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March 15, 2005

Ernie Els


JOE CHEMYCZ: We welcome Ernie Els to the media center. Talk a little about the state of your game the last couple of weeks, which were very successful, and getting ready for this week.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it was good. Obviously I had a couple of good results, played some good golf. They were two different golf courses we played. Obviously I've played Dubai many times and I know the course well, and last week was the first time I was there. A couple of tough golf courses, but I had some good finishes and you know, good results, as I say. So looking forward to this week.

JOE CHEMYCZ: Just open it up for questions.

Q. How do you feel?

ERNIE ELS: No, I'm fine, I'm really fine, really. You know, obviously there's a couple of hours jet-lag in there, but I'm really fine. I came back Sunday night, Leizl joined me in Qatar. So we flew back together to London, saw the kids Sunday night, gave them their surprises, as we call it, and then I got on a plane the next morning at 7:00 and flew to Palm Beach. Played Seminole yesterday. Actually, that was good to do that, to get out walking, get some fresh air, play a bit of golf.

I'm really not that bad. As I said to you, coming west, it's always better than going back east. So I'll be fine. It was better than flying economy class. You must have heard about that. (Laughter.)

Q. Did you win yesterday?

ERNIE ELS: No, we didn't. We played good. I think we were five better, gross and net, so we were two out of the gross prize and three out of the net prize, but we got our names on the board already.

Q. Why did you play Qatar -- is that how you say it?


Q. And was there any concern about tinkering with a schedule that was so successful leading up to Augusta last year?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I had three weeks off prior to when I started in Dubai. You know, there was talk of playing Qatar at the end of last year and then it went quiet, and then they came back I think in January, February and they wanted me to play. So I was in the area, anyways, and I felt I needed to play because I didn't play golf at all for three weeks in South Africa. That's basically why I went there.

I must say, they were very appreciative of me going there, because they haven't really had a lot of top-ranked players in the region. So they enjoyed it, and so did I at the end of the day.

Q. Are you aware that apparently No. 1 is at stake this week for all three of you guys at the top; are you aware of that?

ERNIE ELS. No. But you know, that's one of the goals is really, obviously to win major championships, but I've love to be No. 1. I'm as close as I've been for a year now, I've been kind of hovering around there for the last year or so, and my game is really good. I'm driving it well. I'm going to work on my iron play a bit more tomorrow. My putting feels pretty good. And this golf course really should set up well for my game. I haven't played well here for some reason in the past couple of years, which is a little bit annoying, because I've won here before; and, you know, I live here when I'm in the States.

So, yeah, obviously, I want to play as well as I can this week, and who knows, if it's my week, I might be able to win and that's definitely the goal.

Q. How about Thursday and Friday, your pairing?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I just saw that, that's going to be fun. That's really fun. Retief, obviously, I've known him since I was, I don't know, teenager, even before that. And obviously Tiger, we've come a long way, too. So we should have a really fun three-ball. Hopefully we can play some decent golf.

Q. Are you going to be able to get a word in edge-wise with Retief?


Q. Are you going to be able to get a word in with Retief there?

ERNIE ELS: What do you mean? Is he going to talk us to death. (Laughter.) Yeah, he'll talk us to death like he normally does.

Q. Actually, on the subject of Retief, why do you think it is that he sort of gets left out of the conversation when everybody starts talking?

ERNIE ELS: I can throw it back at you guys. You guys don't talk about him too much. He's obviously got the game. He's proven that; he's won TOUR Championships and U.S. Opens and who knows what. He's won everything. He's done just about everything, too, already. He's been No. 1 in Europe and he's done what he has to do to be a top-ranked player.

I don't know, I've got to ask you guys, why you guys don't write about him, because we regard him as definitely a real star player.

Q. While you were off these three weeks, were you watching what was happening and Phil tearing it up and Tiger and Vijay?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I did. I had three weeks off there in South Africa, and obviously I was keep being up on what was going on here. We do have satellite television down there. (Laughing).

Anyway, no, I watched a bit of that. Yeah, the guys are really tearing it up, you know, so to speak. Those top players that we talk about week-in and week-out, they are definitely doing the business now and it should be one -- it should be one of the more exciting years in golf. They are definitely playing great golf.

Q. When you take time off like that and go for three weeks do you say, "Gee, I wish I was in there in that mix of guys," or how do you look at what's going on back here?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, after a while. Three weeks is a long time. In our sport, you take three weeks off, that's quite a big break.

