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May 18, 2010

Ernie Els


GORDON SIMPSON: Well, Ernie, it's a real pleasure to see you back at Wentworth. I'm glad you were not volcanic-ashed ultimately; I know it was touch and go. Now we are here at the remodelled West Course, and your stamp is on it and you have 149 others looking at it. Are you nervous?
ERNIE ELS: Yes, I am, actually. I was quite anxious to get out there this morning. I was thinking about it, you know, on the way here.
You know, it is what it is. At the end of the day, I've had a great relationship with the Wentworth Club, going back a long time. I had such a nice record here at the Match Play, we decided to come and live here. We stayed here for ten years, still have a house here. Just have a great feel for the golf course.
Obviously there's been a new owner, Mr. Caring, and you know, he's got great vision for the club. Obviously with technology, the golf course, some of the bunkering -- obviously the greens was the big problem. It was a little bit outdated. You know, basically the greens were designed way back to hold water and you know, they had clay under the greens to hold the water in, you know, after the winters for the dry, so-called summers over here.
But you know, as time went on, you know, other golf courses have greens designed a certain way to cope with weather and with a lot of traffic, and the West Course had to go the same way. We got the contract to do the re-design of the greens and the bunkering, and basically we did it to the best of our ability and the way we saw it.
I would like to say, you know, it was a great effort to get the golf course in the shape it is right now. It's almost super human. In November, the greens were sodded, and we are in May and we are playing the biggest tournament on Tour bar The Open Championship, and it's in very great tournament condition.
So a lot of great, hard work by the Wentworth team. In construction, the Abbott team were unbelievable, the shapers of the bunkers and the greens. You know, it's just been a wonderful job.
You know, Mr. Caring, the owner, he surprisingly was very, very, how can I say, he got very involved. He obviously spent a lot of money on the reconstruction of it, and he's an avid golfer and he's got some great ideas. We listened to him and you know, I would say we had some great arguments out there on a lot of the holes, but I think as a whole, you know, I think we can be very proud of what we have achieved.
Obviously, you're not going to please everybody. You're going to have questions all over the place, and it's very easy to criticise something. I'm one of them; you know, when you play a new golf course, you feel things could have been done differently, but as I say, this is the way we saw it. This is the way we did it, and hopefully the guys will appreciate that.
GORDON SIMPSON: I'm sure the people you respect most of your fellow golfers, your peers. Have you had any good feedback at this stage?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, yeah. We've had very good feedback from some of the players who haven't been playing the PGA Championship for a while. You know, guys have played practise rounds here before this week, and we have heard some really positive feedback from them. You know, Padraig, and Darren Clarke, especially, I know he's played, but he texted me after he played the first time and he thought it was really nice, and some of the other players. I heard Ian Poulter was out here; he kind of liked it.
So, you know, hey, I'm in the hot seat. I'm the guy the guys can fire at, can throw their arrows at, and you know, if guys don't like it, you know, you can listen to what they don't like. But at the end of the day, as I say, you do it the way you see it and you feel you want to test the player and be fair to the players. So, we'll see how it pans out at the end of the week.

Q. One of the severest critics of the greens before the re-design was Retief. Have you heard from him on the subject since you changed them?
ERNIE ELS: No, I have not. I don't know if he's going to play. I hear he's got a broken toe or something.
ERNIE ELS: Because I've been looking around for him. He wasn't at TPC, so then I heard he got a bit of an injury.
Obviously he hasn't played it. But you know, there's a lot of -- what we try to do was have really four really difficult holes where you've got to really struggle for par and you're going to have four relatively hard holes, or I can say, medium to hard holes, four easy holes. We try to balance the whole thing out. You know, not every hole is there to trick the player and throw him about.
You know, I think the most talk about probably be 18. You know, visually from the fairway on your second shot, it really looks like there's not a lot of room out there. It is a lot smaller green, but we felt for an 18th hole, we wanted a little bit of drama. With the old green, everybody was putting for eagle and it was basically a bit of a soft par 5 and now it's got a bit of teeth.
We probably will play the tee from the forward -- the middle tee to the back of the middle tee to really get the players to hit the ball down the fairway and have 210 yards in, and from there, you've got a 4- or 5-iron. So you will see a lot of players maybe going for the green. And maybe 8 is another one, but there again, I think we have opened up the fairway where you can drive the ball all the way down to the water and have a little flip to the green, so there's a lot of options for the players.

Q. You said you were nervous; was that more about the condition of the course, or about the reaction you were going to get?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think a bit of both. I mean, you guys had a terrible winter here. We weren't sure if it was going to be even playable for a while. So just the growth has obviously come back. I've spoken to Chris Kennedy quite a bit the last couple of weeks, and it's really come back nicely.
And you know, obviously with making a lot of changes to the greens and the bunkers and stuff like that, you know, you want to test but you don't want to be absolutely bombarded by criticism, either. It's been quite a job for us.

