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October 1, 2008

Ernie Els


SCOTT CROCKETT: Ernie, thanks, as always, for joining us. Welcome to sunny Scotland. I know it's a place and a tournament you always enjoy playing. What are your thoughts going into the week?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I'm happy to be here. Got here yesterday from Florida. Dropped the kids down in London, so they are down there for the week. Brought my dad up here and we are going to play a bit of golf this afternoon.
I've been up since 3 o'clock this morning, I've got a bit of jet-lag, so I've been watching the weather report every hour.
SCOTT CROCKETT: It's not getting any better.
ERNIE ELS: It's not going to be nice this week, so it's going to be tough, tough playing conditions. The scoring is going to be difficult this week I think. But you know, last year it was very benign and this year, it's going to be more what Scotland is like, so it's a good taste.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Always good fun playing with your dad, you enjoy the week because of that aspect, as well as the tournament itself.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we don't see each other too, too often through the year. We don't play golf enough together through the year, just because of where we spend time. To come to a tournament like this with such a nice South African connection, a lot of friends here, and then obviously my dad, to play in a tournament like this, is very special. So we are looking forward to it.
SCOTT CROCKETT: And you have a good partnership with Darren and Mr. Rupert, as well.
ERNIE ELS: Yes, it's become a tradition now, kind of playing every year together. I know Darren and Johann made the cut last year, so hopefully they can do it again this year. Obviously that is what everybody is aiming for, to get the amateur through to the Sunday grouping. So hopefully we can do that.

Q. Everyone remembers how beautifully you played at Muirfield in that dreadful storm on the Saturday in the third round; what is it about your game that you think is particularly suited to coping with the difficult conditions and the high wind, and do you think that will give you an edge this week?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, as least I'm -- what am I now, 220 pounds, so at least the wind is not going to blow me away, so that helps.
I think you've got to hit the ball solidly and in tough conditions. I think I find it quite difficult on the greens in conditions like these, because again, I'm quite tall, and it feels like I'm moving around when I'm putting. So that's going be to the most difficult part for me I think this week.
But I like the test. These golf courses were built to hit the ball on the ground. You can hit different shots and you can hit a 4-iron from 140 yards and run the ball. I think we will play the ball close to the ground this week and see what happens.

Q. Do you feel so far in your career that this is kind of a gap in your C.V. that you have not won this tournament here; you've been very close on any number of occasions and I think most folk would have expected you perhaps to have won it by now.
ERNIE ELS: There's quite a few gaps in my C.V. This is just one of them.
Yeah I would love to win here obviously, like every other player. I've had chances. I remember Paul Lawrie making a huge putt against me one year and other years, I've had chances. I guess Lee Westwood also beat me down the stretch, and then last year, I had a nice -- I putted into a bunker on 15 or something.
Yeah, I've had some really good events, but not quite what I've been looking forward to. So I'd love to win here obviously.

Q. Playing with your dad, have you ever had amusing altercations in who tells what to do?
ERNIE ELS: No, not really. I think golf and myself and my dad goes hand in hand. My grandfather really introduced myself and my brother to the game. I was crazy about the game ever since I can remember, since I have a memory I guess.
I caddied for him in South Africa pulling a trolley. He was quite a good player in those days, and they used to big matches on Sundays and I used to really get involved. I guess that's where a bit of the competitiveness comes from, too, watching them battle it out with the local pro, his name was Barry Franklin, and my dad used to play at like a three handicap. I remember him 3-putting on one hole at a golf course called Kempton Park just southeast of Johannesburg and I started crying. (Laughing).
My dad said, "What's wrong with you"?
I said, "How could you 3-putt?" I was so upset for him. He had to calm me down; I was getting a bit emotional there.
Yeah, I guess I've always loved the game, and you know, if it wasn't for my dad, I wouldn't be playing this game. He's quite special in my life.

