My man Ernie Els shows he still has the engine in Munich’s BMW
Wladimir Klitschko seemed to be having trouble getting his ball out of the hole; after he eventually got it into the hole. He looked at me with a disarming grin and said “eets my hand, eets too big to fit in hole”
Ernie Els is congratulated by Thomas Bjorn on Eichenried’s 18th. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
If you follow a gruelling test of your golfing skills with a less stringent examination, the chances are you will find the challenge a lot less stressful. I think that’s how it was for those players who teed it up in Munich last week, having endured the duress of a severe US Open set-up at Merion Golf Club the previous week.
The most obvious difference was the lack of upset when you missed a fairway at the BMW International tournament in the Eichenried Golf Club. If you missed a fairway the previous week you knew without ball spotters you would be lucky to find it, even if you were standing right on top of it.
In Germany you could see most of the ball in the rough and the only trick was trying to gauge how fast it was going to come out and not if you could get it out. This induced less tension for the anxious, slightly errant golfer.
Then on the greens, despite trickier pins set for the second round after a low scoring bonanza in the first, there was no concern about leaving yourself an impossible downhill putt. With good putting surfaces receptive to iron shots and not much wind it was the most idyllic form of target golf for the pros. The poa annua greens rolled as true as this grass can permit.
To top off what could only be described as a working holiday in Bavaria, we arrived on the nicest week of weather for the whole year in Germany. Normally in the past locals would greet us with “you should have been here last week it was beautiful”. This year our timing was impeccable, there was a heat-wave.
Joy and bonhomie
In a country that is not known for an excessive amount of sunshine, the joy and bonhomie on the faces of the inhabitants of the sophisticated and elegant Munich was obvious.
It was mid-summer and the natives were enjoying the fine weather and the vast green areas of their spacious city.
It may well be a little later than mid-summer in the career of my golfer Ernie Els, the eventual winner of the 25th BMW international Open. Before this week he had 77 tournament victories, including four Majors and numerous other golfing accolades in his bulging trophy cabinet, but he has not stopped trying to collect titles. Ernie certainly has not forgotten how to win a golf tournament.
There is always something of a let-down no matter what event you play after the grand spectacle of a golf Major accompanied by all its pomp and ceremony. The BMW is not a Major but it is an event that runs as smoothly as one of their saloons on an open autobahn. With the creative idea of free entry for spectators for the first two days, the generous crowds created the desired atmosphere befitting a good event.
The melee on the first tee as we headed off in the pro-am on Wednesday was not unlike the scene before the last round of a Major. Obviously Ernie was not the only attraction in this star billing.
We were playing with Frank Rosin, a two-star Michelin celebrity chef who had his own television crew with him. Hasan Salihamidzic, a recently retired Bayern Munich footballer and the imposing Ukrainian and undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world Wladimir Klitschko. Ernie was almost a sideshow to these national heroes.
So we set off from the chaos of the first tee and gradually got to know these superstars. Each of them turned out to be refreshingly charming and charismatic.
The working holiday atmosphere continued through the normally laborious pro-am.
I noticed Klitschko seemed to be having trouble getting his ball out of the hole; after he eventually got it into the hole. He looked at me with a disarming grin and said “eets my hand, eets too big to fit in hole”.
He had to retrieve his ball with his index and middle finger to avoid ripping the hole out with what could only be described as a shovel hand.
With temperatures well into the 30s and the infectious affability of our pro-am partners, what can be often a difficult day turned out to be relaxing and enjoyable. What a great start for the tournament ahead.
Ernie had not played the Eichenried course for some years and there had been changes made since either of us had been there. Despite the course being toughened up Ernie suggested that with good golf the course could yield a low round. He was right and of course it was Els himself, with flawless golf and excellent putting, who posted the low round of the week, 63, the next morning.
It seems to be particularly difficult to follow a very low round with a good one. Ernie managed to score six shots worse than his opener which was very acceptable despite some almost rookie errors by the South African’s own admission.
The celebration of the 25th anniversary of the BMW tournament took place that night with virtually all guests donning traditional Bavaria attire. Golfers finally got to wear shorts at a tournament, even if they were Lederhosen.
There are countless key moments over the four rounds of a victorious event; putts holed and decisive up and downs, but there were two shots that the master golfer Els played, both of them on the same hole, that made a deep impression on me, a seasoned bagman.
On 14 on Friday Ernie hit his tee shot in the left rough under a tree. He had over 200 yards to the pin and he had to keep his shot under trees ahead of him, bend around another tree, skip a greenside bunker and release to the pin. He hit his miraculous six iron to 20 feet. An ordinary golfer probably wouldn’t even have attempted the shot.
On the same hole on Sunday he hit his drive in virtually the same position. It was the toughest drive on the course and left was the side to miss the fairway on. He executed the same type of shot with a four iron, hitting it even closer to the pin.
Naturally Ernie Els is a very talented golfer, he is hugely experienced and has enjoyed a long and very successful career. But you don’t continue to win and perform at the highest level in the autumn of your golfing life without desire, application, diligence and constant skill-honing.
Of course the 25th BMW International was not as intense an affair as the US Open that preceded it, but leading an event from start to finish adds stress to your week no matter how relaxed the Zeitgeist. You still need to know how to win. Ernie Els drew on his talent and experience to capture his 78th professional victory in a visually seamless fashion.