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January 11, 2011

Alex Chehansky

Ernie Els


DOUG MILNE: Thanks for joining us for a few minutes, 2004 Sony Open in Hawai'i champion. Why don't we just open it up for a couple comments. You played well last week. As you're heading into the week you're obviously at a favorite spot of yours.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, Liezl and Samantha arrived last night. It's a great week. I've been coming here since 2000. I think I've missed maybe a couple since then. But it's a great way for the year to start. Not a bad view. The golf course is pretty good.
Obviously it's very different from last week. You've got to get it into position here. But I love both Maui and here. I've obviously enjoyed my years of playing here.
Last week I played good in the second round, and that's about it. I struggled with the putter a little bit again on Saturday and again on Sunday. Got to get that figured out. But game is in good shape. The rest of my game is really in good shape, so I'm looking forward to a good week.

Q. As long as you've been doing this for a living, can you speak to just how hard it is to win? Do you think people have an appreciation how hard it is to win maybe is a better question?
ERNIE ELS: I mean, yeah, when you're younger it's almost like there's kind of a different mindset a little bit. But through my years, I've got 18 wins on the U.S. TOUR and I've been on TOUR for about 18 years. But it is pretty difficult. You know, especially now when there's a new group of guys that's come through. It seems like -- and with equipment changes, there's not a huge -- the better players, the margin is not that big as it used to be. The guys are a lot closer to each other. So to separate yourself from the pack, you've got to do something really, really special.
We've seen in the last couple years that guys have just really come a lot closer together, people playing at a similar level. There's a bigger group of players playing at a high level.
To win you've got to have a little bit of luck on your side, and you've really got to be on that week, that particular week, on your game.

Q. What's the biggest adjustment you feel like you have to make when you go from the Plantation Course to here?
ERNIE ELS: Well, for one, I'm not going to have to worry about my shins this week. A little bit of going up and down the hills, and the 28 pounds I've gained (laughter), it's a little tough. But this week is very flat. The adjustment you have to make is really -- this is a little dogleg golf course. I don't want to say little. It's a par-70, but patience is a big key here this week. If it's calm like it is now, you have to shoot low, because I know the greens are pretty soft.
But the adjustment is basically -- it's a position course this week. You've really got to get yourself in the fairway. Coming out of the rough this week, you're not going to really have a big chance of winning. So you've got to position yourself all the time. You're shaping more shots. At Maui you just had to drive it and bomb it as far as you can and take your chances from there. Here you've got to shape and really play the game. It's target golf. You're shaping your ball, left to right, right to left, and being in control of your game.

Q. Speaking of a lot of the new guys coming out, 23 of the 25 Nationwide guys are out here this week and then you've got some Q-school guys. I was just wondering, seems like a guy like yourself might look around every once in a while and think, who are all these guys? What percentage of a field like this week would you say you can actually positively identify?
ERNIE ELS: That's quite accurately said because it seems like every year at this event the new guys show their faces. I don't normally play the Bob Hope and I'm not going to play anything until the LA tournament, so yeah, I'm going to need to look -- a lot of new guys this week, guys I've probably never seen but have heard about but haven't really met.
I think it's a great way for them to get their feet wet this week, see what it's like on the big TOUR. A lot of these guys have not played out here, so they're going to find out what it's all about, so I'm sure there's a lot of kind of anticipation from their side.
But from us old timers out here, it's nice to meet a lot of the young new guys and basically follow their year. I've played here numerous times with guys I've met for the first time. A couple years ago Matt Bettencourt, I played with him for the first time and had never met him before.
Yeah, you walk out on that range and you think you're on a different TOUR (laughter). The normal guys aren't quite there a lot of the time. But it's nice. This is where they show their faces and start their career.

