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May 27, 2005

Ernie Els


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Defending champion Ernie Els, thanks for joining us here at The Memorial Tournament. Can we get some opening comments about coming back to play in Mr. Nicklaus' event, and especially since you won last year.

ERNIE ELS: It's always good to come here, especially when you're defending champion. I've been coming here since I guess 1993, '94, something like that, so I've been coming a long time. I must say, he just makes this place better every year. You know, the golf course keeps improving, the quality of the way they present the golf course gets better all the time, and I think this year is no different.

The greens are unbelievable. It's just great playing on a golf course like this. He runs a great show here.

Q. With the field that's here, does this have the feel of a major?

ERNIE ELS: No. You don't really think about majors. This is a quality event, stands very high on the Tour calendar. I think the quality of the field is great. But majors are different. You're never going to change that.

I mean, this golf course, just the way everything is set up, it's great to play this golf course and this tournament two weeks before the U.S. Open because you can really get the feel of getting into big tournaments.

Q. I know you obviously have won a couple of Opens. Are you a fan of the USGA in terms of the way they have been setting up Open courses? I mean, obviously last year was

ERNIE ELS: I would say yes. They definitely try and get the best player in the field that particular week. I mean, you have to hit fairways, you have to hit greens, and if you miss fairways and greens you've got to scramble. They really try and identify the best player that week, and I think they've done a good job.

A couple here and there got away from them, I would say Olympic and definitely last year, but, you know, they normally do a very good job. They set up a fair, tough golf course normally.

Q. What do you think happened last year?

ERNIE ELS: I'm not sure. I don't know why they went to that extent. They didn't have to because we played one of the best golf courses in the world. Maybe length was never going to be a factor. The golf course wasn't very long. So they felt like going to different methods of really testing us unfortunately it backfired on them over the weekend.

Q. Why does this tournament have the quality of champions that it does? Is it something with the course or the fact that you guys are all here all the time or what?

ERNIE ELS: I think the guys really get up for this tournament. I think when you have a golf course that's so pristine, you just want to play well. Jack Nicklaus has also got something to do with that. Everybody wants to win this golf tournament. I think the way the course is designed, it helps longer hitters, also, than maybe other golf courses we play on Tour. So those kind of players normally do well here. You can get after the par 5s a little bit. You've got to be careful on your second shots with the par 4s, but you're coming in with middle irons to short irons. If you're on your game, you can shoot a good score.

Q. Given the players of today, the guys at the top and the game they play, if somebody told you you were in charge of setting up a golf course to determine the best player, what would be your criteria? What sort of things would you try and accomplish if you were setting up a golf course, given yourself, Tiger, Vijay, Phil?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it depends on which golf course you're talking about. You've got to take a golf course and look at what the designer was striving for and see what's in his mind, what ways he's trying to challenge you and set up the golf course according to that. I think some courses like Pinehurst where you've got the greens kind of in the air, you've got to be careful what you do around the greens, how you cut the rough, fairways, around the greens, and how firm the greens should become for the ball to run off when you hit good golf shots.

I think you need to determine who the best player is, and that is I believe that the guys should be able to hit the fairway, should be able to hit the green, keep it on the green, and if you miss shots, have an opportunity to try and get the ball up and down. You've got to look at weather conditions. In Scotland obviously you need greens maybe running at 10 rather than 13 because conditions can get out of hand when the wind starts blowing.

So a lot of factors must be looked at. But definitely, I mean, Bethpage, 7,500 yards; Shinnecock, 6,800 yards; totally different golf courses, they should be set up differently.

Q. Did you like the setup in '97 at Congressional?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, I believe we had a lot of rain, I think, on Thursday, which softened the whole place up, and 4 under won. I won with 4 under. Back then it was one of the longer golf courses before the ball and all the equipment. Now it's probably a little bit different. But yeah, I definitely liked the setup.

I felt we had enough room to get the ball in play because of the length of the course, and the rough was punishing but you could get the ball in the fairway and keep it on the greens.

Q. Any special feeling about going back there, if I can ask a personal question?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, definitely. We did a company day there last year for SAP and it was my first time back since '97, and then I heard they were playing the tournament there, so it was an easy decision for me to go play it. I'm looking forward to it.

Q. Having said what you said about the USGA, what do you expect to see what you get to Pinehurst?

ERNIE ELS: I think the way they set it up in '99 was pretty good and we had good weather. I didn't play that weekend, but I watched the television. They had a bit of rain, so it made second shots a little bit easier to those greens.

