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January 7, 2009
JOHN BUSH: We would like to welcome the 2003 Mercedes-Benz Champion into the interview room, Ernie Els.
Thank you for coming by and spending a few minutes with us. Back in Hawaii, a place that you've had a lot of success, just talk about being back and about your goals for the 2009 season.
ERNIE ELS: It's good to be back. I haven't been here for a couple of years. You know, it's a long flight (laughter). When I tell you, it was 27 hours in the air, but we got here. But it's great to be here. It's a wonderful spot, great start to the year for me.
Yeah, I had some success in 2003. I had four great rounds, birdies and eagles all over the place, so that was great. The one year I hit it out of bounds, I had a chance to win, too, but we don't want to talk about that (laughter). I've had some good times, and it gets you off to a nice start of the year.
Next week, Sony is another one, just the course there. It feels a little different than normal TOUR stops. It feels a little different. I'm not sure if it's still kind of the holiday season. The vibe is a little different. It's a bit more relaxing, so I like that.
Q. I think it's probably the first time you've been here since they redid the greens.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, the greens, I must say, I played yesterday, and it was not too windy. But the day before, it was windy, and, wow, they can get really fast. There's a lot of elevation here with this mountain we are on. So if you get it on the wrong side, you can be in a lot of trouble, especially with the wind blowing, basically, behind the mountain. So if you leave yourself in the wrong spot, you can be in trouble. So some of them are running ridiculously fast, because they are downgrain, and they were not like that the last time I was here.
So that's the big -- yeah, I think you've got to be a bit more precise. You've got to think about your second shots a little bit better. So, yeah, I'm not sure what score won last year or how the weather was. The weather really dictates how you score here. But I'm sure if the weather really blows, it will be a good test.
Q. What was your route here? Which way did you go?
ERNIE ELS: We left Cape Town. We refueled in Recife, which is in South America. Then we went to Palm Beach. We spent half a day, or an evening there, and the next morning we flew from Palm Beach, ten hours. So it was 16 hours, and then ten, yeah.
Q. If you didn't go to Palm Beach, is there a quicker way here?
ERNIE ELS: You know, I've never tried it.
Q. Not asking you to.
ERNIE ELS: I've come here through Florida, up here, so I wouldn't want to try another route. Just stick to one that works (laughter).
Q. You had not been here, and you did real well, of course you played here and lost in a playoff, and won another time; then you had your knee injury.
ERNIE ELS: 2005.
Q. How much did that throw you off of playing the high-caliber golf you had been playing for years?
ERNIE ELS: I think 2005 -- going into 2005, I was not in a great frame of mind. I think I hit it out of bounds and then had a really good Sony and had a good final round and lost by a shot or so to Vijay. Went to San Diego and had a Top-5 finish there. That's basically it. I was on a downhill spiral and mentally not quite ready.
Then roundabout the British Open, I didn't have a good British Open and went on holiday just to clear my head.
Q. Is that the 2004 Open?
ERNIE ELS: That's the 2005 at St. Andrews. Then went on a little cruise and went in the water and had my mishap and blew my knee out. Then it was just a race to try and get back, because I had set a date for myself to come back before the end of the year, which I did. My knee was still a bit swollen, but I came back.
Then it was -- even after that, it was another six months for the knee to really start feeling where it was almost back to normal. Yeah, it's been a bit of a climb since then.
I've had some really good tournaments. I've had some really close finishes, even in majors, since then, but not quite on the same level as 2004, so trying to get back there.
Q. Where do you think you are in the time line of your career? How much do you have left or do you find yourself coming at a critical juncture at all?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think if you look at it, I've had a lot of things that I've had to kind of put in place away from golf. If you look at normal life, you know, there's been a lot of things happen in our family. So we've had to kind of deal with a lot of things.
That's been more important, basically, than anything else. With anything else happening, I've not gone totally off the planet, so I have to feel really good about that, too. You guys report on golf all the time. You don't report on the whole picture. You ask me about golf all the time.
So being, I wouldn't say distracted, but taking care of more important things has taken my focus away a little bit. And I just feel I'm more energized and I feel -- Callaway has been unbelievable, my sponsor. They have been a great support system. They have supported the causes I'm involved with, and obviously sponsoring me as a company. So they have been great.
So I feel good about the year. I want to just -- I just did an interview with Rich Lerner, and I want to say the same thing. I want to inch myself along, play each round, each tournament. I've got a lot of talent, and if I get all of this stuff together, things can start falling into place again.
