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May 11, 2005

Ernie Els


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Past champion Ernie Els, thanks for joining us for a few minutes. I know you're playing in the Pro-Am this afternoon. If you could talk about coming back to play on the PGA TOUR this week at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. You had some great success in Europe winning three times and over in the Far East obviously. Maybe just talk about coming back to play this week.

ERNIE ELS: I like the way you say Europe. China.


ERNIE ELS: No, it was good. Obviously it was documented over there on the European Tour that -- I needed to work on things after The Masters. I was really not there, my swing and stuff. I worked on a couple of things and it paid off rather quickly. The first week over there where Adam won, that was in Beijing, I finished 6th, I believe, and I felt that weekend thing was coming around, and then the very next week it was right in place. I played some of the best golf I've played all year. A month late, but that's one of those things.

But I had a good week there and then went back to London, was there last week, doing a school run for Samantha, and didn't do too much. I practiced a bit over the weekend, and it's great to be back. At least it seems like we're going to have some warm weather, which I'm looking forward to, and I'm looking forward to playing some good golf hopefully. I played 18 holes yesterday on the TPC course yesterday afternoon, and I'm still working on those basic fundamentals I would call it, and it felt good yesterday, so I'm looking forward to the weekend.

Q. Is coming over for just the one event a testimony for the respect you have for Byron?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yes. Probably yes, but it's not that difficult a flight, to be honest. I mean, I've had a good record. Yeah, I like the two golf courses we play. I've played some good golf. I won it ten years ago, but since then I've had some good Top 10 finishes and I feel good about the event. If I really go back in the history, I've got a lot of friends here from back in the very early '90s when I spent some time here trying to get on Tour and stuff, and it's great coming here. It feels like I know the place very well and rekindled the friendships of my past.

To play in Byron's tournament, he's a legend of the game and he runs a great tournament. I think he's got great people around him.

Q. How much influence did you have on Retief who's playing here for the first time, or did you at all?

ERNIE ELS: No, I haven't spoken to him about it. He was in South Africa the last I don't know how many weeks, and before that I didn't really speak to him about this tournament, but I believe that he's playing a much fuller schedule over here. I think that's good for the Tour and it's good for him. He made up his own mind on this one.

Q. When you go play in a place like China, do you go off and do touristy stuff or is it just to the golf course and back to the place?

ERNIE ELS: No, we were outside Beijing so we were pretty close to the Wall, so we went to the Wall. We went to Tiananmen Square, actually had a dinner there with Johnny Walker, so at least I got a free tour of the place (laughter). It's a very interesting place, as you can imagine.

But we were outside the city, the golf course, and I stayed out there in the hotel, but we did get to go to the Wall, so at least I saw one of the Seven Wonders.

Q. So what was most interesting about it to you?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'm not sure when I came through Communism, but Beijing is so different from Shanghai. Shanghai is like Manhattan, so to speak. Beijing is more the political capital, more kind of like Washington, D.C., if you know what I mean, and it's got more the historical background. The Emperor lived there in the People's Palace and stuff like that. It's two totally different I'll say cultures. Shanghai is almost Westernized and Beijing is very much still old China, so to speak.

It was interesting to see the different kind of cultures.

Q. You talked about liking the courses here. What is it that you like? I mean, what makes a good course for you? A lot of guys would say they come to this tournament because they like the course.

ERNIE ELS: Well, the golf courses, through the years, they've changed a little bit. Again, we're going to go back to technology. I'm sure we all get tired of speaking about it. But I was actually playing the TPC course yesterday with my 1995 yardage book, ten years old, and the numbers and the clubs are a little bit different (laughter).

Some of the par 3s I'm a club shorter now, so that means I'm a club longer. For instance, the 2nd hole, a par 3, I was hitting 6-irons back then, and with very similar wind yesterday I hit a little 7-iron, so it's a club and a half difference. Some of the par 4s are different; I was hitting 3-woods when I used to hit drivers. The course has changed a little bit in that respect. But other than that it's very similar. Nothing has really changed. They haven't lengthened too many holes, stuff like that.