Yeah, after the first week, you just enjoy your time off, but after the second or third week and you see the guys up there, you start burning to get out there and playing.

So, yeah, I was watching that. I think it was good for me to see that the guys are playing well, and probably motivated me a little bit to come back, really, to play and get into the mix of things.

So, yeah, I wouldn't say I totally missed it too much, but it definitely got my attention.

Q. How important was it to win, given what everybody else has been doing this year?

ERNIE ELS: Especially over there, you know, the fields over there are not as strong as over here, obviously. But that puts a new dimension on it. It puts another dimension of pressure because they love to talk about -- I'm 3 in the world and the next guy is No. 16 in the world; you've-got-to-win-this-week kind of a thing. So it's easy to get caught up in all of that.

For me personally, yes, I wanted to play well and try and win one of the two. Both of them was a definite bonus, but it was really important to get back into the winner's circle. Especially after the first four weeks I played of the year, I felt I had chances in all four weeks to win and I didn't finish it off. So to kind of come from the outside and win those two was quite important.

Q. At any point during this year have you been pointing toward Augusta, or do you try to keep it in the back of your mind and not think about it?

ERNIE ELS: It's hard not to think about it to be honest with you. We like to get to each and every week that we play and just concentrate on the week that's ahead. But during that week when we practice, there's definitely shots that we are practicing already for Augusta. Especially the driver, you want to start moving the ball a bit right-to-left with ease. Short game, well, you have got to be sharp anyway; so if you get your short game sharp it's going to be good for Augusta, too. There are many times when you just start wandering off about Augusta, yeah.

Q. Is it any different than any previous year or because of what happened last year? Have you thought about it more or do you try not to?

ERNIE ELS: You know what, for some reason, I don't know, you know, I haven't thought about it too much. I think when I get there, it will all come back to me again.

I went through a bit of a difficult period last year I think, but for some reason, this year, I haven't thought about it too much. I think I've got other things on my mind. I've got other goals in my mind and I'm not thinking about it too much. That's kind of past history now.

But the run-up any different, no. My schedule is pretty much the same. I threw Qatar in there, but I've got a nice week off before the Masters starts. So it's not any different than any other year, no.

Q. Is Jos still employed?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we had a bit of a -- a bit of a, how do you call it -- I can't say an argument, really. We just had a couple of words, but it was sorted out by the end of the week. So, yes, he is still employed. (Laughing).

Q. Did you work with him last week after Thursday?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we patched it up and we're friends again and we love each other again. (Laughter.) He'll be at Augusta again.

Q. There seems to be, especially among the top players, yourself, Vijay, Tiger, guys that are just hitting the ball a mile, and yet their driving accuracy doesn't seem to be all that great. I don't know if that's just happened or if you have all noticed, it doesn't matter if you hit it straight, you just want to hit it as far as possible, have you seen a lot of that at all?

ERNIE ELS: I think some of the setups on regular TOUR events, it's a little softer here and there, and you can get away with it a little bit more. But believe me, this week, the fairways are nice and wide. But if you're not going to be hitting more fairways this week, you're going to have a tough week because the rough is really up.

And the course next week, next week is playing very much like a major championship. You'll see the guys throw it a little back, it's not the longest course in the world, either. Accuracy next week is a bit more of a factor and probably all of the majors.

So I think we play a little bit differently on majors and golf courses where it's really set up for accuracy. But the rest of the time, like the Sony in Hawaii, Kapalua -- I'm going way back to where I played last time, but those kind of courses, you can really have a bit more of a go and you can get away with it a little bit more.

Q. You would rather have a wedge out of the rough or a 9-iron than a 7-iron from the fairway?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'd like to hit it out of the fairway. But I think if you want to stay aggressive and chase birdies, with equipment nowadays, you can get it out of the rough and still stop it on the green, especially when you have a bit of rain coming down.

I think, yeah, it has changed definitely, through the years. We're taking different lines off some of the tees than we have done in the past. It's just the ball is going so much further.

Q. Some of the best players here in America are talking now about the schedule being too long. The fact that you play your own schedule all over the world, what do you think about scheduling in golf and what should be done if anything?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it would suit me to have a shorter year. (Laughing).

You know, I think the major bodies, the European Tour, U.S. PGA TOUR, they have done a great job of creating work for us. We've got to look at that.