Q. Did you say you feel energized?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I had a really nice break in December. I didn't go down to the Million Dollar and I didn't play in my good friend, Johann's tournament. I played the South African Open, and I had a break after the FedEx, and I had another four weeks now. So I feel like, at 39, I can walk the hills again, so ready to go.
Q. What schedule are you locked into the next couple of months?
ERNIE ELS: I'm quite heavily involved in Dubai, golf course design and stuff, so I'm playing the tournament there. I'm playing this one. Next week, go to Florida for a week off, and then I go to Dubai. Then I have another two or three weeks off, and I go to the Match Play and hopefully make it through the first round (laughter).
Then I start my Florida thing. I play the Honda, play Doral, then a week off, and then I play Bay Hill, week off, Shell, Masters, MCI. So a lot of golf.
Q. You said that you're both energized and that you want to take it round by round. Thinking back, when did you feel this energized coming into a season, and when was the last time you took that approach that you are talking about now?
ERNIE ELS: Each year you want to feel like you're ready, but, you know, every year coming into the new year, basically, I've never really had a lot of time off in December. I feel -- especially in South Africa, I feel a lot of energy being taken out of me when I play golf tournaments there, because there, basically, they look at my whole life. You guys look at golf here, but there they go into everything. So you are basically on the news there all the time.
And playing there for three weeks, you know, you play the Million Dollar and you play the Dunhill and then you play the South African Open, so that's a lot of stuff there, and I feel really tired after that.
Then you start the year right after that. Having two or three weeks off is not enough, I feel. So that's a little different, and obviously starting here is great. To start here is almost like playing THE TOUR Championship. You feel like you've done something good. So I feel good about that, and next week, also.
Yeah, I feel we're in a good place. The family is really settled in Florida. They are really happy there. Ben's happy. Samantha's great. The other stuff is looking better.
Even, touch wood, business is not too bad, either. We've got quite a few good designs around the world going, so all in all, better than it's been, believe it or not.
Q. You just mentioned the economy. I'm wondering what kind of talk there is among you and your peers, the season, and the TOUR, how it might affect what you guys are doing.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, these are crazy times. We are locked in, thank goodness, until 2010, with most of our sponsors. And we've got to thank them again, just to be sponsoring us, all of this money we play for, and there's a lot of people losing their jobs. So what we are doing, we should almost feel guilty what we are doing, because it's really tough out there, and we've got to be very thankful for what we've got. And I think the players do realize that.
We have one tournament that's fallen away and one tournament that's going to move away, I think it's the Texas Open. So at the moment, we are looking pretty good. But the world's not in a great place at the moment money-wise, so we are pretty fortunate.
Q. It's tough for you when you are playing a global schedule but when Tim is asking guys to pick up a tournament or two extra, is there more that players can do?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think we all have to look at that. I think that we have to really try and support the companies and obviously the tournaments where we can. You know, you lock your schedule into what you like to play, which is comfortable to yourself. But, you know, I think the players will really -- I would like to help the TOUR a little bit more where I can going through this year. If there's an extra company day we can do for some of these guys, we should look at that and really try and help them out. It's going to be a tough year.
Q. Since the announcement of your son, I just wondered, people have always looked at you as a champion golfer. Has there been a different response from the public? Do people sort of look at you and the situation differently now?
ERNIE ELS: Yes and no. I think people do want me to play better golf; I sense that.
Q. Sympathy type of thing?
ERNIE ELS: No, just as a fan, they want me to play better. I mean, when you're on the golf course, you want to try and block other stuff away. So as a fan, the fan base, they want me to play better. I can see it on the web site and things that people write to me. I know that.
On the other hand, I think coming out and trying to bring autism out to the public and showing that, you know, it happens to everybody, I think they like that, too. We started talking out about it, and it's basically just to tell other families not to hold it back. You know, talk about it and try to find some kind of cure for your kids. That's what we are trying to do, and I think people are grabbing onto that.
Q. About your game, if you could just talk about where it is, and do you think the latter part of last year, was there any one thing in particular that was holding you back, or was it just a piece of the game that would be up one week and up the next and when this one is up, this one is down kind of a thing?
ERNIE ELS: I think of Augusta, I drove the ball pretty bad most of the year for some reason. I've changed coaches to Butch, a lot of a bit of distance and starting to work with him on new positions. I feel a lot more comfortable now, much more aggressive on my swing now.
