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March 14, 2007

Ernie Els


JOE CHEMCYZ: We welcome Ernie Els. Maybe just talk a little bit about your game.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I had a nice week off. I came back from Phuket, went to London, had a nice week off there with the family. Actually went to Augusta Saturday, Sunday and Monday, so I had a couple of nice days up there. You know, it's nice to go to Augusta to prepare for Bay Hill, you know. (Laughter).
But anyway, so we had that. Just had had a nice easy day yesterday. I'm staying at Lake Nona, so it's nice to be back in town. You know, I'll go out there and check out the golf course basically.

Q. You have a rental property at Nona now?
ERNIE ELS: Yes, I'm going to have something again.

Q. You are?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, just a little lock-up-and-go there. No gardener, no garden, no nothing to look after. Just a place to come in and go, basically. We don't spend any time here anymore.

Q. Any relationship with Nona through that?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, with the Tavistock Group, we're doing a golf course development in the Bahamas at Albany. So I've got a good relationship with them and I just felt, you know, Lake Nona I've been there for such a long time, since '93, '94. I just wanted to extend the relationship. And, as I say, you know, it's a good place to come and relax and practice with the family.

Q. With already a couple of U.S. Opens and British under your belt, is the Masters the one tournament you would like to win more than any other, or not?
ERNIE ELS: I would say. So some players have got their dream already, players like Tiger and some of the guys who have retired now. (Laughter) I'm still chasing that, meaning the Grand Slam and Masters is one of them, and obviously the US PGA. And hopefully we'll play the US PGA on a course one day where it really suits my game.
Yeah, that's what I'm looking forward to. I'm really looking forward to trying to fit a green jacket on.

Q. You saw how many times that Greg Norman got close at the Masters and never got over the finish line, do you begin to think like that? Or do you always begin to think that the next one for you is just right around the corner?
ERNIE ELS: Obviously I've seen what Greg did in his career. He was also probably built for that place but he never got it. You know, I'm getting on. I'm 37 years old now. You know, I've had a real -- one real close call, obviously two, three years ago, with Phil. I've had some other really good finishes there, but in all of the times I've played there, 13 times, I've probably had four really decent shots at it.
You know, my game right now, where it is right now, is really good. It's better than it was last year and the year before. So I feel I've got a really good shot at it this year. And as I say, I've just spent three days there.
But you know, you can't really, you know, keep looking at the negative all the time. You need to move forward. You need to look at we can win the tournament instead of how many times I've come close at it basically.

Q. In that regard, you went there you said a few days ago, you spent three days there. Did you play with obviously your new equipment I imagine?

Q. Is that part of the reason why you went early to see how the new gear worked out on that golf course?
ERNIE ELS: Exactly. We had beautiful weather. I went up there, we had, you know, two members that hosted us up there. Will Nichols was one of them, and Tony Brian was another one, and some other South African friends went up there. We spent three great days there.
I played basically the Pro-Am in the morning with them. (Laughter) I had the afternoon to myself to work on numbers and work on shots, and that's what I did. I had JP, my caddie up there with us and actually did some good work, got some good numbers, especially on 15, you know, 13, 12, 16, which clubs, how far they were going, on 4 the 5-wood is a good club for me there.
Exactly, we tested the ball really well out there, because Augusta is so different than any course we play. The greens are so much firmer and faster. Yeah, it was a really good test up there.

Q. When is the last time you did that, come early?
ERNIE ELS: Basically every year, I go for just a day up to Augusta, either a week before or a couple of weeks before I haven't spent three days up there like this time. That was really cool.

Q. Two things, is the course going to play much the same as last year do you think, or has there been any minor changes?
ERNIE ELS: No, the course is basically the same. I think the bunker on 2 is a little deeper than it used to be the one in the fairway. But the rest of them are just the same, same golf course. No changes. I don't think they need to change anything. It's where they want it I think.

Q. And are you going to remain in this time zone until then or will you make a quick trip to China?
ERNIE ELS: I'm thinking of going to Beijing, walking The Great Wall quickly before. (Laughter).

Q. Could I get a comment from you on Trevor Immelman and how far he's come, how fast he's come and your thoughts on Trevor?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's taken him a while to get over to the U.S. Tour. He's always wanted to play on the U.S. Tour. You know, he's based himself here in Orlando now. His game has really come on, especially the last year. He's always had the talent and he's always been a hard worker at the game. He looks after himself very well.
He's definitely got the drive. So I can see things happening for him from now on. You know, he's settled with his family now. He's got his little kid and happily married, so I think he's ready to strike basically. So he's a lot of talent. He's a small guy, but he hits it a long way and he's got a great short game.

