October 29, 2003
PALM HARBOR, FLORIDA
TODD BUDNICK: Ernie, thank you for joining us this week. Let's talk about the season. You started off with two wins on TOUR and five more Top 10s. Are you happy with the way the rest of the season went after the two victories there to start the year.
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's been kind of quiet over here in the States. But it's been a decent season since that nice hot start. But obviously, you know, Bay Hill Invitational before the Masters I think I finished 38th there. I had a pretty good Masters after the disastrous start.
It was kind of mediocre from there on. I think the only other chance I had to win was the PGA Championship where I didn't really play good enough over the weekend.
But it's been kind of a quiet season over here. My stroke average has been okay, you know. I have been pretty consistent over here but I didn't have that spark that I had at the start of the year. Maybe I didn't play enough every year for some reason. I pulled out of The PLAYERS Championship when I had a wrist injury. That kind of put a bit of a damper on stuff. Since then I haven't played a lot and maybe I haven't played very well, but it's still been a pretty consistent season this year.
TODD BUDNICK: You have two events left, you could add two victories in at the end of the season.
ERNIE ELS: Yes, I would have loved to have played last week. I would have stayed at home last week and played Orlando but I had such a good week at the Match Play and all of those 36-hole matches and then flying from London to Orlando would have taken it out of me and I felt I wasn't going to give it my best effort and that's why I pulled out.
I played nine holes yesterday. First time here. It really looks nice. There is a lot of undulation in the greens. The fairways are pretty narrow. Then next week I played well before there before today. So I would like to have a strong finish to the year every year and look forward to next year. I look forward to playing a bit more next year, too.
TODD BUDNICK: Okay, take some questions.
Q. I was just going to follow up on the course. You said that you played nine holes. Had you heard anything about it. Did it surprise you at all. It's generally well regarded. There has been a lot of good comments; I was curious if you knew anything coming in.
ERNIE ELS: You know, not much. I haven't spoken to the guys about the golf course too much coming in here this week. I can't tell you that I know a lot about the course or about the golf tournament. I put it in my schedule because of my lack of tournaments this year. I haven't played a lot of tournaments in the U.S. this year. I wanted to have a strong finish to my year and that's why I put this golf tournament in there. But playing it yesterday, as I say, it looks like a very good golf course.
It's a shot-maker's course. You got to move it both ways. They really narrowed the fairways quite a bit, it seems like. As I said, the rough is up and the look is different than the other Florida golf courses. The look, the bunkers, the greens; it's got a different look. It's almost got an Australian look; a lot of the bunkers and the greens, you know. There is a lot of undulation. There is quite a bit of slope to the course. It really looks like quite a strong golf course. Par 71, you know, I think it's going to be good.
I know KJ Choi won here last year and I think he won by quite a few shots. That doesn't happen too much on TOUR. So that means that if you are really on your game you could separate yourself on this tough golf course.
Q. Ernie, how much value do you place personally on the world rankings. I guess Vijay has moved up to 2 now; does that get your blood boiling again or you just don't pay too much attention to the rankings?
ERNIE ELS: No, we look at it. I think the world rankings is pretty accurate right now. We all obviously want to get to the No. 1 spot. That's quite a ways away at the moment. But I think Vijay has definitely come on very strong the last two months now. He has won four times this year. He has had a ton of top-10 finishes on this TOUR, and you get most of your points playing in the U.S. I have had seven wins this year but it's been mostly world-wide and maybe not as strong a field as you will get over here. I have won those tournaments and unfortunately the Match Play that I won you don't get any world ranking points for that, and I beat him. So that says a little bit of something. No, Vijay deserves to be No. 2 right now. He has played really well. He has dug his heels in and he looks like he is pretty tough at the moment. But yes, I do look at it.
Q. Who do you think the public would think has had a better year, you or Davis? You winning seven times around the world or Davis having won four times here?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think both have pretty strong arguments. If you look at my wins I won in Australia, Hawaii, Switzerland, England, Scotland, all over the place.
So that's pretty tough doing that, flying around and being on your game when you get off the airplane every time and playing in different conditions.
I think my win is more fun. But I think winning four times on this TOUR means a lot, too. It's a tough TOUR to win golf tournaments on. The schedules that we play, the top players's play, we play similar events and you win those events on strong fields. You really got to play good golf. I think Davis has had a great year.
Q. I threw Davis out as an example but it leads me to wonder if you are curious to see how you will do next year assuming that you continue this good form if, indeed, you play a more or less-traveled schedule, which you talked about the last couple of weeks?
ERNIE ELS: Yes, I think the start of the year won't be much different. I'm still contracted to play the Heineken Classic and Johnny Walker Classic and Dubai. And unfortunately Dubai which is one of my favorite events falls on one of my real favorite tournaments which is Doral. I would love to play Doral but I just got another -- I have a commitment in Dubai. So my start of the year is going to be pretty hectic again. I won't play Singapore this year or next year, but I still go to Australia and play the Johnny Walker.