But you need a little bit of space. It's quite a long course, and you need to hit your second shots the right distance and be very disciplined around that course. Who knows, but I'm sure it's going to be fair and it'll be playable.

Q. Jack has talked about how he's pretty much going to give up competitive golf, and he will always reserve the right to play this event. As a fan of the game, is it kind of sad to see a guy like that kind of decide it's time to quit?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think always. Whenever these legends stop playing, that's a sad moment. But, you know, they've given so much to the game and to the Tour, really helped us, our generation of players today, playing for what we're playing for. They really set the tone.

But who knows. Every good player knows when he wants to quit or stop playing.

Q. Do you hope he keeps playing?

ERNIE ELS: Bobby Jones stopped playing when he was 28. Jack, at least he stuck it out until he was 65, so he gave us a lot of pleasure obviously. It's like any sport. Michael Jordan stopped playing basketball, everybody was sad, but there's a time when you're just not good anymore, and Jack has given enough. He's the greatest player ever.

Q. A lot of players now feel they want to play into an Open, want to play the week before, maybe two weeks before. What's the advantage in your mind of sort of keeping going?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, for some reason I like playing this time of the year. The weather gets better, gets nice and warm. You know, it's just a nice time to play for me personally. I like the tournaments. I love this tournament. They used to have Westchester before the U.S. Open, so I used to play that. I feel a lot of the tournaments running up to the U.S. Open are good preparation tournaments. I love working on my game here. We've got the best driving range on Tour and you can really spend some time. That's what I like to do.

And then next week just play golf, and hopefully everything clicks for the U.S. Open. That's my mindset. I don't know what other guys think.

Q. Do you always play the week before a major?

ERNIE ELS: Not every major, but I like playing before the U.S. Open. I don't like playing the week before Augusta. I've never really liked the golf course, and that's why I don't play there. But I play before the British Open at the Scottish, and that's more like playing over there. Playing a golf course like this has got nothing to do with links. And then I play The International before the PGA. So yeah, I guess I like playing before.

Q. Another question related to Pinehurst, you said you watched it on TV that weekend. Number one, what do you remember about Payne's win, and what do you miss about Payne from being on Tour?

ERNIE ELS: Well, that was one of the best Sundays of U.S. Open golf, I think, for a very long time. I thought Phil going for his first win and Tiger really playing his first really good U.S. Open, I thought, and a couple other players, Vijay was in there I remember, so it was a really good leaderboard.

And Payne, I remember he wasn't playing great golf at that time. He just gutted it out. He wanted it more than anybody, you could see that. I remember the putt he made on 16, and then he birdied 17, and then obviously his putt on 18. He definitely out putted the guys that week, and you could just see in his emotion how much he wanted to win that tournament. You know, Payne will always be missed out here. He was a true character. You knew where he was coming from, and he had a little bit of air of cockiness to him. But it was a nice it was kind of nice.

You know, he was a great guy. He always had something to say about something. I liked him.

Q. How often do you try to get to a major championship venue before a major championship? A lot of guys are doing that now. How often would you say you get to one, say two, three weeks before?

ERNIE ELS: I don't have the time to do it unfortunately much before. I spend a lot of time in London now with my kids. Samantha goes to school there, so I don't do that too much anymore. I'm getting on now. Most of these majors, I'm playing them for the second time now. I've already seen most of these courses once, so it's not that big of a shock for me anymore.

I might go to the PGA on my way to Denver because I've got two weeks after the Open, and I think I might move through New York and play Baltusrol. We were there in 1993, so I'd like to have another look at that, so I might do that. But I don't do it too often.

Q. Jack made kind of a significant change to No. 10, lengthened it considerably. How did you find it, different?

ERNIE ELS: No, I think it's better. It was getting a little bit short. I was almost hitting 3 wood off the tee there last year, and it just makes it more of a driving hole now. You can really go after your drive. I hit driver, 8 iron today. I think it's 300 yards to the end of the left bunker, so you can still get it out there and hit 6, 7, 8 iron in there. I think it's a good change. I think the changes that Jack makes are normally pretty good. He knows what he does.

Q. Do you have a cold?

ERNIE ELS: No, I don't know. I picked up something. It's nothing bad.

Q. I walked in late so I apologize if this has been asked, but last year at this time you came in and won and had to actually play an event that you didn't want to play in going into an Open. Assuming that you selected to play Congressional before you go into Pinehurst, how do you feel about the stretch of three?