Q. When you were playing against his older brother when you were a kid, did you know Trevor back then?
ERNIE ELS: Oh, yeah, I've known Trevor since he was four, five, six years old. He was a kid from near Cape Town, a little place called Somerset West, a little town just outside Cape Town and he grew up there. Whenever I played tournaments, you know, in Cape Town, he was always there or thereabouts and always trying to learn. And from a very young age, he was a huge talent. The whole of South Africa knew him from when he was six or a seven, almost like a Tiger Woods. He's coming through nicely now.

Q. A second ago you said that your game was better than last year and better even than the year before, and I'm wondering is it one thing that's better or is it across the board little synchronization that's better?
ERNIE ELS: For one, I'm so excited now. Especially with my new equipment and Callaway and the new golf ball and the driver and stuff. So I feel, you know, I feel like a rookie almost again. I've got new energy and working with new people and it's exciting. The whole company is excited that I've joined and it's vice versa.
I'm just excited to get on with things basically. You know, my swing is okay. I've spent a lot of time on my golf game since after the British Open last year. I don't think about my knee anymore. So I've got no excuses anymore. Basically I'm ready to play.

Q. On the timing of it, I'm assuming the Titleist contract was going to expire, or was in its last year, and it seems like you probably could have gone through the year; did you want to do it now just to not have that hanging over your head and go into a full season instead of having that to deal with the rest of the year at some point?
ERNIE ELS: Well, exactly. I think I was getting to the end of my contract and we just felt I've got such a great future with Callaway and that they wanted to provide. And the way technology is going, I think if you look around, I think Callaway is one of the companies that's really moving ahead quicker than any other of the companies.
So I just felt, you know, my new desire to play well and better and my plan for the future, I just felt it was a good time as any to do it now, rather than later, and that's basically what happens basically.

Q. And what kind of yardage differences did you notice in the few days you played there, fast or minor here and there, in terms of clubbing and how far the ball was going at Augusta.
ERNIE ELS: As I said earlier when I was working on numbers, especially the short holes and the par 5s, the driver goes maybe just a couple of yards further at the moment but I'm sure we can work on a driver that goes like Mickelson's. (Laughter).
But anyway, the driver that I use now is going a little -- and the irons were going right to the numbers. So there's no surprises there. The numbers are basically the same that I've been using the last couple years.

Q. It's been nine years since you've won here, I wonder if you can contrast the Ernie Els of today with the guy who won that tournament nine years ago. And the second part of that would be the course, how it has changed and the challenge it presents.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I remember when I won, we played 36 holes on the Sunday, a very long day. I remember playing with Tiger and Davis and in those days, I was not with Titleist. I was with another company. I was 30 yards behind these guys, all day, off the tee. But my putter was hot. I shot 65 in the morning and just kind of hung on in the afternoon. No one really did anything in that afternoon. I think I shot 73 and still won by two or three shots.
It was a great day obviously. And then you know, if I have to compare myself where I am now to then, you know, a couple years older. Maybe starting to get some gray hair. But physically, I'm in better shape and I would like to think I'm a better player. A couple more miles on the clock, but I feel like I'm a better player, but so is everybody else. So the whole game's gone up a notch through the board.

Q. Regarding the equipment, we were told when you signed with Callaway on the irons and wedges, be patient, you and Roger would work and it might take a while. However, things changed. What happened and how did the irons get in the bag so fast and how did the wedges get in the bag so fast?
ERNIE ELS: You're right, I wasn't -- I didn't have to change until the end of the year. But I was obviously excited and I liked what I saw and I liked what I felt. Roger has made this new mold iron, new forged mold iron which really feels so soft when you strike the ball. I love what I felt and what I saw.
Actually the final round of Phuket when I was in Phuket, I went to change in the final round, kind of drastic but that's how good I felt about them. I hit them all week after I've played, and I just felt I needed to give these things a go in competition play, which I did on a Sunday. I hit 16 greens that day. If I putted better I could have given Anton Haig, behind there, a bit more of a go. You know, you're right to say, nobody rushed me into these clubs. I basically made the decision on my own, basically what I've seen and what I felt.

Q. Are they done, are you and Roger going to tweak anything?
ERNIE ELS: I would say we're 95 percent there. We'll tweak a little bit here and there. They are making another set of irons as we speak and we'll give that a go, but I'm happy with what I've got at the moment.

Q. It's pretty well known that you're a big supporter of South African rugby and we have the World Cup Cricket coming up soon. Are you a Cricket fan, as well, and are you going to go to the Caribbean to see them play, and how hard is it to be a sports fan when you're living here and playing here more often than not; do you maintain your interest in sports around the world?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I absolutely do. That's one of the reasons why I'm in London, you know. (Laughter) I can get to South Africa, it's an overnight flight. The sport in London is very similar to what I grew up with.
But yeah, to come back to your question, I think the World Cup Cricket, it's on; they played the first game yesterday. A lot of my friends are going down there. Unfortunately my schedule is not going to permit that. I don't think going to the World Cup Cricket the week before the Masters is going to be great. (Laughter) I'd still have a hangover by the time I get there. I don't think I'll do that. (Laughter).
If I have a really great Masters, I might go the next week afterwards. But so far it's not planned. I think South Africa should beat the Aussies at least, you know. (Laughter).

