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June 14, 2005

Ernie Els


RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to welcome Ernie Els to the interview area. Ernie is playing in his 13th U.S. Open championship this week. He is the 1994 and 1997 United States Open champion. Ernie, maybe you could just start us off with some general comments about the course and how it compares with other U.S. Open courses where you've had some success.

ERNIE ELS: It's a great golf course. They've really got it set up very well. Yeah, it's a difficult golf course as it is. The design of the course is just a wonderful design, and yet it just tests your whole game.

I think the golf course the way it is right now is set up wonderfully. If you hit iron shots into the greens, if you hit it properly, you know the ball is going to stop on the green. And you can hit 3 woods or drivers, 2 irons into the fairways on some of the holes. But as I said, the design is such where it really tests your whole golf bag. It's going to test your ability to shape shots into the greens, into the fairways.

You know, the guy that's on his game is really going to have a fun time out there. I wouldn't say fun time, but he's going to have a decent week. You'll get the best player in the field winning this week.

RAND JERRIS: Can you give us a little insight into the practice rounds, what you're looking at, what you're attempting to accomplish these first couple of days?

ERNIE ELS: Thankfully I have been here before. I have seen some of the flags in 1999, so I like to see what the greens are doing. Obviously, you know, this design, if you miss a shot on the green, the ball can roll off 30, 40 yards, and you've got to go and hit some of those shots and see what the ball does. You have many different options; you can putt the ball from 30 yards off the green onto the surface, you can lob it up, whatever is your fancy, you've got a shot to get it back in play. That's what we try and do in our rounds, hit different shots around the greens and just basically get a feel for the golf course.

Q. I know you've won three times worldwide. What is the state of your game right now? Are you happy?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think I had a pretty decent week last week. Obviously I got myself right in contention, and I played a very poor back nine, but I played 63 good holes last week. So that's a positive sign. I feel like I'm driving the ball well. I'm hitting my iron shots really well.

My game is pretty close to really where I want it to be. The results in the U.S. hasn't really been there yet, but I've just got to be patient, I think. I was patient enough last week, and I've just got to stay patient, and I think good things will come.

Q. Phil Mickelson has been talking for the last two days saying there's the potential here for the problems on the greens like we had last year. What do you think about the possibilities of that?

ERNIE ELS: You know, to be honest with you, I don't think they're going to let that happen again. You know, this golf course, the way it is right now, I'm saying this on Tuesday afternoon (laughing), it is in perfect shape. The fairways aren't too firm so the ball can stay in the fairways. The greens are firm but not crazy, and they're at a pretty good pace. If this is the way the golf course is going to be for the week, we're going to have we'll have a good championship. But obviously it's really warm out there and I don't know if there's forecast for rain, but as I say, again, the way it is right now, it's 100 percent.

Q. Why did the incident with Monty in Indonesia seem to strike such a nerve on the European Tour?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think it's just the way maybe the way it was handled really. I think the way it happened, I know there was a letter written from Colin's playing partner that he was unhappy with the way Colin replaced the ball the next day, and nothing was done, I guess. I guess the guy that wrote the letter just wanted to have an explanation, and he didn't get it, and I think that's why it was like a, what do we call it, a fueled fire. You get a little ignite somewhere and it becomes a huge, big inferno. I think that's just the way it happened.

I think it could have been handled that same week, but it didn't quite happen that way, and I think as the weeks went on, the whole scenario became a lot bigger.

Q. Any major changes that you see as far as the golf course goes from '99, or is it still pretty much the same course that you played six years ago?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I only played two rounds in '99 (laughter). But, you know, what I remember, we were hitting shorter irons into a lot of these long par 4s. I remember No. 8 we hit 6 irons in. Today I hit a 9 iron in there. The course is basically very similar. There's a couple of changes on I think 11; they moved the tee back there. I think they moved the tee back on 2, and I think on No. 5, they moved it back there.

Other than that, the course is what it is. It's such a great design. You don't have to trick it much with this golf course. You don't have to trick it, nothing. It's a great test of golf.

Q. Do you ever think we'll see the day where double digit under par wins this tournament, much like you see in the other majors, or do you think it will always remain tough and they'll always try to push that envelope?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think it'll always be tough. I think they get really good golf courses for us to play on. They get the old classics to play on. They do do some work on the golf courses, trying to lengthen the golf courses, the way technology goes, and then the setups they give us is pretty tough.

Last year obviously it went beyond that, but normally, you know, I would say 90 percent of the time, they give us a fair, very difficult test of golf. And they just try and get the best player, I guess. At times and if the weather doesn't play with the setup, so to speak, and it gets out of control, but for the most part I think they've got great courses we've played in the past and they've set it up pretty well.