Q. A few of the players I spoke to this afternoon, their sort of comments are that now is going to be the hardest course on the Tour apart from the majors. Is that what you wanted?
ERNIE ELS: I think so. I think what we wanted, BMW, they are a huge sponsor in world golf, and especially on The European Tour. You know, this tournament is perfectly situated on the schedule: It's after the Masters, it's a couple of weeks before the U.S. Open. So people, players, are starting to gear themselves obviously for the U.S. Open. And a lot of the players that go to U.S. Opens, they are in shock when they see a U.S. Open venue because they have never seen anything like that before, and basically they don't have any chance, because they are a little bit scared or intimidated by the golf courses.
And we feel that you know, when you master this golf course now, I think you'll have a lot of confidence going forward and not being intimidated by any golf course. So again, you know, our strategy is -- our design strategy is I don't like a lot of rough, so I don't like too heavy rough, but I love bunkering, strategically bunkering a player, either to aim at a bunker, play off a bunker, if you miss a shot in a certain spot, you're going to go in the bunker and the bunker is going to be at least a half-a-shot penalty.
So I think if you go in these bunkers, you're going to get penalised. And that means if you're not in control of your ball flight or your direction of where you're hitting it, you're going to have a lot of problems here. But I think if you're in control of that, the greens are going to help you. A lot of the flags, positions, you're going to feed iron shots into those flags, so if your ball-striking is good, you're going to play well on this golf course.
I think that bodes well for that player forward in the majors. You've got to be on your game.

Q. The cutting of the rough also means that a lot of the balls are going to find the trees; was that part of your idea, that if you hit a bad shot it would go into the trees?
ERNIE ELS: There's going to be a little bit of rough. I think we want shot-making. I want players to play -- if you miss a shot, you're not in the bunker, you must be able to have a lot at the green. Like playing St. Andrews, links golf, there's no real rough there, but if you miss shots, you're going to get in bunkers. If you miss the bunkers, you're going to have a shot at the green, you can maneuver the ball towards your target, and that's what I want this week. And we have got V-grooves now, so you're going to get flyers, although guys can go for the shots, they have to be very careful for flyers.
You will see a lot of strategy come through this week.

Q. You said about the owner being very hands-on, having a few arguments out there, did you basically win all of those arguments? Did he go with your expertise?
ERNIE ELS: Well, pays the bill. I lost a couple but not too many. No, we agreed to disagree on a lot of the ones. (Laughing).
Mr. Caring, he got very involved, and I appreciate that, because obviously he's got a long-term goal with the golf course, and especially with BMW who is a great sponsor. We want to have a nice product for them, a nice golf course, a nice venue for a tournament of this stature, and that's what we had in mind.

Q. And 18 was one you lost?
ERNIE ELS: Yes. I saw it a little bit different than that, but you know, as we said, we won the argument from a big lake in front of the green to having a burn or a water feature in front with not having a lake, and I think he won the argument with the green complex. So it was a bit of a give and take there. There was a couple out there.

Q. 12?
ERNIE ELS: 12, that was a team decision. I think it played as a very soft par 5, and I was actually very surprised. I looked at the stats, the driving stats on that hole the last four years, and it was amazing how far the guys were driving it down there. Guys were driving it 340, 350 down there and only having 6-, 7-iron the into a par 5, even off that back tee.
So we moved some tees forward and did some bunkering to just shape and help the balls shape around the corner. You're going to probably have a 7-iron into that green. So it's a smaller green, but I think it's going to work for a par 4, makes the finish a little bit more interesting.

Q. Did you position the green area on the 18th?
ERNIE ELS: I don't want to harp too much on about it. I just wanted the green a little bit lower than what it is right now. I think it could have maybe held the ball a little better.
I think it's going to be fine. I think it's still a very fine green, and I think you know, if you hit a decent drive, it's going to benefit the guy that really gets aggressive with his drive. If you need an eagle, you have to hit a great shot. So I think that it will be a good green for some drama.

Q. Some of the locals thought the green might be a little small. Do you think that you might eventually make it a bit bigger?
ERNIE ELS: No, as I said, it is what it is. It's a small target. It's a risk/reward shot. You know, as I said, people -- obviously it could be bigger. It is what it is. It's the 18th hole of the BMW PGA Championship and you have to hit a couple of great shots. You've got to lay up and still make your birdie, and the guy that goes for it, he's got glory or a little bit of disappointment waiting for him. (Laughing).

Q. You talked about a bad winter and almost not getting the course ready in time; was there a moment, like a visit or a phone call or were you making contingency plans if you didn't think it was going to be ready on time?
ERNIE ELS: You know, we always have a lot of confidence in Chris Kennedy and somehow he always comes through with it. It is in May, you know, in Britain and other places it gets a little warmer earlier than over here.
Like I said before, I think it is a great venue, scheduling for this tournament. You can't really have it later because you're running into the majors and you can't go into July because you miss out on the special time of the year.
So you're always going to have a little bit of a battle getting the course ready. If you have a tough winter, you'll have a battle, so there's a lot of pressure on the greens staff. There was a bit of nerves going on. I spoke to Chris when I was in Korea a couple of weeks ago, but he was still positive that he'll get it going. But it was a little bit touch and go.