Q. We've become so used to seeing the likes of you and Vijay in the top 5 of the World Rankings, and that's not the case at the moment. Young guys like Adam Scott and Henrik have come up there, are we seeing a changing of the guard or is this something that another major victory can fix very quickly for you or Vijay?
ERNIE ELS: I think, you know, World Rankings is one thing, but really what you want to do is perform well when you play in tournaments. You want to win. If you don't win, you want to be in contention. The more often you do that, you know, the more tournaments you're going to win, the better your results are going to be.
So that's what I try and do. You know, the other guys have come in. Henrik won two big events, he won Dubai and he won the Match Play and he's have a very consistent year or two. Obviously he's been playing good and some of the other young guys, Luke Donald, Trevor is coming in, Adam has cracked the top 5 now.
So you're always going to have players, as I said earlier, I think across the board, we've got better players in world golf. So the level of play has gone up, definitely, so to get into the top 5 or stay in the top 5 or get to No. 1 or 2 or 3 or whatever, you've got to play a little bit better nowadays and you've got to play more consistently. I think there's a little bit of everything. I think, you know, guys who have been there for such a long time, I give them full credit. There's a lot of hard work that goes in to play well like that for such a long time.
But you're going to get guys who is eventually going to start breaking through like what's happening; Henrik winning and Trevor's won and Adam's won. So a lot of the young guys -- well, they are not that young anymore. They have been on TOUR or six, seven, eight years, are starting to come through. That's just the way it is. But I wouldn't want to write off Vijay or myself or anybody else for that matter.

Q. Having just been up at Augusta, you've had a while to see the change at 13 and 15, how would injure strategy change on those holes?
ERNIE ELS: I think they are both better for me because on 13, I mean, I've had my problems on 13. I visited Rae's Creek numerous times. And I think because the tee shot was tough in those days, it was a shortish hole but you really had to whip it around the corner to have a 6-, 7-iron in. When you're playing your round before you play, you say, no, I'm just going to hit a 3-wood up the right side and hit a 3-, 4-iron in. But when you get to the hole, you see the shot and you want to try to get it around the corner.
Now you can't do that. And I played it with a driver. If the wind is into me, I'll hit driver, but it's a straight shot and the land takes it from right-to-left and you'll go in with a 3-, 4-iron. With no wind, I'll hit 3-wood, which I also did when I was up there, and from there, it's a 5-wood which I never used to carry in my bag until last year. So the 5-wood comes in play there on the second shot.
And then 15, very similar. 15 with the tee further back, the left trees don't come into play for me. So you can just hammer it straight or even left the way you used to hit it and know that you can't get to those left trees and then it's a 5-wood again right-to-left. And the one I hit 3-iron, but it will basically play as a driver, 5-wood. The drives are straight, you don't have to bend it as much.

Q. What were you hitting into 15 in the old days?
ERNIE ELS: Well, way back, when they still had the mounds, it was anything from 5-iron to 8-iron. Then they put the trees, and you used to hit it left. If you hit too far left you couldn't get to the green but then it was still 6-, 7-iron. Now it's 3-iron, 5-wood for me.

Q. Having towed around that course with your new clubs, are you pretty confident that they are ready and you're toward win a green jacket with them this year? Are you that comfortable?
ERNIE ELS: That will be some story, wouldn't it. (Laughter) Yeah, I am. As I say, I've spent a lot of time there with the ball and the short clubs, the sand irons and scoring clubs. I'm happy with the driver. I'm happy with the fairway woods. You know, I'm still hitting the same shape. The launch of the ball is very similar to what I've played with which was important for me to get. Yeah, I'm really very comfortable.

Q. You said when you talked about 13 and 15 how you really want to hit straight balls there, is that because it's been lengthened, is that more the requirement to hit a straighter ball and not work it as much?
ERNIE ELS: Definitely. The first hole, that was always straight up. The second hole, I could almost hit 3-wood at the right bunker, and then hit a 5-wood on to the green. In the older days, you had it bend it to miss the bunker. You could almost fly the bunker. That doesn't come into play anymore.
The 5th hole lengthened, you hit a straight shot where you used to draw it.
Same as 9. 9 you hit a straight shot now. With the shorter tee you had to move it around.
10 is the only real hook that you've got to play still.
11 is a straight shot. You don't have to cut it anymore. In the old days we had to cut it.
As I said, 13 is straight.
14 is very straight; 15; even 17; even 18, you don't have to cut it anymore. It's straighter, longer shots instead of bending the ball.

