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July 9, 2008

Ernie Els


MICHAEL GIBBONS: Ernie, thanks for joining us. A big couple of weeks ahead, but if you can start us off with your thoughts on this week and a great tournament for you.
ERNIE ELS: As you said, I think it's a great tournament. It's a great venue. I don't think there's too many places in the world that get more beautiful than here at Loch Lomond. The only problem will be the weather.
But you know, I played Birkdale last week, so that's also soft. This year we have a bit of a comparison between this week and next week.
Yeah, I come back to this tournament, we have a good sponsor, a great sponsor in Barclays, and a very good field. You know, we've got some good television coverage this week, and so I think everything points to a very good week here at Loch Lomond.
MICHAEL GIBBONS: And the golf course, it's one that you love, isn't it.
ERNIE ELS: As I say, I think it's a great setting. I think Tom Weiskopf did a wonderful job here. The holes going down the Loch here are beautiful, and a lot of pictures have been taken here over the years and we've had some great winners, too, and that points to a very good venue.

Q. Your chances of winning again at an Open --
ERNIE ELS: Well, as you all know, my game's been a little bit dicey to say the least.
I thought I had a much better run at the U.S. Open, and unfortunately I didn't putt very well there. But since then, I've had three weeks off. In the meantime, I've been doing a bit of golf course design and spending some time with the family and the last couple of days, I started practising.
So game's got a bit of rust on it. But I've had a good run here. I've won twice. I've had some close finishes here in the past. I feel it's a good golf course for me for my game, and I feel refreshed, for one. We've got a big run-up coming up with The Open next week and one week off and then we go into that busy run right through till September.
So I felt like I needed a bit of a break before this one, and I feel okay. My game, confidence isn't that high, but hopefully I can start building from there again.

Q. Where do you rank your two Scottish Open victories in relation to your career --
ERNIE ELS: Well, very highly. You know, they played the Scottish Open all over the place there for a while in the 90s and then brought it here to the Loch Lomond and for a while it was called the Loch Lomond Invitational Open, and now it's back to the Scottish Open. And I think guys like Lyle Anderson and Barclays, you can thank them a lot for that, basically bringing the Scottish Open home.
You know, winning it twice has been great. I remember beating Colin Montgomerie one year, and in 2003, I had a bit of a lead there, so that was wonderful.
The crowds have always been wonderful. I've played a lot of golf here in Scotland, and to win the Scottish here at Loch Lomond is a great achievement here.

Q. Is it more enjoyable to play in front of galleries like this?
ERNIE ELS: Absolutely. Where the game started and the crowds here know golf very well, and they don't scream and shout and go crazy. You know, they know the game very well, and we respect that, too.

Q. Talking about the possibility of moving the Scottish Open to a links course as a run-up to the Open, in your mind would you rather --
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think that's a good question. I think, you know, when you think of Scottish golf, you always basically think links golf.
But I think the more you keep the Scottish Open here at Loch Lomond, the tougher it is going to be to move it, because more players play it. More people see it on television. More people come and watch golf here at Loch Lomond, and you know, you keep building tradition here at Loch Lomond.
So the longer you keep a tournament at certain spots, the harder it will become to move it, even to a links course. So I wouldn't mind if they keep it here for quite a few more years; I love it so much here.

Q. So the benefits of being fresh do you think outweigh the rust?
ERNIE ELS: Well, that's the gamble you take and the gamble I took. I felt I had a three-week break in my schedule, and a lot of great sport going on down where I live in England, and my wife went to the races and I went to Henley and Wimbledon and all over the place. It's been nice down there spending some time with the kids. Samantha is saying good-bye to her friends, and she's having a bit of a tough time at home, so it kind of worked out very well with her family and with business and so forth.
So hopefully I'll be ready by tomorrow. I did a bit of work over the last couple of days.

Q. With what's happened with Ben, has that caused you to evaluate?
ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, absolutely. Family life is No. 1, as always of you well know. But for a long time there, you know, golf was absolutely No. 1. You know, your priorities change a little bit and obviously that's why we want to spend a bit more time in the U.S. They have got a very good system there at the moment for kids with Ben's situation, and it's going to be good there. And I even think for Samantha, it will be fine, and that's why we are doing that.
I don't know if I've changed a lot, my thinking, so to speak, because of Ben. I wouldn't want to think that. Just it is what it is and you cope with what you get in life, and I think that's what myself and my wife have been doing away from the golf course, and you know, you have your bad days and you have your good days.
But the whole focus should be on getting the best treatment for Ben.