Q. Going back to the 18 wins in 18 years here, does the worldwide win total mean -- do people have an appreciation of that? Does that get overlooked sometimes, the worldwide wins?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's interesting because nowadays when you play on the European Tour, they don't talk about the U.S. wins, they only talk about my European wins. When I play on the U.S. Tour they talk about my U.S. wins and not my worldwide wins. I think wherever you play, they grab you as a home player.
But me personally, obviously I've got 18 wins here and I think 45 worldwide, and that 45 sounds a lot better than 18.
Yeah, people, they do that for a reason, because they want to claim you as a home player. I realized that at the South African Open the other day where I walked on the 18th green and they talked about my 24 wins on the European Tour. They never mentioned any other ones.

Q. Certainly guys take a lot of pride in that because it is a global game now, and compare like the South African Open field this past year to what it was maybe 15 years ago. I imagine it's a lot deeper.
ERNIE ELS: A lot deeper, yeah, a lot deeper. But saying that, again, the big European names don't play it because it's so late in the year so you get a lot of Challenge Tour players playing. Being a proud South African, we'd like to see -- if it's the South African Open, you might as well open it up for just the South African players because with all due respect, the guys that -- like a Westwood or myself or Goose, those type of players, if you want to play, you're going to play, you know what I'm saying?
So there's a bit of a debate that's going to come around if the fields don't get stronger, maybe just go back to just a South African field.

Q. You're kind of in the middle of this being a South African and yet a member of Europe and the U.S. Tours. What do you make of the banter or maybe chatter is a better word of having this U.S. versus European thing, which is probably stronger than it's been --
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's as strong as it's been in 20 years. You know, I think back in the Faldo era, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer, Seve, that was a strong, strong time for the European Tour back then, and since then it's been very quiet until now; you've got Westwood, Poulter, McDowell, Kaymer. I mean, there's a really strong contingent of players coming out of Europe now.
I think you're going to see the battle -- between the lines you can read the players giving each other a little bit of a look, which is great. I think it's great for the game. I think it's great for the rivalry between the two Tours, bringing the Ryder Cup into it, as well. There's a real battle going on at the moment. I think it's going to continue for a couple years if you look at the ages, you know? You've got Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, give me some names. I mean, there's a lot of young --

Q. Sean O'Hair.
ERNIE ELS: Sean O'Hair. There's a lot of U.S. players, and there's a lot of young European players, and they're going to be there the next 10, 12 years, so it's going to be interesting to see.

Q. If you win a major this year, who claims that, the European Tour? Is that a major for the European Tour?
ERNIE ELS: Whoever wants to claim me, it's fine. I'm on the fence.

Q. Adam Scott mentioned your name the other day when he said he gave up his membership on the European Tour. He said it's just too difficult. He said you were the master of it, you could do it. But he thinks it's more difficult now to play both tours if your goal is to win the Order of Merit or the Race to Dubai or the FedExCup. Do you think it's too difficult now?
ERNIE ELS: You can still do it. You know, it's -- you know, I had one win at Doral last year, a big money event, and it kept me in the top 5 for most of the year in Europe, and I don't play that much in Europe. I don't play that well after the U.S. Open. You can still do it. But you know, depends on the individual. I mean, I want to start focusing more on the U.S. TOUR because we live here now and my kids go to school here, and we're going to talk about these events that we've planned to do. So my life has come here now. So I want to concentrate here.
I'm not going to play the Scottish Open this year. I'm going to play less in Europe, and then I'll play a bit more in Asia because it's good for personal brand and stuff that we do out there.
But to come back to your question, I see the guys if they can -- Rory and Westwood and these guys, they're going to play one Tour basically, and I think it could be something to do with the Ryder Cup, also, in their decisions. Guys like us, the international players, you know, Scottie, I think he also wants to concentrate more on the U.S. TOUR. And I think the golf courses are better here, we get treated unbelievably well here, and it's easier to travel and play and keep your game in shape in the U.S. nowadays than it is in Europe.
I'm not sure where he's coming from, but that's kind of my view.