But from then on I want to go back to tournaments like the Byron Nelson. I want to play Wachovia. I want to see if I can play Boston. I want to play some different events which I haven't played. And see if I can get over the 20 mark. I haven't been over the 20 mark, I don't think, in 10 years that I have been on this TOUR. It will be nice.
Q. What goes into your decision-making process when you are choosing tournaments; is it strength of field, is it the course, is it the money? What goes into the decision?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I am an international player and I just -- I enjoy it. When I go down to Australia we play the best golf courses down there. We play on great greens, good weather. You get paid to be there. I just feel to me it's better preparation than playing on the West Coast, you know. I'm not taking anything away from the West Coast, they are playing good golf courses, but you are playing crap conditions; it's cold, it's wet. The greens are soft and bouncy. I play down in Australia on Augusta-type greens. So I like doing that. As I say, the weather is good. I come from the Southern Hemisphere, that time of the year it's warm, that's summer. That's my decision. From there on I try to go into the U.S. schedule as much as I can and going into The Masters, but my U.S. schedule is based on golf courses and my favorite tournaments.
First of all, the golf courses. I got to like the golf course. I mean all of the tournaments are big money now. The money doesn't really come in to the equation. But you want to be comfortable on the golf course.
Q. Since you played international schedules, are there some days you wake up and have to think for a second, "Where am I?"
ERNIE ELS: You know, I think when it comes around, when I start thinking that way, you know, I got to stop that. But you know, it's good for my endorsements. I play internationally. All of my endorsements I have are mostly global stuff. It's good for business in a way. And, as I say, I have done it for such a long time. I'm very used to it. But when the day comes when I wake up and I say well, I'm in Australia but I actually want to be here and it's going to take me two days to get then I will stop, I will have to stop because I won't enjoy it.
Q. Gary Player was always proud how much he played internationally, did that have any impact on you wanting to do it?
ERNIE ELS: That's just where we come from, South Africa, we have always had to travel. When I went -- when I started playing golf I started traveling. When I was 14 I came over to America for the first time in 1984 and that was my first long trip and ever since I have done it every year. You know, that's where you come from. And thank goodness I have been doing that otherwise I would be back in South Africa doing something that I don't want to do.
So I'm really doing something that I'm really comfortable with and I'm happy with doing it and that's just the way it is. We have to go back to South Africa because that's where my roots are and my family is. So it's just the way it is.
I mean if I was an American, born in America I would probably only play here like the rest of the guys.
Q. Have a motor hom?
ERNIE ELS: Yes, and maybe a yacht, a Davis Love bus. But that's just the way life is, you know.
Q. Ernie, there have been a raft of very low scores on the TOUR recently winning scores, 19, 22, a record in Texas; does that as an architect and as a player, does that concern you and when you chose courses do you try to chose courses for your own tournament schedule where par is going to be a more difficult score to attain?
ERNIE ELS: That's a good question. Yes, technology and all of that stuff, the last 10 years we have come such a long way. We come from a wooden driver to playing titanium, huge-headed drivers and the golf ball has also made a huge difference. We are hitting the ball at least 30 or 40 yards further than 10 years ago. I was practicing the other day and I had this Persimmon driver which I just wanted to hit. I was hitting my 3-wood and this Persimmon driver the same distance, that's the difference. I am hitting this 3-wood almost 270 and this wooden driver the same distance. So that's where we have gone in 10 years.
So a lot of the golf courses I have had to make the changes. It changes the flavor of the whole golf course, but length is a huge issue right now. And, yes, the other side of the equation, I try and choose golf courses where I find myself comfortable on. Some of them like, Hawaii, both golf courses, you got to make some birdies and other tournaments you have to make some birdies. But I feel comfortable on those golf courses that I choose. I wouldn't like to go and play the bulk of my schedule trying to make birdies because I don't think that improves your game a whole lot; hitting a driver, a wedge and making a putt.
So some of them I am comfortable with but not all the time. I like to play tougher golf courses.
Q. What is your favorite course anywhere in the world?
ERNIE ELS: Good question. I used to really love Augusta National. I still like it but it's a lot tougher. I think Pebble Beach, obviously, Royal Melbourne down in Australia. Muirfield in Scotland, Lomond. I named five already; it's tough to choose one.
Q. Have you played Pine Valley?
ERNIE ELS: I haven't played Pine Valley. Oakmont I should put in there. That's a good one. Shinnecock. You can go on and on. There are so great golf courses, especially on the eastern side.
Q. Why do you like Lomond?
ERNIE ELS: I think you have been there. It's beautiful. It's just -- I think Tom Weiskopf did a great job there. Pretty tough piece of land to build a golf course on. It's so wet underneath but it's beautiful. There is not one hole that's similar. He really went and did his homework on that golf course. The par-5 is No. 6, one of the best par-5s in the world, I think. It's really a 3-shot hole. It's beautiful. And it's in good shape.
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