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'No Better Place in Golf'

The 2002 British Open winner looks at the changes to scenic Turnberry, which hosts golf's third major for the first time in 15 years

By: Ernie Els

The Open Championship will always be my favorite tournament of the year. I love the unique challenge of links golf: the type of shots you have to play and how you have to adapt your game to suit the conditions. Links golf has always been a pretty good fit with my game.

It’ll be great to go back to Turnberry after so many years. We last played the Open there in 1994, when my good friend Nick Price finally got both hands on the Claret Jug. He said in his speech that he’d had one hand on the trophy a couple of times in his career.

I felt the same way before I won my Open at Muirfield in 2002. Those near-misses, as painful as they are at the time, somehow make victory that much sweeter.

We had a good party for Nick in the Turnberry Hotel afterward. And eight years later when I won my Open, Nick was the first to spray me with Champagne. I walked into the clubhouse after my press conference and he was hiding behind the door. He jumped out and just let me have it!

When I came to Turnberry in 1994, I was still floating three feet off the ground after having just won my first major championship, the U.S. Open at Oakmont.

I shot three straight 69s, which wasn’t a million miles off the pace, but conditions were pretty good and it had been a week of low scoring. I was six shots behind, so I knew I’d have to shoot lights out on Sunday.

Nick was the one who did that, shooting 66 while I signed for a final-round 71. I was watching on television when he eagled the par-5 17th. Man, we heard the cheers from inside the hotel. Then Jesper Parnevik—the poor guy—bogeyed the last to lose by a shot.

Turnberry always seems to host great Opens. The Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson shootout, the so-called “Duel in the Sun,” is maybe the greatest of them all. Then we had Greg Norman winning his first Open in 1986 and of course Nick winning eight years later; both were probably the best players in the world at the time of winning.

I’ll play a couple of practice rounds at Turnberry prior to the Open. The new owner, Leisurecorp, wants the course to be perfect so they closed the course on November 1, much earlier than usual.

I expect Turnberry to be in incredible condition, and I know there have been some changes: new tees that extended the course by 247 yards, 23 new bunkers and some subtle changes to the line of play.

Turnberry’s signature hole, the spectacular 456-yard 10th, has been reshaped so the fairway is closer to the coastline. At 489 yards, the 3rd hole is 27 yards longer and the 559-yard 17th is 61 yards longer. The 17th also now has some pot bunkers guarding the green that will affect a player’s strategy. The new hazards are quite severe; there is no guarantee of even finding the green with the recovery shot. The bunkers will make players think twice before going for the green in two.

Perhaps the biggest change is on the 455-yard 16th, where the fairway has been shifted 40 yards to the left so it plays like more of a dogleg now. But we’ll still have that tricky second shot over the stream. That always catches a few people.

With the right weather—sunny and breezy—there’s no better place in golf. I don’t think anyone can deny that Turnberry is the most beautiful golf course on the Open rota. With its proximity to the sea, some of the views are very special.

My Open win at Muirfield is the highlight of my career so far. Winning a second Open at Turnberry might just top it.

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