Q. So where would you play more in Asia?
ERNIE ELS: Well, Malaysia, we're doing a couple of golf courses in Malaysia, so I'm going to do Malaysia, I can do a little bit of work there. We're doing quite well with the wines in Korea, so I'm going to play in Korea. And then obviously look at China. China is quite a big market in just about everything, so you want to show your face there. I'd like to do that at the end of the year. Although South Korea is kind of in the middle of the year. But that's the long-term plan.

Q. If you were a 20-year old South African turning pro right now with your ability, would you do now what you did when you turned pro, traveling-wise, scheduling-wise, everything like that?
ERNIE ELS: Good question. I think if I was good enough, I would have joined this TOUR when I was 20. But I wasn't good enough. I had to kind of go through the trail a little bit and learn how to play professional golf, and I felt that the European Tour was a little easier to do that at that stage. It taught me a lot. It got my short game in much better shape. And I just feel in those days, obviously the U.S. TOUR was streets above any other Tour strength-wise, so you needed to be really ready to come and play here. That's why I spent more time there.
I would probably suggest to the guy to still maybe to play in Europe before you come here because this is still the Tour with the most depth and field, although it doesn't show on World Rankings. But if you look at the guys, you go out to the range and you see the scores that the guys shoot here, the depth is still here.

Q. Is that why it doesn't show up on the rankings?
ERNIE ELS: Well, the World Rankings is -- yeah, that's a different deal, you know, I mean, why the European Tour is stronger is because of the appearance money. They pay for guys like myself, Tiger, Phil Mickelson, they're going to start going after Dustin now, they're going to go after Anthony Kim and so forth, Stricker. So you put a big check in front of you, it's tough to say no. And you go play where they look after you unbelievably well. That's why you have strength of fields, because of the appearance money.

Q. I just wonder, too, though, based on what you said, not that there's an answer for it, but if it's greater depth here, therefore it's harder to win or harder to finish 20th, is it harder to collect points by finishing 20 to 40?
ERNIE ELS: If you go that far down the road, I don't think you should be playing the game. I think if you don't play to win but try to look after your World Ranking and all that stuff, it's probably not the right way to do it. I think where you play you should try and play to win. End of story.

Q. Do you think that goes on?
ERNIE ELS: I think so. I think there's a certain way of keeping yourself top 50. Top 50 play in all the major and all the world championship events. Obviously it's important and I think guys look at that because there's big money to be made like that. Maybe not play certain events to keep your ranking where it is. I'm sure that goes on now.

Q. I just want to preface this by saying that I'm not questioning that you can still win out here, but you're talking about the different things you're doing with Asia and things like that. It sounds like in your own mind you're starting to begin the transition from being a 365 day golfer out here to somebody that's slowly looking at the next level, and I wanted to know what your thoughts are on that.
ERNIE ELS: I've been kind of looking at it for the last couple years now, just trying to position myself. Obviously the world has changed the last two years. We used to have quite a bit of work here in the U.S. That's obviously gone out the window now. You've got to go look for work where it is, and Asia is where it is, and we've made some good connections there.
I'm 42 this year. I'm definitely not thinking of retirement, but I'm definitely positioning myself for when that day comes and I'll be in the right market, the right area. That's basically what I'm looking at, just trying to take advantage of where the opportunities are, and at the moment it's in Asia.

Q. Do you see yourself as a Champions Tour player?
ERNIE ELS: At the moment, no, not really. I've got plenty of time to figure it out still, but at the moment, no. We'll see what Asia brings again. I think by that time there could be some other events taking place over there. So we'll see how the world turns.