But the two golf courses are really nice. If you're on your game, you can make some birdies. The wind is always a huge factor here, which it seems it's going to be for the week, so it should keep the scores up. If there's no wind, you're going to see a lot of scores in the 60s.

Q. On the Cottonwood No. 2, were they playing that new tee?

ERNIE ELS: I'm playing that today. I don't know.

Q. I'm going to spit out a Retief story for the U.S. Open, and it's hard to write stories about Retief quoting Retief, so I have to go around because he doesn't always say that much. What do you see are his -- you were right there with him on that last day at Shinnecock.


Q. What are his attributes that make that guy a two-time U.S. Open winner from what you see? Are there any anecdotes or funny stories about that guy? People look at him and they see a very soft-spoken, polite, quiet guy who's not very colorful. Is that accurate?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'll answer this second part first. I think you guys really have to talk to him yourselves. He's got a tongue and he does speak (laughter). You have to sit down with him and talk to him and you'll find out he's pretty interesting. He's a family man. Him and Tracy -- Tracy is the talkative wife. You want to really get some stories, speak to Tracy, his wife. She talks quite a lot (laughter). I mean, they're both great people. I've known Retief since we were 12, 13 years old.

You know, he hasn't changed at all. That's Retief. The better you know him, the more he's going to talk to you. He's one of those guys.

You know, he's pretty serious in what he does on the golf course, so he's into his game. He's not going to be cracking jokes kind of a thing. Practice rounds he's different. Away from the golf course he's different. He likes to have a bottle of wine, we get a bit loose here and there, but as I say, if you know him well, that's what he'll do.

He's just a very private guy. That's the way Retief is, and he's always been like that. When we were in the Army together, he was the one that kept it on the road kind of a thing. He's always been like that. He's a great guy. You guys have got to sit down and talk to him. I'm not going to speak for him if you know what I mean.

Q. Well, you see sides of him that we don't see is the point I'm making because you've known him since you were teenagers.

ERNIE ELS: Absolutely. I think some people open up to you guys a bit more than others. I think I've been quite open, and I think Retief is a little different, and that's just the way people are. Everybody is not going to open up to you guys (laughter).

Q. You bumped into Sergio on his way out. Did you give him any words of encouragement after last week?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I've been in that situation many times. You're always expected to win. There's probably -- the tournament was probably written off on Saturday afternoon by the papers, but as players, we know how tough those leads are. I spoke to Doug yesterday, I remember the last time I had a lead like that on this Tour was at the Doral tournament, and I played unbelievable golf, the wind was blowing, I was eight shots in front of Tiger, and I think Peter Lonard, I was playing with Peter, I think I was six shots ahead of him, and at the end of the day I shot 72, Tiger shot 66 and won by two shots, and it was one of the toughest days that you can imagine.

It's a day where everybody expects you to win; everybody thinks it's done. You're going to sleep on it, and I know if I shoot anything over par, I can lose this tournament, and you go out and you play different golf instead of doing what you did the first three days.

In China the other day, I had a good lead. I went out there and I had a good start, and I just got aggressive after that and I shot the best score of the day. So that can also happen. But if you come out a little defensive, it can happen, what happened to Sergio.

Q. Is it always tougher mentally playing with the lead?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, again, to me, yes. It's quite difficult. You want to have a lead. That's what you play for. But you just want to keep going. You don't want to go to sleep and think about it and warm up and do the whole routine. You kind of just want to keep going. When you're on the golf course you're most comfortable. It's that whole run up to teeing off on a Sunday.

Q. In those situations whether it was Doral or Melbourne with Adam or even Muirfield for that example on the back nine, when you look back do you get upset with yourself for not being able to break a guy's neck or take pride in the fact that you had a chance to blow it and you didn't and you fought through it?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think you asked it and answered it. Like I said, if you get off to that start and you're aggressive at the start and you just want to kill the tournament in the first nine holes, and I think that should be your mindset, try and go out there the first nine holes and try and just destroy the tournament and then enjoy the walk back on the back nine.