Q. Which holes might you not if the weather conditions remain the same and the course remains the same, which holes might you not use a driver on?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think No. 3 is a short little par 4, you just get it in position there. On the back nine, maybe there's one or two, maybe four times. The rest of the time you want to hit driver. I feel like the golf course sets up well. You know, you've got to shape a lot of your drives into the fairways, and I'm feeling comfortable, as I say, with my driver at the moment, so I'll be a little bit more aggressive than I usually am.

Q. You talked when I came in of the different clubs that players will use around the green. I don't recall ever having seen you use a 3 wood. Have I not been paying attention, or do you not use it?

ERNIE ELS: I did try it for a little while, but I'm not comfortable with that shot, unlike the other players. I don't know what it is. It's probably just my just the way I am. I like to hit some different chip shots. The 3 wood, I've never really been comfortable with that club around the greens.

Q. If I could ask a two part question. Sunday at Shinnecock, was it your most frustrating moment in major championship golf? And at this point in your career did you think you would have more majors than three?

ERNIE ELS: I've had some really frustrating times in majors. I don't know if that was the most frustrating. It was right up there, though.

But that's just the way it went on that Sunday. Not too many things went right for me.

You know, you're going to have difficult times in majors. You know, major championship golf in our sport must be some of the toughest ways to keep your concentration. You've got four days to win a golf tournament. Other sports you've got a couple of hours, and I think of cricket as the only other sport where you've got to play five days and sometimes there's no result. In golf you've got to play four days, keep your concentration, you've got to go to sleep, wake up, you've got to keep your emotions intact all the time. So it's a very stern test of your concentration and your desire.

I think I've done pretty well. Sure, I could have won more here and there, but I've got three, and it's more than nothing. I'm still looking for winning at least, you know, all four of them once, and I'm halfway there and I'm 35 years old, so I've got a lot of time. As I say, my game is feeling good, so I can win more.

Q. Going into Augusta, we were playing up the Big Four, mainly because you guys were winning everything. You guys always play it down. But coming into this event and knowing the challenge of this course, do you see yourself there Sunday, do you fully see in all likelihood that one of those other three is there with you?

ERNIE ELS: Who knows. You know, I think those four guys you're talking about are still playing pretty good golf. Obviously Tiger won The Masters and he's the only guy with a chance to win a Grand Slam now, so he's going to be really tough this week. But the other players, Vijay has been playing really solid, Phil has been playing well, I've been playing good, Retief and some other players are playing really well. It's tough for me as a player to say who's going to be up there. I hope all four of us are there.

I really can't care much for that. I'm here to try and play as good as I can, and hopefully I'm up there. You know, if the other guys are up there, it'll be a great tournament and a lot of excitement for the fans and on television. But we don't want to think about it. We're here to try and do a job, and we're going to try and do as good as we can.

Q. You played with Adam today. How far away do you think he is from having the complete game it takes to win a U.S. Open? Obviously he's won THE PLAYERS Championship, but the U.S. Open is a bit of a different kettle of fish. What do you think?

ERNIE ELS: I've always said that Adam strikes me as a player that's going to be around for a very long time. He's just got a classic swing, he's got the short game. He's a very positive young guy, and he's done a lot already in his short career. You know, he's not scared to win when he's got a chance, and he's swinging well. He played well last week; he had four good rounds there. It seems like he's swinging well this morning. It all depends if you get off to a good start, you feel good, but he's got the game. He's one of the young guys that really impressed me a lot.

Q. Retief was in earlier and actually that's when the power went out right when he was in here, but he was talking a little bit about how he felt perhaps underappreciated as a golfer and the defending champion, not much attention being given to him. Do you agree with that, and why do you think that is?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's tough for me to comment on that. You know, I don't know how to answer that. I'm not sure what Retief feels at the moment or why he feels that way. You know, all I can say is maybe he's a foreigner playing in America winning the U.S. Open. I guess if it was an American that won the U.S. Open, maybe there was more emphasis put on that. But it's hard for me to comment on that.

I think he's obviously a world class player and one of the best players in the world, and he's our defending champion. If he's underappreciated, I can't answer that, sorry.

Q. You brought up the grand slam a moment ago. With as much as everybody else has elevated their games to reach Tiger's level or get close to it, do you think it's possible in this day and age to win all four in one year, and would you bet against Tiger doing that? Obviously if he wins this week, he goes to St. Andrews where he's had great success. Would you just comment on that? I'm curious where you feel about that.