Q. Augusta is always Augusta, but I'm wondering how the other major three venues set up knowing, of course, that you did win on one of them at Congressional?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm looking forward to them. After this week I'm going to take a nice break, try and get myself in better shape and really work on my game and then start looking at that. I'm looking forward to LA when I come back and then really looking forward to the Florida Swing. And then by then obviously I'll think about it a bit more. At least I made the cut at the Masters last year, so that was a step in the right direction.
Congressional, I can't wait to get there. I've played it in some SAP golf days and seen the changes and so forth, and that's going to be an interesting week.
And then Sandwich, Royal St. Georges. That's a good one. I played there in '93 and had four rounds in the 60s there. In 2003 I didn't play too good.
And then the PGA, Atlanta, I mean, you've got to shoot low that week. It's going to be soft. It's going to be hot.
But I feel I've got a good chance. I've just got to get out of this bloody putting thing. If I can putt like I did at the Country Club in South Africa, I can win a major, and that's what I want to go towards.

Q. Did you like the changes at Congressional?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah. It's going to be an interesting start if you start on the 10th hole. That's the only problem. You've got to be well-prepared to pull the trigger. I think I hit 5-iron in one of the golf days we played there, over water and all that stuff. And then the next hole is that 500-yarder up the hill. So that's an interesting start if you start on the 10th hole.

Q. Just to clarify, not until LA, that doesn't mean anywhere, that's just not here?
ERNIE ELS: No, nowhere.

Q. Not even Middle East or anything?
ERNIE ELS: No, just taking four weeks off.

Q. Longest of your career?
ERNIE ELS: I used to -- before the kids myself and Liezl always used to take four or five weeks after the Masters, used to go down to South Africa, but now with kids it's a little different. No, I'm not going to play anything. I'm just going to be home and just do my thing.

Q. We know you have an exciting announcement. We'll invite Alex up and let you guys chat about that for a second.
ERNIE ELS: I think I'm going to give the floor to Alex. He's a good friend of mine. We got back a while and we want to raise money for this autism project that we have, the Center of Excellence that we want to build. Alex has come with a great idea that I want to endorse. He has a passion for golf and a passion for autism, to try and find a cure one day and to help the kids in the community with this Center of Excellence. This will be a great way of connecting with people and raising money for a great cause.
If you want to take it from there, where the tournaments are going to be and how it's going to work.
ALEX CHEHANSKY: Absolutely. Having the opportunity to be friends with Ernie and Liezl for a few years now and having a family of my own with three young boys and being fortunate to have healthy boys and see the relationship with Ben and the Els family, this really spurred me to help as much as I could. And when Liezl and Susan Hollo, the executive director of the foundation, we got together and discussed how we can go to the next level raising money on a yearly basis to combat autism and help grow the fight against not only the cure but in helping those that are afflicted with it right now.
So what we've come up with through Ernie's support and the support of Ernie's longtime partners of SAP and their family and their ecosystem of clients and partners and then the Callaway family along with Caesar's Entertainment, Planet Hollywood and the Cascata Golf Club and the PGA of America we have put together what we believe will be the largest charity amateur golf tournament ever to be contested.
It's a great undertaking in that we are looking towards building a Center of Excellence in Jupiter. The details of the event are that in June through August we'll be working with the TPCs, and at each of the 32 TPCs along with a couple selected courses around the country, we'll have 44 two-man, two-person events, where each team is required to raise $2,500 for Els For Autism and then they get a spot in the event.
At each event, we will have a golf winner and a charity winner, and those two teams plus any team that raises over $10,000 for the foundation will be invited to join Ernie and Liezl and the group at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas October 23rd and 24th for the finals of the event at either TPC Summerlin for one part of the group and then at Cascata Golf Club for the other half.
Additionally, during the spring, the PGA of America will be endorsing through ten of their largest sections, you guys know who those usual suspects are, to do Ernie Els For Autism golf days, where it will replace a Saturday -- I live at Bay Hill, so the Saturday Shootout would be replaced by a different game where everybody will put in a $40 donation and the section makes a little bit of money and then autism makes some money, and the winner of those will get an automatic entrance into the regional events.
So we believe we'll have upwards of 2,000 to 3,000 people involved with the event. We'll do a modified Stableford best ball, no surprise, very similar to the way we run the Shootout with the scoring, but it's an opportunity to demonstrate the passion that Ernie and Liezl have for helping with autism and matching it up with some fun in Las Vegas and golf around the country.

