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May 27, 2015

Ernie Els


NEIL AHERN:  Ernie, thank you for joining us this afternoon, and first of all, it's your first time in this event for a long time, 17 years.  Is it nice to be back?
ERNIE ELS:  Has it been that long?  Can't be that long, can it?  That's amazing.  That was Druids Glen, yeah, I played there.  I had to have played after that.  That's incredible.
Yeah, well, it's good to come back to Royal County Down then.  This is about as good as it gets to play The Irish Open.  Many, many years ago when tobacco firms were still sponsoring golf tournaments, I played at Killarney, the Carroll's Irish Open, and I had an invite.  I didn't have a European Tour card, so they gave me an invite and I played there.
So I've got to thank The Irish Open for doing that for me.  I didn't make too much money that event but it did help me get a Tour card.  I think that was in '92, '91 or something.
In any case, yeah, it's good to be back and I'm looking forward to this week.
NEIL AHERN:  Can you talk about how much of a factor Rory McIlroy was in you coming back here?  
ERNIE ELS:  Well, a lot.  Rory and myself, we are good friends.  He asked me quite a few months ago if I could get this one in my schedule, and it was an easy yes.  Although I missed my daughter's birthday yesterday.  But it was an easy yes, just because of the fact that he's help with our charity work so much.  Ever since he just turned pro, he played some tournaments in South Africa, and we run a foundation event down there and he played it for a couple of years.  We run some foundation work in the US and he plays it every single year.
So when you have the world No. 1 in your field, it's easy to ask people for money, you know.  So he's helped us raise ship‑loads of money.  (Laughter) he's been a great friend, and he's been a huge benefactor.  I've really got to appreciate that.  To come and play here was not a problem.  Maybe next year might be a problem but not this year.

Q.  I talked to you at The Open last year about how much you loved Royal Portrush.  What do you think of Royal County Down?
ERNIE ELS:  As pros, even within ourselves, within our group, we talk about our list of best links golf courses.  And County Down is always in the top three.  Portrush is always in the top three.  There's not a lot of space left for other golf courses.  These two are just phenomenal tests.
My personal favourites are Muirfield and Lytham for obvious reasons.  And obviously then I like County Down just ahead of Portrush.  I'm sure they would love that after what I'm saying now.  It's just the most unbelievable layout, so natural.  Quite a few blind shots.  They haven't changed a lot of things around here.  The most unbelievable land for a golf course here.  These dunes are just unreal.
It's one of my top, top golf courses, and it's going to be a test this week because the weather is not looking good.  But I'm excited to play it.

Q.  Quick question about last week and Wentworth and obviously there were one or two sort of comments about the greens.  What did you make about that and what kind of needs to happen there in your opinion?
ERNIE ELS:  Well, it's a fair comment.  I think the greens weren't up to scratch, especially the first few three days of the tournament.  We had beautiful weather for the event.
I spoke to Kenny, our green superintendent there.  And once again, you know, he feels it's a bit early in the season.  They didn't have the growth and all of that, and now it's getting a little bit‑‑ a long story.  But we did meet with the chairman on Monday at Wentworth.  He's all‑in to make this what it needs to be.  We feel it should be the Augusta of Europe, and we intend of making it that way.
So there's going to be changes made again, and hopefully we'll get it really rectified where everybody is going to be pleased.  I mean, you can be not pleased and you can be disappointed.  I was just disappointed because it's our Flagship Event and you want to putt on the best possible conditions, and we didn't quite have that.  But we are definitely going to work on that, I promise you.

Q.  Does it need a different date in the calendar, ideally?  It's the same thing every time, isn't it, just Mother Nature saying the grass doesn't grow.
ERNIE ELS:  I thought so a couple years ago, but you really can't put it anywhere.  BMW sponsors three huge events around the world, actually four, and they have it spaced from the PGA all the way out to Shanghai.  So they have it quite well positioned for themselves.
You go into June, July, you've got big events before The Open and you've got the U.S. Open, three weeks before The Open.  There's just nowhere to go.  And I think, to be honest, May is the perfect timing for it because that's the start of the silly season, as we call it in Britain.  So we're going to have to just change conditions on the course.  We'll get the newest and best machinery and we'll make it work.

Q.  Thinking about Rory's involvement with this tournament, and there's the guys backing the British Masters at Woburn; is that a good way forward in general for The European Tour to use their star names to get better fields and also to, therefore, keep themselves playing these events, etc., going forward?  Is that a good idea? 
ERNIE ELS:  Well, yeah, just look at it week.  He called in some favors and the boys responded.  We normally try to help our fellow players when we can.  You know, we wash each other's hands, basically.  The one guy asks a favour, you do it, and the ball kind of keeps on turning.  So definitely it helps and definitely enhances fields, and definitely a way to go, yeah.
It's like I said before:  If I was head of the Tour, I would have made some plan to keep Rory McIlroy in Europe.  I would not have let him go to the U.S.  I would have kept him here and make him the Seve.  I think he could be like a Seve because he's so exciting to watch.  He's a pretty happy kid.  He does good things off the course.  He's got his stuff together.  To have a person like that on The European Tour for most of his career is something that I would have absolutely made happen.  I don't care however it would have cost, I would have made it happen, but in any case, it is what it is.

Q.  Apart from the great golf courses in Ireland, what do you enjoy most about coming to Ireland?
ERNIE ELS:  Well, I love the people.  I think we have a lot in common, South Africans and you guys.  Obviously the Guinness comes to mind, kind of top of the list (chuckles).  But nowadays I'm getting a little on, so I can't handle that Guinness so well anymore.
I've come down to Dublin, watched a lot of rugby.  I've had some of my best times on the rugby tour down there.  The scenery is unbelievable.  You have a huge, great‑‑ what's the word‑‑ you can play different types of courses.  You can go down to Killarney with the beautiful mountains and lakes, a lot of scenery down there.  You've got so many great golf courses in this country.  It's a wonderful, vast country when it comes to golf and the people are wonderful.  So I really enjoy coming here.

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