ERNIE ELS: He's a long way away. He's got the perfect start, winning The Masters. But there's so much golf to be played. He's basically done it before, you know, already, so I don't know if he can do it again. You know, Vijay Tiger is No. 1, or Vijay, one of the two of them, and that gap that Tiger had, that's really that bigger gap is not there anymore. Obviously when Tiger is close to the lead, near a lead, he's got the experience and he's got the ability and desire to do crazy things like he did again this year at The Masters. He's just such a competitive guy.

You know, I wouldn't bet against him, but it'll be a long shot for him to win all four this year. There's just so much golf to be played, so much that can happen, weather comes in play, luck of the draw comes in play. You've got to travel I mean, there's so much to talk about. As I say, he's got the perfect start and he's played well here before, so he's got a good chance this week.

Q. You talked last week about how you maybe weren't as excited about playing some events earlier in the season as you are now. Can you talk a little bit about your mental approach this week and maybe some of the issues that you've had before this week where you weren't feeling 100 percent going into some events?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I basically I'm not sure what it was, but I at Wentworth and at the Memorial, I wasn't totally there to play, you know. Obviously I went through a couple of changes the last couple of weeks, and now I'm signed up with Chubby and ISM, so I'm excited about that. I know they're excited about me coming over there. So we've got a lot of nice things to look forward to. But just the whole thing, to go through that change again takes a bit of time and takes a bit of your attention.

But again, you know, I felt like I was playing okay, I just couldn't quite concentrate 100 percent it felt like. I feel great now. As I said, I almost had a really good week last week, and I really feel like playing. As I said to you last week, I feel like my whole attention span can really just look at my golf game now, trying to get better now, trying to start winning golf tournaments again, so I'm ready to play.

Q. With how hot and humid it is today and probably the rest of the weekend, what precautions do you take and how much do you think your physical conditioning will play in a tournament like this?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think in any kind of weather conditions, cool or warm, playing a U.S. Open takes it out of you physically, definitely. You know, you've got to be in pretty good shape if you want to keep at the highest level, and I think these guys look after themselves now. Saying that, you just go into the week and try and get enough sleep, eat enough, follow the right diet, not too many beers afterwards (laughing), and just try and hydrate yourself, give yourself enough fluids. We kind of know what to do by now. If you don't know by now, you're in trouble.

Q. Just looking back at major championship winners, there have been examples of players who have won a lot of majors in their 30s and 40s, and do you feel like one reason for that is you are starting to see venues second and third times through your career and would this be an example, and is that one reason you feel the next five or ten years might be beneficial to you?

ERNIE ELS: There's a good side and a bad side. The good side is you've got to see it for the second time. The bad side is you're getting older (laughter). It's great. You know, we're here for the second time, going to Baltusrol for the PGA in August for the second time in my career, and obviously St. Andrews, it'll be my third British Open there. If you go back to familiar golf courses, familiar surroundings and experience starts really helping you out. You know, as this gentleman said, if you look after yourself physically, your career can stretch way into your 40s. Look at Vijay, he's 41, 42 years old, No. 1 player in the world, so I think and everybody spoke years ago, your peak was from 30 until 36. Well, I guess you can stretch your peak now from I would say 33 to 43 I would think. I think equipment has helped that and obviously conditioning of the players has also helped that.

Q. What's different from '99 here and what do you think the winning score will be this week?

ERNIE ELS: '99 I wasn't quite on my game, and I wasn't hitting it in the fairways, and obviously that cost me. You've got to get the ball in the fairway here, and you've got to play away from some flags, and I was a bit too aggressive at times, so I guess that was my setback there.

The winning score here this week could be anything. If we get a bit of rain, soften this place up, you can go at some flags, it'll make the place a little bit easier. But I can't say I don't even know if under par is going to win, to be honest with you. I think even par, I'll take that now and go sit in the clubhouse. It'll be a good score.

Q. Since we're winding down I wanted to ask you a question about your occasional neighbor of those couple of weeks a year you're in Orlando. Annika is going for her third leg of the Grand Slam next week. I know you've seen her playing in the Tavistock thing from up close. What do you admire about her game and whether you are a fan of hers and whether she's probably the best player in the world right now irrespective of sex?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I totally admire what she does. It's amazing what she does. The most striking thing about her, Annika, is accuracy. She's amazingly accurate. I've played with her quite a few times, and obviously I'm a lot longer than her off the tee, but from 200 yards in, we're hitting 5 or 6 irons and she's coming in with a 5 wood or something, and a lot of times she will put it inside of you. There's no real weakness in her game. I thought maybe her short game was the weakest part of her game, and she's really worked hard on that, and she's just blowing people away right now. She's an amazing player and I totally admire what she does. I don't know how long she can keep it up for, but she's doing great.

RAND JERRIS: Ernie, thanks very much for your time this afternoon. Good luck this week.

End of FastScripts.

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