Q. The 5-wood you have in the bag, what did you take out?
ERNIE ELS: 2-iron. 5-wood is going 245. I used to hit a 2-iron 235 with a lower ball flight. This one comes at a bit higher and a bit softer.

Q. Ten years ago Tiger won the Masters and you followed by winning the U.S. Open. I wonder if that ten years, how much the game in general, the pro game has changed.
ERNIE ELS: The key changes obviously is technology, golf ball, drivers, irons. In the last two three years, the golf courses have started changing dramatically. Looking at St. Andrews; looking at Oakmont this year; looking at Augusta; look at what the USGA tried with Shinnecock just to try to keep it under control basically.
Now golf courses are getting longer. So that game has changed dramatically since back then. The ball goes straighter, the golf courses are longer. Guys, look at Anton Haig, he's 20 years old, he looks like a linebacker. You get bigger, stronger guys at early ages playing the game.
Still I think my generation of players have got a lot of respect for the driver. These young kids, they come in, you know, Callaway clubs shoved in their hands and boom, they are not scared of teeing it up this high and just hammering it. Nowadays, the Persimmon driver, you have to hit it spot-on to hit a decent drive. Now things are a little bit different.
So I think that's why you've got so many really good players.

Q. When Tiger would be by 12 shots at Augusta a decade ago, could you see the foreshadowing he would have over the entire game of golf, or did you think everyone would be a lot closer to him a decade later?
ERNIE ELS: I would say I would have hoped that we were closer. And at times we have been a lot closer, but I could see a very dominant player coming through. If you go through what I said back then, I think that's basically what kind of happened.
You know, you see a special player, you see a special talent, you see something special happening in front of your eyes, there's no point of denying it.
But I would say that I would have hoped to have been a bit closer to it, you know, through all these years. But at least I've got two majors. What, how many has he got, 12? I've won two, he's won 12.

Q. Could you ever imagine anybody winning by 12 shots? Did that just shock you that someone could win the Masters by that many shots?

Q. You've got three majors, Ernie.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I won two with him.

Q. That third still counts in the record books, you know that, right?
ERNIE ELS: (Smiling).

Q. It seems to be a concerted effort this early part of the season to have the golf courses play harder. This week we are going to be eight shots harder just in the change of par. But is that a trend yet, are we going to see harder golf courses through the whole PGA TOUR season this year or is it just the Florida thing or is it something the players are talking about yet?
ERNIE ELS: I think it's just an Arnold and Jack thing. And USGA thing. (Laughter).
No, I think to be honest with you, I think in general, courses have been tougher the last couple of years. I think pin placements have become more difficult to get at.
Yeah, I think golf courses are definitely a little bit more difficult. But especially, you know, tournament here this week, Arnold is trying something new. Basically just to not get into double figures I guess, under par. Par-70 around here is a big par-70.
Jack Nicklaus tried some things at the Memorial. A lot of people are trying a lot of things to make it tougher because technology has gone so far now. So I guess this will be a trend, yeah.

Q. This might be a little off the wall but we were on the subject a second ago, would you trade the two U.S. Opens for one Masters?
ERNIE ELS: No, no. I worked too hard for those. (Laughter) no, no, no. I can't do that.
Whatever's happened, happened. You've got to try and move forward and that's fine. Is that it?

Q. It's Gary Player's 50th Masters this year, just wondering the inspiration he might have had on you, obviously he was the first big international traveler golfer and you've kind of followed that way. Did he have any influence or was it just because when you're from South Africa you've got to do that?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think a little bit both again. Obviously Gary Player, when you are a youngster, you know, you need heroes to kind of fire you up, and he was definitely one of them.
I'll never forget 1978 when he made his putt to win the Masters. I was sitting there with my dad and I don't know who was more excited, me or my dad.
But you know, he was an absolute hero back home, still is in South Africa. Whenever he played in South Africa, I tried to go watch him. I was lucky enough to be in Johannesburg and South African PGA, I always played at Wonrus (ph) Club in Johannesburg and always used to go watch him. I followed his career. I probably know just about every major he's won and where he's won it.
It shows you the influence he's had on my life and career as a golfer. You know, then met him in 1992 and I've played a lot of golf with him and he's given me a lot of advice and help to me and my family. So, great guy.
Yeah, to do anything, you know, to get anywhere, you've got to travel. The world stage is here in the U.S. and abroad, Europe, wherever. You've got to travel and go play. Some guys are lucky enough to grow up here and play right here. You don't have to travel too far. But everybody has to travel. Ours is just a little bit further than other people. Same as the Australians and New Zealanders. So we all had to travel.
JOE CHEMCYZ: Ernie, thank you.

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