Q. When you read reports from Tiger Woods saying it might be two years before he's back to full fitness after his surgery, what does that do for you? Does that gift you a boost or kick up the backside, or what?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think I'm just working on my game. I'm trying to get myself back. I've been working on my swing. My swing feels really good now and I'm actually on to the short game now, trying to short that out. If I feel like I can get my game to where I'm really happy with it, I think that I can win. I can win a lot of tournaments again, and that's what I'm really looking forward to.
I heard the report yesterday. I haven't really heard much of it or seen much about it, so I can't really comment too much. I had very similar or I guess exactly the same surgery as him, and, you know, he's probably doing the right thing. You know, your left knee is very important in the golf swing, and I mean, I still felt it at least a year, a year and a half after the surgery. So it's something that's major.
So he can probably come back earlier, but knowing Tiger, you know, he wants to be 100% ready for it, so who knows. I think when he feels comfortable, he'll come back, and whether that's next year or the middle of next year or by the Masters; who knows, maybe he feels like playing at the Masters, I don't know.
I was very stubborn. I wanted to come back as soon as possible. I had a very good surgeon, Andrew Unwin, down in Windsor, and my rehab went great. It was very painful, but you know, I wanted to get back, and I set a date for me of Sun City and that was definitely too early. The doctors down there saw my knee and thought I was crazy to play, it was so swollen.
My doctor told me that I couldn't do anymore damage to my knee -- the tendon was a good surgery. That was what I wanted to do. Obviously Tiger is a little different.

Q. A lot of young South Africans on The European Tour now, and obviously they look up to you; you mentioned the weather conditions and that, and a lot of complaining about how difficult it is to get used to the weather. In early stages of your career, how did you overcome getting used to playing in these conditions?
ERNIE ELS: There's no method. You just go and play. You go with your instinct and you see what the golf course gives you. You know, I grew up in Johannesburg as you know, and we never played on golf courses like this or in weather conditions like these. You just let your talent take over and play, and watch what the European guys do. They are a bit more suited to this kind of weather than us and you learn very quickly.

Q. We know it has not been an easy soon for you off the course but when you look back on the majors, what sort of report card would you give yourself, end of the season?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know me, it's not a very good report. I had a very bad Masters. I missed the cut there. And then the U.S. Open, I had actually a very good one until the final -- well, the 15th hole, made a triple there.
I felt my best chance to win a major was the U.S. Open, because I hit the ball as good as I have all year, but I was clueless on the greens. So that wasn't great. And The Open Championship, I shot 80 the first day; you come back from there, I finished in the Top-10 I think.
And then the PGA, I didn't have a good one there. It hasn't been great. But I've made lots of changes. My swing, as I said, is coming around very nicely of the last week in Atlanta, I hit the ball really nice.
It's just a confidence thing at the moment. I feel there's a bit of lack in confidence. That's what I had this year. Whether it's the off the golf course stuff, I'm not sure. But just had a bit of lack of confidence on the golf course this year and I'm working on that at the moment.

Q. Broke your heart a little bit to pull out of the Million Dollar this career?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, a little bit. Obviously that's a great event, and I've had some great times there. But I just feel, you've got to move on sometimes. I've got a good start to the year next year. I'm starting up in Hawaii again. I've got a nice round-the-world schedule in February where I'll go to Dubai in February, Australia, Malaysia. I'm going around the world a little bit. I want to be fresh. I want to be ready.
The family is really settling in nicely, so I think there's a couple more important things than playing in the Million Dollar. I've played it for 16, 17 years, so I think I've paid my dues down there.

Q. You've almost answered the question now, playing in Australia and what-have-you next year. They changed the commitment to The European Tour for next season to 12 mandatory events, and obviously that's not going to be a problem for you.
ERNIE ELS: No, it's fine. I think The European Tour, I think with George doing a wonderful job, especially in this financial crisis, hopefully the companies will be there next year. I think obviously the U.S. economy, there's some big questions there. Who knows what's going to happen next year with the tour there.
I've always supported both tours. It's been kind of easy for me, as I've said to so many of you guys over the years, that I feel comfortable playing both tours. I've got no problem with that. I love playing Wentworth, playing in Scotland. I love playing on the Tour. The Tour has looked after me very well through the years, and I'll keep on supporting the Tour.
I think to raise it to 12 is really not all that much to ask for players to do. Even the younger players, you can play both tours. Padraig is doing it now. I think Justin is doing it now. A lot of the young players are doing it now, so it's very doable.

Q. Can you actually see U.S. players, American-born players, coming back to play in this Race to Dubai?
ERNIE ELS: In Dubai?

