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January 12, 2005

Ernie Els


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Ernie Els, thank you for joining us. You've come back to defend your championship here at the Sony Open in Hawaii. You played well last week at the Mercedes Championships and you seem to be in good form. Let's start with some opening comments about coming back to Waialae.

ERNIE ELS: It's good to be back, obviously. It's a great place in the world to play golf. Golf course is in good shape. I played yesterday, it was a bit wet. Played this morning again and the course seems to get back to its normal self. I think the greens are a bit quicker than I remember them. The rough is a little bit more up than normally, too; so if the wind picks up, it could be a little bit more of a tougher test.

I'm happy with my game. I've been working on a couple of things since last week, and feels like it's coming around nicely. So I'm looking forward to a nice week.

Q. Something like Sunday, Ernie, how long does it take you to get over that?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, it's disappointing, obviously. You know, you have a chance to tie at least. I mean, I made a mistake there and yeah, it was difficult, you know, but I'm fine now. It's not like it's never happened before. (Laughing).

But yeah, I look at the bad side, you know, I had a chance to win and I blew that. The good side is the first tournament of the year, finished Top 5, you know, Top 3, it's not a bad start to the year. But, you know, we are all competitors and you feel like you can always do a little bit better Mand definitely I could have done better on some of them. You walked with us on Sunday. I made quite a few mistakes, so I want to write it down as early season rust and early season mistakes and we'll take it from there. Yeah, it took me a while to get over that tee shot.

Q. Is it tough to go back after shooting what you shot there two years ago, do you think about, you know, in relation to what you're doing every year now, because it was such a great four days.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I must say, there was a lot of similarities last week, I did a lot of the things the same way, 2003. I hit the ball solidly, and gave myself a lot of birdie chances. The only thing in 2003 is, I played the par 5s much better than I did last week and I did not have a 3-putt, which I had quite a few of last week. And I don't think I missed anything under six feet, which I also did quite a bit last week.

So, you know, all of those things go happened in hand. I could have been 30-under par last week even. There were a lot of shots every day. But it didn't happen, and I did make those mistakes and to come back to your question, yeah, you feel, hey, I've done it once, I can do 31-under par again, can't be that hard. But I guess it is a little bit hard. (Laughter.)

Q. That being said, Ernie, coming off a week, is it nice to get right back into a tournament, especially a place where you obviously feel comfortable here?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I like it here. I'd like to see the breeze come up a little bit more, to make it a little bit more tougher. This golf course is all about the breeze. When it blows, it makes a lot of the holes a lot more difficult. If it's dead calm, you know, you can have a lot of short irons into these greens. These greens are rolling beautifully, so you're going to see a lot of birdies.

Yeah, definitely, love coming here and I like the layout. I like playing here.

Q. How do you work on being a resilient player, because all golfers go through something like Sunday and you have to forget about it, obviously you've had your share of wins and losses, how do you get better at being resilient?

ERNIE ELS: Good question. You know, when you practice and when you prepare, you prepare to win and you prepare, it's a nice picture all the time. A lot of times that picture doesn't quite come around. A loss, you know, comes in there, and as you say, I've had a lot of wins and I've had quite a few losses in my career. To get better, you've got to learn from your mistakes and from your losses. And I'm 35 years old, I've been a pro for 15, 16 years, and I still do things like I've done on Sunday.

So it just shows you, the game of golf, this is forever going to be the challenge to overcome and at times, you know, you do it 100% and other times, you know, you make those mistakes.

It's just you let go mentally a little bit. That's what I feel. I feel I got in my own way a little bit. I was trying to do too much with that tee shot, and I have to learn to just step back a little bit at times. You guys see this easy kind of a guy, but I'm a guy that wants to win and sometimes I go over the edge when I shouldn't. That's what I've learned from last Sunday.

Q. Do you think there's any chance you'll be playing a full schedule on TOUR when you're 55?

ERNIE ELS: Are you serious? (Laughs).

Q. We had time Kite in here yesterday and he's giving it another crack, because he says once you've played in the big leagues, nothing else compares and you misses the adrenaline.

ERNIE ELS: I can relate to that, definitely. I think be, absolutely, that's why I don't think you'll see Greg Norman out there too often. I think Greg Norman and Tom Kite, even Hale Irwin can come out there and play still, I'm sure.

Yeah, I think when a competitive edge is not quite done yet, or not quite done with you yet, you need to see how far you can still take it and how you compare against the best guys. I think Tom Kite has looked after himself through the years, he's got one of the soundest technical golf swings out there, and he's got all of the experience in the world. So why not?

So, yeah, I can see that. But to come back, I don't know. At 55, you know, I'll be out there somewhere, (pointing to ocean) fishing or something, you know what I mean? Who knows, maybe I'll still be here, but I don't know. I don't know what all is in for the future.

Q. We can't let you out of here without asking you about Michelle. What did you see in her, differences in her game yesterday from last year, any improvements?

ERNIE ELS: Actually I played with her this morning again in the Pro-Am. Well, we both had to keep a score kind of I think today, and you know, it was Pro-Am. A couple of shots went astray a little bit here and there, but her putting stroke is definitely a lot better than last year. Short game is good. Her driving is pretty solid. Her iron play is solid. I think she's matured a lot more. It's amazing how mature she is for 15, it's amazing.

I said to her today, I played my first professional event when I was 16. I played the South African Open when I was 16 and I missed the cut by one shot there. But I definitely, my swing wasn't as sound as hers technically speaking. I don't think I was as strong with my mind as she is. You know, it's amazing what she's doing, a 15-year-old girl playing in a PGA TOUR event is just amazing. She's doing a hell of a job, and she believes she can play with us, which is great.