Q. What will the event be called?
ALEX CHEHANSKY: It's the Els For Autism Golf Challenge.

Q. And Alex, what's your last name and your affiliation?
ALEX CHEHANSKY: My last name is Chehansky, C-h-e-h-a-n-s-k-y. I'm friends with the Els family, and I'm also involved with some real estate developments. I have a private equity firm that I run, so that's how we've worked and become friends over that. So I am actively sitting as a strategic advisor to the Els Foundation and putting this event together.

Q. And you live in Orlando?
ALEX CHEHANSKY: I do, I live in Orlando.

Q. Ernie, you had the tournament last year, the last couple years, and --
ERNIE ELS: PGA National, yeah. We still have that. We're going to do that event. That's with a good friend Marvin Shanken who sits on our board, Els for Autism board, and it's basically the first event that we undertook, and that's a yearly event that will keep going. We've raised close to a million dollars just at that event the last couple of years. That will keep going.

Q. In a perfect world what do you think you can raise from that?
ALEX CHEHANSKY: Well, what's exciting is having partners like SAP, Callaway. SAP is family with Deloitte, Accenture, they have matching programs. So what we can do is implement that each -- so do the quick math, if you have 2,000 -- if you have 44 teams like 32 destinations, it ends up being somewhere between $31/2 to $4 million and then adding in the matching donations potentially to raise it up to $6 or $7 million minus our usual costs for throwing the event.
I think in this first year we'd be very happy with three to three and a half as a net, and as you may or may not note, the goal for the foundation is $30 million to build the Center of Excellence, and that will get us a step closer to the realization of that center.

Q. What did your event do last year?
ERNIE ELS: The one in Florida?

Q. Yeah.
ERNIE ELS: I think we were just over a million.

Q. Do you have a site picked out?
ERNIE ELS: Yes, we've got -- we're looking at one at the moment, actually a couple. I think I said to you, give it a bit of time and we'll make that announcement. That's been quite a bit of a challenge obviously to get the right site, perfect site that works in the community. It's got to be near a highway, accessible for kids to come to. So it's been quite a bit of a challenge, but I think we came very close now. We'll make another little announcement in the next couple of months where the site will be.

Q. Is there a website for the tournament or is this on your website, Ernie?
ERNIE ELS: We've got a website for --
ALEX CHEHANSKY: We do, absolutely. We've got a press release that John will be handing out. On Ernie's personal site there will be a link to the Els for Autism site, and you'll be able to see from there. And then each team that comes on board will be given a team site, a micro site, which they will be able to raise money for their team within that micro site. So pretty exciting opportunity to be able to constantly -- I know Ernie has got the one event, but one of the goals for Ernie and Liezl was to create these annuity events that as people are out there constantly thinking about autism and Ernie and how they can help, this is something that can happen theoretically 24 hours a day where we can be making a difference.

Q. Alex, you said the goal was $30 million to build the center. How far along are you with that goal?
ERNIE ELS: We've raised, must be, I'm not sure exact figures, must be up to $21/2 million now. But this will help a lot. We've got a couple other things in the pipeline, but we'd like to -- this year at least we want to get the site, and by the start of next year I want to start building.

Q. Is there an entry fee or is the entry fee the $2,500?
ALEX CHEHANSKY: That's correct. As long as you raise the $2,500, that's your -- we're working with the TPCs on reducing costs. However, you're required to make a donation equal to what the greens fees would be so that the foundation is not held hostage by guys that just want to play golf.

Q. So Sawgrass is not one of them?
ALEX CHEHANSKY: Sawgrass may or may not be.

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