ERNIE ELS: It's actually four, I played last week. No, I'm excited about it. I'm excited to be back here. I said earlier I like playing this time of the year. It becomes warmer. I like playing warm weather. The venues are so good. I mean, last week was great at Wentworth; I live there. I didn't play too well, but it was still a good week. Obviously this week and next week are great golf courses. So I'm excited about the next three the next two before the U.S. Open. I'm looking forward to getting into the Sunday afternoon battles. That's what I like to do.

Q. Have you changed any equipment?

ERNIE ELS: I changed shafts. I decided to go to a little softer shaft, a little lighter shaft, still a precision shaft, but I feel it's got a bit more kick down there. I'm hitting it okay. I'm getting used to the irons still, but I feel good.

Q. So just the shafts?

ERNIE ELS: Just the shafts, yeah, same head, just different shafts.

Q. Any aviation equipment? Has that changed? I heard you're did you sell your plane?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I got a good deal (laughter).

Q. I mean, I saw something on your website that you were late getting out of Dallas, and I could only presume that you no longer had your plane at that point.

ERNIE ELS: That was actually my last trip on that plane, it was to Dallas, but I'm waiting for a new one. I'm getting it next May, so I'm chartering at the moment.

Q. How did you get over here?

ERNIE ELS: Chartered a plane.

Q. What are you getting?

ERNIE ELS: I'm getting a G 5.

Q. What did you have?

ERNIE ELS: G 4, which was a

Q. What did you sell it for?

ERNIE ELS: I sold it for a profit, which was very strange in today's day and age, so that's why I did it. I got a good deal on this other one.

Q. When did you change shafts?

ERNIE ELS: Last week.

Q. Which was the bigger change?

ERNIE ELS: The bigger change was definitely the shafts (laughing).

Q. Is Ricci unhappy that he going charter versus the plane?

ERNIE ELS: He was happy that I got a charter, otherwise we would have flown here British Airways or something. He's been spoiled the last three, four years.

Q. What's the difference between G 4 and G 5 other than dollars?

ERNIE ELS: It's time in the air. I can fly 13, 14 hours in the 5 and nine and a half in a G 4, so it's a better change for my schedule.

Q. Talking about schedules, Ernie, there's been a lot of discussion here about schedule and what may happen with the schedule after 2006, reduction of tournaments and so forth. How much does a schedule change if it's reduction of events affect you?

ERNIE ELS: Well, we'll have to look and see what's going to happen. We'll see where the tournaments move to. My favorite events like this one and obviously TPC and tournaments like that, I'm sure they want to move them around, and then the end of the year is a little bit up in the air. Let's wait and see, and I'd like to speak to some of the Tour guys. I'm actually having dinner with Henry Houston. I'd like to find out a bit more about it and maybe I can comment more about it at the later stage. We'll wait and see and see where my favorite events move to and just go accordingly.

Q. Just curious, there was a report last week that you switched management agencies. I wonder if you can talk about the reasons of that.

ERNIE ELS: I'm not going to give you reasons or anything like that. It's just I felt like I needed a change, and that was that. I had a good time with Peter German and Peter Malik at IMG, but I felt like changing.

Q. I don't want to delve too deep, but has it been any kind of distraction for you in terms of the rest of your playing and things like that, to have to keep switching management companies?

ERNIE ELS: No. I mean, I'm basically my own boss. No, not really. I've been changing quite rapidly recently (laughter), so it's not that big a deal. But I'm looking forward to the future. I'm really looking forward to my new relationship.

Q. Have you signed with Chubby?

ERNIE ELS: Well, we've got another couple of weeks, but I will sign with Chubby.

Q. Do you negotiate your own deals?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. With management, yeah. I have a big say in it, yeah. But there's so much stuff that goes on, you need somebody to make the runs. I don't want to do that anymore.

Q. I apologize if you've covered this already, but in terms of their impact on the World Rankings, do you think your three worldwide victories this year have been somewhat under recognized?

ERNIE ELS: No, I don't think so. I'm not sure where you're coming from, but I think they've been recognized quite enough. I think they were in different places in the world, just Dubai and Qatar and China, so a long way from here, but I think it's fine. I've played okay over here, a couple of Top 10s and so forth, but obviously I'd love to win here. This is where the strongest fields are and the best players play, so I'd love to win in the next couple of weeks over here.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Ernie Els, thank you. Good luck this week.

End of FastScripts.

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