Many times when I leave tournaments that's the way you think. But we just are creatures of habit sometimes. You come out there and you're like, "Well, let me just get off to a nice start, let me get into the round and see how it goes," and that's when you kick yourself when it doesn't come out. All of us are so competitive, you start off quite negatively, but then somehow because we're so competitive, you get yourself back in the race and then you play aggressively, and maybe sometimes it's too late in Sergio's case, and in other cases with me, the thing is I scraped through a couple of times, and sometimes I've been really aggressive and gone for it.

I would say, yeah, I think you're right. I think that is a good example to take, to try and knock the boys -- give them a little KO the first eight holes and then enjoy the back nine.

Q. Could you give us your schedule up to the Open, and also, the second part here is all the big three have three wins in the U.S. this year and you have your three in Europe. Do you feel a sense of needing to catch up or get going?

ERNIE ELS: The first part, my schedule is I'm going back next week, week off, and then I'm playing the PGA at Wentworth, playing Memorial, Booz Allen and U.S. Open. So it's three and then U.S. Open, all three really great tournaments, good golf courses and good tune-ups for the U.S. Open.

And then, yes, I mean, I've got three wins. Yeah, I feel like I've got to step it up over here. I really didn't play very good in March. The Masters wasn't good at all. So yeah, I had a good start. The first three I played I had a couple of chances to win there, but then I haven't played very well. So yes, I feel the need to step it up over here and play really well against these players because this is where the best field is.

Q. Did you like the setup at Pinehurst the last time around?

ERNIE ELS: I didn't make the cut.

Q. I know, it's a double-edged question.

ERNIE ELS: I thought the setup was really good. It was really fair. They gave us some room off the tees. It wasn't too firm so the ball -- I mean, those greens are just diabolical. They are very tough.

It's a really good golf course. I like the look I see off the tees, and I've got to have a new game plan, hitting my second shots. I was going at flags and then the ball would finish 30 yards off the green. I didn't play with my head. So I've got to play a little bit more tactical.

Q. Did you have any chip shots come back in your footprints like Daly and some others where it rolled up and kind of --

ERNIE ELS: I think I did. I want to forget about that tournament (laughter).

Q. The course can embarrass you.

ERNIE ELS: I'm sure I did. It's just one of those things. It's just a brutal golf course around the greens and second shots.

Q. Talk about wanting to step it up over here. Retief talked yesterday about having the Top 5 players in this field kind of adds a little extra buzz for him. Do you feel the same way? Does this week get you going a little more than the typical Tour event because of that?

ERNIE ELS: Definitely. I'm playing with Vijay tomorrow. He's questionably probably the best player right now in the world. So it'll be nice to play with him. I haven't played with him since Hawaii. Obviously seeing his victory the last couple of weeks, he's right on form. There's definitely a buzz. Tiger, I haven't actually said hello to him since The Masters. The players that are here, the Top 5 as you guys call it, they're all here and that definitely edges the tournament.

Q. What will make Pinehurst different? As good as the setup was in '99, is there any way they can screw it up?

ERNIE ELS: Definitely, yes (laughter).

Q. What's your overall view on U.S. Opens in general?

ERNIE ELS: You know, my overall view on U.S. Opens, I love the setups. I normally love the way they set the golf courses up, normally. Unfortunately what happened last year, and I think that most of the USGA will agree with us, that they did screw up a little bit. But in general I love their setups; I've done very well at U.S. Opens in the past. I love the traditional golf courses they find to go and play.

They try and get the best players in the field, and they normally get that. In the last I would say ten years, maybe they've had two minor -- well, one minor, one major one, screw-ups. Like last year we all know about that, and I think the other one was maybe Olympic.

Q. What about the 10th tee at Bethpage?

ERNIE ELS: Well, Bethpage, I must say, that was a very narrow fairway, if you think of the walkway as a fairway (laughter). Some of the guys had to hit it down the walkway like Nicky Price. He tells a good story about that. That was such a great course, too.

I think they just totally -- they're a little bit nervous about the distance a ball goes, and I think they should just not panic so much about that, take the golf course for what it is, set it up for how it's designed and go play, and I promise you, 90 percent of the time you won't get into double figures.