Well, you know, always want your kids just to be kind of normal, to do normal things with your kids. On the one end, you have Samantha who is bright and athletic and everything; and on the other end, you've got Ben and he's wonderful in his own right, and he's special.
But he's never going to be able to play golf or play tennis or play rugby or those kind of things. After a while, you know, you get used to it and there's a different life with him and a different life with Samantha, so, you know, you cope with them -- I think it's more than coping. We're a family, and one is just a little different than the other one (chuckling).

Q. Does it take anything away --
ERNIE ELS: You know, difficult to answer that one. Because you never want to show any weakness in your approach to any tournament, so I would say no, it hasn't taken anything away.
I would say, as I've said, sometimes you wake up and you feel a little bit different, but I don't think it's taken any focus away from me trying to reach my goals.

Q. With Tiger not playing -- a lot more players will have a chance in the Open --
ERNIE ELS: What do you think? (Laughter).
I still believe and I'll say it again, the game of golf, it will live on, past Tiger Woods and past whoever the next best player will be after Tiger. The game of golf will all be there. Although we will miss him, and especially the media will miss him, but you know, the game of golf is there and The Open Championship will be played whether Tiger is there or not, and I think that's what we've got to realise on the one hand.
And on the other hand, the best player of this generation is not there, and whoever is going to win next week, whoever is going to play well next week; going to have to answer questions of, do you think you would have beaten Tiger if he was here, and it's one of those things.

Q. The last time we saw you at the BMW PGA at Wentworth you missed the cut and from there --
ERNIE ELS: That was another little bad patch I went through, a couple of them already. I didn't play well there.
My defence, I was just into the new swing changes with Butch and didn't quite happen for me, and had the week off. And then I missed the cut again at Memorial and then I did some work with Butch the week after that, and then the U.S. Open. I think the swing changes are coming around, and I think the more I play, the better I play, the more confidence I will get with the changes.

Q. Your thoughts on Birkdale?
ERNIE ELS: I think Birkdale is a wonderful venue for The Open next week. I've played it, and it's very lush, very soft. You could almost see ballmarks in the fairways, it was so soft. The greens were soft and everything was really soft.
Then a lot of rough. A lot of rough. If you're going to hit it wide, you know, you might as well not even show up because you're not going to score. At the same time, it's very fair, and I think fairways are the way the club members play them, and I think the rough is just a little heavier than the club members might see them.
I think that's the way it should be. They have not tricked it up at all. Quite a few new bunkers in. Put a bit of length back into the course at some holes.
But you know, it's a course where you play properly, you're going to score, simple as that. There's no tricks there. I think it doesn't play as long as Carnoustie the last year, but you know, when the wind comes up, it will be a fair challenge. So all in all, I really like it, and I think it will suit both the longer hitter and the shorter hitter, and accuracy and longer hitters.

Q. And the green --
ERNIE ELS: The greens are different. It doesn't quite look like the rest of the golf course, so they are going to take some criticism from players, but I wouldn't say totally unplayable, but it's a lot different than the other greens.

Q. Phil was in here earlier saying that talk of the Ryder Cup --
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think Phil might be underplaying it a little bit. They have got the GOLF CHANNEL over there in America, and I don't know if you've noticed, I think there's a lot of talk -- I would say there's more talk in America than in previous years. I think Paul Azinger has been in the media a little bit more.
I would defend Paul there, yes, there is definitely on a scale, there is more talk over here about The Ryder Cup on a weekly basis. But there is more attention put on The Ryder Cup over there, as well. You know, it's easy to talk about something you've won for so many times, too, I guess, so you have something going there, as well. You know, they definitely are thinking more about The Ryder Cup than in previous years I would say.

Q. Any reason for your success on links courses?
ERNIE ELS: Ever since I was a young guy playing over here in some of the events, I've always liked it for some reason. I grew up in Johannesburg, and there's no reason why I should have liked it, but I did. You know, played my very first Open at Troon almost 20 years ago in '89. I missed the cut but I felt I didn't embarrass myself, and that was good.
I always felt like I would enjoy it eventually and I would say ever since 1992 when I finished in the top 5, I just felt very at ease playing links golf.
I probably feel like I could have probably won a couple more here and there, but you know, winning at least once has been great.

Q. Anything you remember from your first time there?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, walked on the range and my brother was caddying for me, and I mean, we're just looking around at guys we have seen on television, and a guy called Jack Nicklaus, he pulled in next to me to warm up for his practise round, and I could barely hit a shot, you know.
So in the company of great men like that, you feel like you've either arrived or you shouldn't be there (chuckling).
MICHAEL GIBBONS: Ernie, thanks very much.

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