Q. Coming back to play this Race to Dubai, starts in November. Can you see the likes of Mickelson wanting to come and play and Vijay wanting to play?
ERNIE ELS: It seems like Mickelson has indicated to play a bit more around the world. He's bought a new airplane now, so I think he can put some miles on it. So he seems like he's willing to do that. I think Tiger has always been willing to play around the world -- well, that's the question. I don't know if there's going to be special exemptions for players to play in the Race to Dubai. If that's not the case, I don't know if the guys will really change their schedules to that extent.
It's up in the air. I don't think so.

Q. Vijay has said --
ERNIE ELS: Is he going to do that? Well, he's a foreign player. He lives in the U.S. but he plays around the world.
For U.S. players to change, I can't really see that.

Q. You mentioned in passing the state of the U.S. economy; do you know of specific tournaments over there that might be in trouble for next year?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work that out. I would say all of the financial -- I haven't heard anything specific, but I would think that some of the motor companies and financials might be in a bit of stress, so who knows.

Q. Wachovia --
ERNIE ELS: Wachovia is basically CitiBank now. Who knows. All I can say, there's going to be some changes I would think.

Q. I believe one of your sponsors, Callaway, are involved in week, in raising off and on for an autism charity with drives from the 18th hole, and your son has autism; is that something that you've become involved in and are you now actively trying to help charities in that respect?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we've started doing that. We are actually having a tournament at the end of the year in South Africa to raise money for autism. We are doing one in March next year, March 23, in Florida, for Autism Speaks.
So we are doing those two golf tournaments, and I'm going to do some ad work, just to get the word out, especially for young families, for young people that want to have kids and just, you know, get the word out that there's quite a problem in the world; that kids are affected by this more and more now. It's 1 in 150 kids that will be born with an autism disorder. It quite a big problem and it makes quite a change in your life and lifestyle.
People just need to be more aware of it. I was never really aware of it until it happened. It can catch you by surprise and you just need to be a bit more aware and maybe more prepared if it happens.

Q. Padraig was in here last night talking about the fact that now he's won three majors, he's pinching himself because he can't believe he's gone past his boyhood idols in major victories. When you won the second U.S. Open and the Open, did you feel that way, as well?
ERNIE ELS: Well, did I then. I don't feel that way now. (Laughter) I felt I was right on track then.
He's on a great streak now and he's having a great time in his life now and he's got things going his way.
You know, he's in a great place, and golf can give it to you and sometimes it can take it away from you a little bit, too. So by no means individual a bad career, but to have a start like I've had, and you know, since 2002 not winning a major, it doesn't sit well with me.
So that's why you make changes and try to find answers and get better, because I feel as healthy and as fit as ever and my swing is really good, so there's a lot of things going for me. I just need to get things going my way and that's basically momentum. That's what Padraig has got at the moment. The way he won the Open was incredible golf on the final nine holes, and Oakland Hills, you know, getting the ball up-and-down like that all the time. That's momentum and that's a lot of confidence and you know, he's riding a nice wave at the moment.

Q. He talked yesterday about the lows that followed the highs of winning, and for that reason he's feeling fatigued at the moment; did you feel that?
ERNIE ELS: I don't feel much now --

Q. When you were winning majors, did you feel that?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, you do. But it's not really a low. It's almost like -- I know what he's going through. He just kind of wants to go home and reflect on what he's done. He wants to sit back and basically watch the video and really take it in, because ever since the Open, we had to play the world championship events, and then there was the PGA and then into the FedExCup and then The Ryder Cup, so he has not had time to really breathe. That's all he wants to do is get away and sit and take it in and then play again. He hasn't had time to do that.

Q. When you were talking about your knee, you did not actually tell us when you did feel 100 per cent and there were no tweaks or nothing interfering with your swing and stance at all.
ERNIE ELS: Well, every time you asked me about my knee, I said it was fine, but it wasn't. I think at Hoylake 2006 was finally when I felt I was getting over it. Because again, the weather was nice and warm, and whenever the weather was warm, I would feel comfortable, but whenever it got cold, it was horrible. So I would say about the summer of 2006, I was getting over it. That was a year into it, yeah.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Ernie, thanks very much. Good luck this week.

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