Q. What comes to mind when you hear the word Tom Meeks?

ERNIE ELS: (Laughing) Tom Meeks, he was setting up U.S. Open golf courses.

Q. Yeah, that's him. Anything else?

ERNIE ELS: He does the scoring at Augusta in the scorer's hut.

Q. Has he done a good job the last ten years?

ERNIE ELS: I think he's done a good job.

Q. He said it would be nice if at the end of a U.S. Open all the players hugged him and said "good job". Do you think that will ever happen?

ERNIE ELS: I think the majority of them would like him, especially the guys that have won, I guess.

Q. Are you comfortable with the frame of mind you have playing at Pinehurst, given how it went for you last time?

ERNIE ELS: I'm actually looking forward to it. As I said earlier, I think I've played the course maybe the wrong way and I was maybe playing it a bit too aggressive here and there and wasn't really thinking of what I was doing maybe. So yes, I'm looking forward to this challenge. I like golf courses like that because you get certain ways of playing it, and I'm looking forward to -- because I didn't do well there last time, I'd like to prove it right this time.

Q. There have been a lot of players play well into their 40s or a number of players play well, but Vijay is not just playing well, he's dominating. How long do you think he can continue? He's obviously in great shape. Do you expect him to keep playing like this for a while, excepting injury or something unforeseen?

ERNIE ELS: Well, Vijay has been around a long time, and you're right, he looks after himself very well. The only thing he does is play golf, so that's also a major plus for him. He stays in one place and just works out and plays golf, and he really dedicated himself to do that. So that's great for Vijay.

Also, I would add maybe that he's found that little trick of beating the guys at the moment. It seems like he's got that little method going and he just keeps on taking it over. If he's not winning he's in playoffs or very close. So he's found that little magic.

When you've got that, you've got to go with it, and I think that's what he's doing. He's playing a lot of tournaments, he's got that little magic and he's riding it. Who knows how long he's going to do it? Hopefully not too long.

Q. Do you think the magic is more mental or physical with the swing?

ERNIE ELS: I think this game still is a huge mental challenge and I think he's got the mental edge at the moment, and he trusts his swing at the moment. All that hard work has really started to pay off now, and he trusts that swing. Under pressure that swing is holding up, and that's a major plus.

Q. I think other guys are starting to look for him on the leaderboard now, saying, "Okay, here he comes, he's making his run, now what do I do?" He's got three wins and a couple of 2nds. Every week he's --

ERNIE ELS: Right there. He's got that run going, he's got the magic going. Hard to stop guys like that.

Q. Does what he's doing at his age kind of make you reevaluate what the possibilities are for you on the back side of your career, or is he just a freak?

ERNIE ELS: No, I'm 35 and I've got a lot of golf left in my body hopefully. There are a lot of good things I can still do in this game, so I'm looking forward to that. I won't comment on the second.

Q. I don't mean it in a bad way. I mean, is he just a one of a kind?

ERNIE ELS: I think there's many players -- Ben Hogan did it, Byron Nelson, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus. There's a long, long list of players that are doing what Vijay is doing what now. I don't think it's -- it's kind of freaky for us because he's won I don't know how many times in two years, but a lot of players have done it, and he's just doing what you can do in this game.

Q. It's the 60th anniversary of that year that Byron put together where he won 11 in a row, and it's also the 75th anniversary of when Jones won what was then the Grand Slam, and Tiger's 2000 -- there are several seasons you could consider as the greatest ever. Do you have an opinion in your mind on what might rank ahead of others, or is comparing eras just virtually impossible?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think it's tough to compare eras. I mean, Nicklaus did a lot of great things, Hogan did a lot of great things. I mean, Bobby Jones winning all four in one year, but two of them were amateur events. I would say -- I mean, Tiger Woods, what he did four years ago, in our era that's still the best I've seen, or my era. Faldo did a lot of great things. I mean, there's great arguments on a lot of years, but in my era it's going to be Tiger's when he won four majors. What Vijay has done last year, I mean, Tiger did that, also, five years ago, winning nine or ten or something. There's many years.

But the best ever, I mean, you can sit there and argue about it a long time.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Ernie, thank you.

End of FastScripts.

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