I think from last year to this year, not major differences, but I could see her developing as a person now.

Q. Apart from the way she looks, how can you tell that she's not a girl? I mean, how can you tell that she is a girl? (Laughter.)?

ERNIE ELS: Well, definitely, the rough, absolutely. When she misses a fairway, that's when it really gets her, especially from 170, 180 yards out. From 140 she can still get it on the green, she's strong enough. She's quite a strong girl, but further out than that, obviously we can get it out a little bit further than she can, most of us can. But, you know, it's just you've got to put yourself -- the Tour guys, you know, us. You try and put yourself in her shoes. We play a golf course like this and then you get yourself back 60, 70 yards from where you normally play and now you've got to compete against people like that.

So, you know, I keep on thinking about that and I think it's really amazing what she's doing, at 15. It's incredible, really.

Q. Some people get critical and they say she should play junior golf, win a lot of junior golf tournaments, but there seems to be two sides to that. Do you have any problem with the way she's chosen to go about what she's doing?

ERNIE ELS: Well, if you look at myself, I went through the junior program, myself and Retief were the best out of the junior program in South Africa and I went to the amateur program, and I felt I was the best coming out as an amateur and then go into pros and you work yourself up and try to become the best in the pros.

I think we've got a different person here. I think from when she was 13, she wanted to play out here on the PGA TOUR, and I think to make a difference in life, and that's what she's after, to make a difference, she wants to be different and she definitely is going to be different if she can get to her goals. I don't think you should stand in her way, you know. I think her dad and her mom are doing what they feel best for Michelle, and that's to let her go and do what she wants to do. Her dream is to play out here with us. To be honest with you, I don't think she takes her age group very serious. I think her goal is to be out here. She wants to be out here as soon as she can.

I don't think anybody compares to her at 15. So for her to go back to her age group and compete against those people, it just doesn't make sense for her. She wants to push herself to a different level quicker.

Q. Do you think it could be a problem down the road if she stops taking her gender seriously?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, it's hard for me to comment on that. You've got to ask her dad and her mom that. You know, I'd like to see her obviously play LPGA, I think she's good enough to get on that tour in the next two years or so, and then if she starts dominating there soon, she can try and flip over and come play with us. We'll just have to wait and see where she goes. I can see her turn pro in two years. I think she'll be good enough, and who knows, maybe try and play more events on our tour and get a better picture where she is. Flip over was maybe the wrong word to use. (Laughter.)

Q. You're the two time defending champ. How comfortable are you here at Waialae and how much do you just love this course?

ERNIE ELS: You know, it's totally different from Kapalua. You're in the same state but it's totally different. This golf course is, you know, you've got doglegs all over the place, you've got to put the ball in play and then go from there to the flags and so forth. So, it's more you've got to place your ball around. It's a much shorter golf course, it's totally different.

I love both places. Kapalua, I feel like I can let it go a little bit. And here, you feel you've got to be a bit more tight with your game, get your iron shots tighter and play a bit more of a thinking man's game. So it's two different courses but I love both of them.

Q. Unless I'm missing something, is Buick the only other Tour event where you've repeated?

ERNIE ELS: On this tour, yeah.

Q. What else?

ERNIE ELS: Let me think now -- no.

Q. Caltex Masters or something like that?

ERNIE ELS: No, the Heineken. Three times, okay. The World Match Play, three times, I won. (Smiling.)

Q. Would you explain what a comfort level is like which you've obviously got and as crazy as it seems is there any similarity at all between, certainly not the views, but the strategy or shaping here with Westchester? Or is that just way out there?

ERNIE ELS: No, you've got a little point there. It's similar dog-legs and stuff. You've got to place the ball around there, too and you've got to putt well there. Same thing here.

But, yeah, comfort zone, yeah, I enjoy the course. I must say, I've been fortunate in those playoffs. It could have gone either way. I could have been sitting here and, you know, moaning about how I lost them but I won them. So that's a good thing. But even before I started winning in the playoffs, I had a good record, I finished Top-10 here quite a few times. So it helps when you have a good feel around the place. Definitely I have it here, but you've still got to go out there and play the course. You can't go back on your record. You've got to go out there and do your thing. I feel like after playing this morning, I'm ready to play hard again this week.

Yeah, I like it, I said it earlier, when the wind blows a little bit here to make it a little bit more difficult, because the guys can shoot lights-out when it's really calm. The wind plays a big factor on the golf course.

Q. Michelle had spoke about how much she learned from you. Sometimes we see you standing there and talking, what does she ask you or what kind of stuff do you tell her?

ERNIE ELS: She doesn't really ask too much. You know, I kind of just say what's on my mind most of the time. You know, there's not much you can really teach her. You can give advice and that's what I give her. I try and show her when she's hit it in trouble what to do out of there, when not to go after that, what shots to try and play. I helped her a little bit with her putting stroke. It's just general stuff, but I don't want to get too technical with her. She was getting a little bit steep on her iron shots I felt on the front nine, so I just, you know, but I don't want to throw her off too much. I don't want to take any confidence away from her. You just want to be on the outside and just give her a little bit of advice where I feel it's needed.

Q. Just curious, have you played with Ashleigh Simon?

ERNIE ELS: No. I haven't, no.

Q. Have you seen her at all?

ERNIE ELS: Yes, I was in South Africa, we played the Nelson Mandela Invitational and I saw her hit some balls. I actually spoke to Gary, he played with her on the first day I think and he was very impressed. She could be a star, also. She's already won back in South Africa.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Ernie, thank you very much.

End of FastScripts.

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