Callaway has actually brought a new driver, which will hopefully help this old man hit it a little further (smiling). Yeah, my putting was terrible for a stretch. At the Bridgestone, I hit it terribly for the first two. I couldn't make a putt from three feet. I went through waves of, you know, not having any confidence in certain aspects of my game. So it's been a very weird couple of years.
I feel better. I feel the whole package is better. My mental attitude is also better, I think. That's the main thing. I think my mental attitude wasn't great for a long period of time.
Q. What do you remember about Turnberry and where the Open will be this year, you know, the other course, of course?
ERNIE ELS: Turnberry we played in '94. I was there. It was just after I won the U.S. Open, so I was still in la-la land. I was walking on clouds still. I don't remember too much. I remember playing with Nick Faldo the first couple of days. I remember the second day wasn't great weather.
I hear they have changed that golf course, too, so it's probably going to be totally different when we get there in any case. It's going to be another 500 yards longer, who knows.
Q. You are not there yet, but we have seen a number of really strong performances from guys in their mid-40s and beyond. Kenny Perry last year a good example, winning three times and whatnot. You rarely see guys from that age bracket, 43, 44, and upward winning majors, yet they are obviously capable. Why do you think that is?
ERNIE ELS: I definitely think it is. The equipment is helping us out really. If you can swing the club at 115 miles per hour, you know, this new equipment is going to help. You can hit it 300 yards. I don't care what you are. If you swing it 150, you'll hit it 300 if you hit the sweet spot.
Q. I don't (laughter).
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, you're going to hit it out there. The golf balls are great and the equipment we are using is really good stuff. If you keep yourself in good shape, you can swing it at a pretty good speed. You've just got to control your game. With all of the experience we have, whether it's good or bad, experience is experience, and it helps you in certain positions and certain times.
Q. But why don't you see that in the majors, is kind of what I'm curious about.
ERNIE ELS: If you look at it, I think you'll see those guys up there. They might not be winning, but they are up there. I think the main thing why they are probably not winning is because they are not making enough putts. I think the short game is there, but just the putts from here to the light (ten feet), you need to make those putts on a regular basis.
I think that's why Padraig won. He still hit a lot of fairways, but his short game won him the majors last year, and he's almost 40 years old. It's just the generations change now. 15 years ago, I was that age, and you come through and you want to run through walls, and you don't care how you're going to win, and that's what's happening now.
It's just a change of the guard, basically.
Q. Were you aware of the kids, if you will, coming through with you, at age 24? Phil was around.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, Phil was there, Justin Leonard was there, myself, Robert Karlsson was there; I'm looking at the European side. Padraig was a bit later. He started coming through about '97. Darren Clarke was there; Lee Westwood is a bit younger. Yeah, I would say we were right there. I was 24, and I won a major. Come on, you know (laughter). Look at Tiger, he won a major when he was 24. He was the only other guy.
But they are good. Anthony is a really good kid. He's a very good player, Camilo, and obviously Sergio has been around; Adam, Trevor, all of these guys.
Q. What do you know of Andres Romero?
ERNIE ELS: He's another guy. I started noticing him on The European Tour, and I see he's out here full-time now. He hits it a long way, like all of them. He's very controlled, very good putter. He does all of the things well that you need to do well.
Q. You said earlier that the players could do a bit more to help the TOUR given the global economy. Could that lead to you playing more tournaments internationally this year than you had initially planned or would you off-set a few?
ERNIE ELS: No. As I said, my schedule is my schedule. I'm trying to put one or two more in, in the U.S., and one or two more in, in Europe. I know some tournaments they are starting to lose in Europe now, so it's as bad as it is over there as it is here. I'm talking about mainland Europe, not global/international Europe.
So I think we need to, you know, if it's clinics or if it's -- I don't know. We need to talk to the Commissioner about this and try and help the guys out, because they really have been helping us the last couple of years.
Q. I have to ask you one cricket question. Australia has not lost a series at home for 16 years; how surprised are you South Africa did a number on them?
ERNIE ELS: We loved it (laughter). These Australians, when they see me, they just walk away. I try to say hi, but they just are looking the other direction, they are walking away (laughter).
It's been great. We have been -- I've been with Johann Rupert, as you know, we have been on holiday down in Hermanus and we have been watching the cricket through the night and we'd be on the phone with Shane and the other boys giving them a bit of a needle, so it's been nice.
JOHN BUSH: Ernie, thank you for coming by and play well this week.
End of FastScripts