But saying that, to get the best fields like we have this week, and we're going to have at TPC and Doral, it's going to get tougher for sponsors to look at it and say, well, the Ford Championship had one of best weeks, and then the John Deere tournament which is a good golf course, don't get the guys. And that is where the scheduling comes in.

Now, if you take the John Deere away, you know, because the top players aren't playing it, you're going to create a problem.

I think that a lot has to do with the World Championship events when they came in. That stretches the schedule a little bit more. And I would say the European Tour who have created all of these tournaments around the world has also had an effect on players' schedules.

Q. Would you play tournament or would you just find another tournament in another part of the world?

ERNIE ELS: No, I'm happy when I'm playing as you say. I'm playing 19 over here this year. I'm playing with the majors and the World Championship events, counting both tours, I'm playing probably 12, 13 in Europe which will give me 26 events for the year, 27 events for the year. So that's my schedule.

A lot of the guys play 27 events on this Tour.

Q. Well, you go all over the world to do it; isn't that more trying on you?

ERNIE ELS: Well, not really. Obviously coming from Qatar, coming here, it's a little bit different than driving up from Palm Beach, you know. (Laughter.) I've always done it, as you know, and it's good financially for me doing what I'm doing, and that's also a factor.

I've been doing this for 10, 12 years now, so I can't see myself changing that right now.

Q. Was there a time when you said to yourself, "I've got to quit doing that?"

ERNIE ELS: I felt like, I would say a couple of times, especially when you're not playing well. It helps when you're playing well traveling the world. But when you're not playing well, the questions come, yeah. But I think it's good for myself and myself to do what I'm doing around the world because there's a lot of good spin-offs that helps me out.

Q. Just curious, I read something where you said the key to your swing was getting set at the top. Could you just talk about that briefly; and if that's the key, is it hard for you to get back to that when it's a little bit off when you know what it is?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, the top of the swing, we can almost call it a little slot that you just feel the club at the top of the swing, you feel that you're comfortable there. It's not a manufactured move. Sometimes you try and just put it there. But it's really -- it feels really nice and tight when I get up there. And where my hands are now and where my arms are now, I really feel, I can just let the club go, really just release the club.

Sometimes when I get it a little bit deep back in my backswing, I've got to hang onto shot sometimes. You know, it's just right where I want it at the moment, and it feels comfortable and I can really, really go after the ball.

Q. When is the longest it stays that way?

ERNIE ELS: Well, three or four weeks. And then I've got a week off. Well, sometimes it can go for a couple of months. I've just got to keep my body where I can support that, so I've got to be conscious of that. I've got to look after my body, I've got to do my "exercise," and really just keep myself where I don't feel tired.

I think when I get tired, you know, I get into bad situations with my swing.

Q. Where's the punching bag; is that gone?

ERNIE ELS: Oh, no, it's long gone. Not for me.

Q. Why is the word exercise in quotations?

ERNIE ELS: I don't know, just because of him. Just pulling Doug's leg a little bit, but I do exercise.

Q. You think I don't?

ERNIE ELS: Yes. (Laughter.)

Q. I don't know if you were following or saw the last couple of weeks on the PGA TOUR, there's been a lot of discussion about appearance fees, and obviously they are not allowed. And the issue has come up and as someone who has played for appearance fees in Europe, and as such, I'm curious if you understand the TOUR's stance on that and if you're okay with it for someone looking to maximize their income playing for that; wondering just where you stand.

ERNIE ELS: Basically, the policy of the TOUR is there's no appearance money allowed and that's a law, okay.

Just to go back to that matter that came up, I was totally unawares of IMG's stance on that, okay. And I made myself quite clear when I heard about that. Made it very clear to IMG and to the TOUR here that I'm not for it. I'm not standing for it, okay. And for people to speak on my behalf without talking to me, I don't like that very much. So I made that very clear to IMG, whoever wrote that letter or whatever happened there and to the tour.

What happens overseas is different laws, different situations, different -- it's just a different package altogether. It's been like that since the early 80s, since Seve made the Tour.

So we've got two different stances on that issue and I'm comfortable with the TOUR's stance over here and that's been like that for a very long time, too. So that's basically that.