Q. In terms of toughness, how many shots harder do you think this course is now? Over the four days, what would you imagine?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's a par 71 now. If you just look at the total, 284 will be even par. We are going to have a very nice weather week, not a lot of wind. The greens will be kept quiet moist, quite soft. That means guys can go at the flags a little bit. The ball will start running in the fairways so you're going to start hitting short irons into the greens. I still believe if you play the golf course properly, if you have a good game plan, you can shoot a 67 each round.
You know, you're going to -- obviously that will win by quite a few I think. But I think, you know, double figures, you can still get into double figures I would think, because we're going to have a good weather week.
Probably almost the same winning score I would say. What won last year?

Q. 17.
ERNIE ELS: 17, which is 271, which is 13-under -- yeah, I think 10-under is very doable around here.

Q. Away from this week, if the pros are thinking it's one of the hardest weeks on Tour, what about your average golfer? Do you have any sympathy for them?
ERNIE ELS: Unfortunately, no. (Laughter) Sorry guys. And that's another question we threw at the club, you know, but the team felt that this needs to be separated from any other golf courses around. It always used to be a very tough golf course. It became a little bit easier because of technology, and you know now, I think the teeth definitely is back in the golf course. Probably tougher than ever.
You know, the pros are so good that it will be a little bit of a shock to the system for a while and then they will find a way to get around the course, get a game plan and they will find a way to score around here like they have done in the past. You know, I remember playing here in 1992, I thought it was one of the longest -- one of the toughest golf courses I've ever played. And then for a period of time, it became quite easy. I remember the cuts being 2-, 3-, 4-under par around here. And I don't think the golf course and the tournament -- you know, this is a major championship kind of a tournament, this is our fifth major over here in Europe, and it needs to have a bit of teeth and it needs to have a little bit of stature, as well.
So I think definitely that's brought back, and players will have a little bit of a shock, and they will find a way to score around here. Maybe in 20 years' time, Rory McIlroy or somebody can come and re-design this one. It will just keep on evolving.

Q. You and the rest of the guys from Europe and the rest of the world go and play the TPC; would you like to see some of the Americans come over and try against you here?
ERNIE ELS: We have tried for a long time. You know, a couple of guys have come but at the end of the day, they play for a lot of money over there, and I think after they have seen this golf course maybe on television, maybe they will want to maybe try and come and challenge it and see what they can do. We have a great purse here and a great sponsor, and maybe the ash, the volcanic ash had something to do with it this year.
Normally Vijay comes. I played with Vijay last week, but he said he was going to play in the Byron Nelson. It's tough getting the guys to come over. But I think as a European Tour event, the Flagship Event, this is as good as it gets.

Q. You mentioned Rory there, you watched what went on at Quail Hollow; did you have guys like Rory in mind when you resigned the course? Because I spoke to him about it and he's very excited about playing here now. He just loves what you've done with it and the shot-making that's required; are these the type of guys you had in mind and how do you think Rory will do?
ERNIE ELS: Listen, I'm 40 years old, I see the youngsters hitting the golf ball. I mean, Rory hits a 3-wood as long as I hit my driver. He hits 3-irons higher than I can hit my wedge. I look at Anthony Kim, I look at -- give me some names, some of the younger players, they really hit the golf ball with a lot of authority. They have a lot of control with that length.
We kind of came from the wooden club era into this new technology era, and we kind of had to really re-adjust our golf swings and our game plans. I mean, these kids were born with this new technology, so they grow up with the new technology. They just bomb it away and that's normal for them. For us to hit it -- I was driving it 270 yards in 1994, I was in the top 20 of driving distance. Guys are hitting their 5-woods that far now.
So now I'm hitting it 300 yards, so that's a 30-yard change for me so I have to re-adjust my whole game to technology. These guys don't have to. So guys, the youngsters might take like No. 18 on. They might hit a 3-iron with a 5-wood down into the green. A lot of the holes, they are not even going to use a lot of drivers.
So this golf course is going to suit different players than others, and it's just the nature, you just try and balance that so everybody likes it. It's an impossible task. Yeah, I think younger players -- the longer hitters will probably enjoy this course better, and I think Rory will do very well here.

Q. What do you think of Rory at Quail Hollow?
ERNIE ELS: Well, that's just the talent of Rory. We've always said he's got all the talent in the world. He's so young, he's just turned 21 now, and to shoot a 62 in that environment is just unbelievable. It even shocked Phil Mickelson. I think Phil thought he was -- he had a game plan of the shoeing a 68 or 67 and he probably thought it would be good enough. But you know, 62 is just unheard of around that golf course. And the greens were pretty firm.
So he's just a special talent and he's got a great too you tour, so we are excited to watch him.

Q. Have you had any personal experience with him?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I've played with him quite a few times. JP that use to caddie for me caddies for Rory now. They have a wonderful team there. The world is waiting for them, especially for Rory. He's got it all going for him. So exciting to see his career develop.
GORDON SIMPSON: Okay, then, Ernie, thank you very much and if you're sitting here on Sunday night, you'll give yourself a pat on the back for the job you've done.
ERNIE ELS: Can you imagine that (smiling).

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