do it, but I hope no one ever decides to do it again. I really don’t like to say anything negative about this tournament because it’s always been one of my favourite events of the entire year. But there wasn’t one player I spoke to who thought it was a good idea. Not one. And it wasn’t just sour grapes, either. There were guys at the top of the leaderboard saying exactly the same thing.

Anyway, let’s move on.

Coming up this week…

It’s first thing Monday morning and I’m sending you this report just before I head off to a golf day with one of my sponsors SAP. I do several of these Guest Days for SAP during the year and one of the really good things about them is they always go to the top golf courses. Last year, we had a day at Merion. This week, we’re at Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey, a classic Donald Ross design which has a real US Open type feel to it. It should be good.

This particular SAP day also fits in well with my schedule because I’m due to play in the Barclays Classic this week at the nearby Westchester Country Club, a tournament I won back-to-back in 1996-97. I’ve got some good positive things I want to work on in my putting stroke and it will be good to test it out in a competitive environment, especially with the US Open being next week.

Technically, I think I can go a little way to improving the overall rhythm of my putting stroke, so there’s more of a smooth flow to it. And I’ve figured out a new ball position, which helps me strike my putts in a way that the ball almost hugs the surface of the putting green. It puts a better roll on it, basically. Obviously, it’s been a tough time on the greens for me, but I know what I have to do and it’s just a case of getting out there and working my way through it.

Anyway, just one final thing before I go. I want to tell you about a new venture that I’m involved in with Tiger Woods. It’s called The Friendship Cup, in which junior golfers from our two foundations will meet every year in either the US or South Africa to play a three-day match. These foundations mean a lot to Tiger and to me. It allows us to give kids who maybe haven’t had the best breaks the opportunity to really make something of their lives. In these matches they’ll also be able to learn about the others’ backgrounds and cultures, which I think is great for any kid.

The inaugural matches will be held on July 2-8 at Edgewood Valley Country Club in La Grange, Illinois. Four boys and four girls, ages 15 to 18, will be on each team. The format will be mixed better-ball, boys and girls’ teams in alternate shot, and singles matches in the final round. It’s going to be a great event.

Okay, that’s it for this week.

I’ll write again next Monday, when my report will feature a special US Open preview from Winged Foot.

Until then, bye for now.

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