Q. Was your objection to just being on the IMG letter among the players that are under the 200,000 --

ERNIE ELS: Exactly. I mean, nobody spoke to myself or my agent, who is Peter German. And for my name to be on that letter, even though it's an IMG letter, I don't care. I mean, nobody spoke to me about it and in actual fact, who knows if that's my market value. It might be higher; it might be lower, you know what I mean? The guy that wrote the letter doesn't speak for me, at all.

Q. Do you know who wrote the letter?


Q. What would be the impact over here if they looked the other way and allowed that to happen?

ERNIE ELS: It's going to just open a whole can of worms I think, you know. I just don't think that the TOUR is going to be comfortable with it. I think some of the players can't be comfortable with that. It will change a lot of things.

Q. It's obviously never affected your motivation in a tournament. Can you see where people might see that it could, the players that they are being paid to be there; that they might not try as hard?

ERNIE ELS: I've been in that situation for 10, 11 years now playing around the world, and as I said before, you know, it brings a bit of extra pressure, because you almost have to perform. Why would a guy pay and you then you miss the cut? That's my feeling.

I feel as pressured to me when I play overseas which is almost a good thing for me. It keeps me -- I've got to prove that I'm worth what the guy paid me. Like last week in Qatar, you know, starting off with a 73, you don't want to walk out of there missing the cut and the guy paid you a lot of money.

I just -- over here, it will just change the whole perspective of what we do. We've always played-for-our-pay kind of a thing. A lot of people might say I'm sitting here a double standard, but I just feel that you've got to respect the bylaws of certain tours.

Q. Translating, were you quote, "pissed" to see your name on the list?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I was because as I said to you before, I never even knew about anything like this. To be honest with you, I never knew about anything like this was planned by anybody or even mentioned by anybody.

So when I saw that in newspapers, you know, I was stunned, really. I did not like that. At least have the common courtesy of talking to me, telling me, hey, listen, we're planning this or I'm answering somebody's question or whatever. I mean, just, it's nuts.

Q. What was more stunning, seeing your name on the list or having the same market value as Sergio? (Laughter.)

ERNIE ELS: I don't know, I only got to those certain steps or levels and stuff like that. It's like, where was Tiger's name, you know. The whole world and where's Tiger's name, it's just crazy.

Q. That was page 2.

ERNIE ELS: Oh, was he? Was he tier 3? (Laughter.)

Q. The concept, just to make sure I have this, you don't agree with the concept of the Monday Pro-Am to entice players to come?

ERNIE ELS: You know, to be frank with you, my previous agent, there was talk, yeah, he was talking in that way with me. You know, we were looking at it -- well, nothing officially, but we talked about that. And I just felt you uncomfortable with it even back then.

I just feel uncomfortable with that. If they can talk behind closed doors without us talking about it here in the media all the time and they come out with some kind of a plan or where everybody can be happy with it, maybe yes. But it will take a long time to get everybody around that.

Q. If you were to play Doral next year, depending on how the schedule goes, and they had an outing on Monday to entertain their clients, their dealers at Ford, you had already planned on playing, would you go?

ERNIE ELS: You know, a lot of us -- a lot of us through the years have done outings after Sundays. Not specifically with the sponsor of the tournament that we played in the previous week, but we have done outings around the country. Some guys will fly to New York and play 18 holes with customers; the guy gives you appearance money, gives you a check.

But again, to get guys to play in the Doral tournament because they know they are going to get paid on a Monday, again, it's going to open a can of worms.

You know, if next year, if the Doral tournament does not coincide with Dubai, I'm going to play Doral, okay, let's get that straight. And if they want me to play on the Monday and I'm free on a Monday, I play on the Monday.

Q. For free? (Laughter.)

ERNIE ELS: I don't do anything for free. Play Pro-Ams for free on Wednesday.

Q. Is there a discernable difference to you in IMG's marketing standpoint?

ERNIE ELS: Myself and Mark McCormack, we had a very good relationship. Though I was never with IMG in all of the years that he was running it, I had to -- after David Abell, that didn't work out, I needed to get something that was -- just get me organized for a while. So I went with IMG and it was kind of ironic that I went with IMG after Mr. McCormack isn't there anymore.

So to be honest with you, I wouldn't know the IMG before Mark and after because I was never in the company as such, but we did a lot of stuff together, you know, overseas. We did a lot of appearances together. I know a lot of the agents through the years but I've never totally worked with them as a company. And so I wouldn't be able to answer your question before or after Mark McCormack.

JOE CHEMYCZ: Thanks, Ernie.

End of FastScripts.

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