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March 8, 2011

Ernie Els


JOHN BUSH: We would like to welcome Ernie Els into the interview room here at the World Golf Championships Cadillac Championship. Ernie, first of all, welcome back. And if we can get you to look back at the win last year, and just look back on that Sunday afternoon with you and Charl.
ERNIE ELS: Thanks, yeah. Great to be back. Obviously last year was quite a battle with Charl, my house guest, as you remember. So it was nice getting a win, especially in the World Golf Championships event, especially also here at Doral where I've been coming for such a long time.
Didn't have a lot of form coming into this week last year, but something clicked over the course of a couple of days, and got my game together and really had a good week obviously.
JOHN BUSH: Talk a little bit about the state of your game coming in this week.
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's kind of similar again. I had a bit of a slow start to the year again and I haven't played too much, either. I played the two in Hawai'i, and then I didn't play another stroke-play event until last week. A little rusty last week, especially in those high winds. I hit a couple of awkward shots, and on the greens, I wasn't that sharp, either. So been working on a couple of things, so hopefully I can start turning things around now.

Q. Did Charl get the invite back as a house guest this year?
ERNIE ELS: You know what, he did. But he didn't accept it. (Laughter).
He actually stayed with me before we went out to the Match Play. Him and Rosalind came to stay with us for about five days. When he came out after the Match Play, he stayed at the Old Palm with Louis, they have rented two homes there. They have their own little place this year. But the invitation was out.

Q. When you're coming back from a long layoff, what's the hardest thing to get back quickly to your game to the precision that you need to win?
ERNIE ELS: Really, it's just getting into the flow of things. Normally my alignment is a little out for some reason, because you hit so many golf balls, you just stay in one position and keep hitting and when you play on the course, you're coming from different angles, so I've got to watch my alignment quite a bit.

Q. I think I might have asked you this before; you're old enough to remember this as a kid. Do you have any recollection of watching the '86 Masters on TV back home at all?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, yeah. I was 16 years old and I was really coming into my own as a player, as a junior player, an amateur player in South Africa. That year, I won the South African Amateur as a 16-year-old, so I thought I knew what I was doing. So that was played in March. In April, I watched Jack win the Masters. It was basically a miracle happening in front of our eyes and it was really exciting to watch with my dad. It just gave me even more of an inspiration to play the game, knowing that a 46-year-old won. It was quite amazing.
So just the shots that was being played, and obviously him beating the best players in the world at that time: Seve, Greg and Tom Kite and those type of guys. So it was really exciting.

Q. Was that a late night or early morning for you guys?
ERNIE ELS: Very late. What is it -- they finish at seven, eight o'clock in the evening, so it's another six hours on top of that. So very late. I had to ask my mom for permission to stay up. (Laughter).

Q. Without being rude, you are now approaching the Jack slot in '86. What is it like competing at this stage of your career against young kids like Fowler and McIlroy and 21 years old coming?
ERNIE ELS: It changes, I go out every week, trying to improve as a player, try to get better. Some weeks it's right there. As I said last year, it clicked. I'll do the same routine. Age, you're never going to beat it. I'm 41 now. I'll be 42 in October. Time's ticking away. Same for everybody I guess on the planet.
But I really don't feel any ill effects, let's say, of age. I'm in pretty good shape and just trying to get better and trying to feel it out. I'm sure the youngsters -- I know the youngsters are doing it, too, because I was there quite a few years ago.
But, you know, at 20-something, you're not -- you try to make putts, you're not trying to miss putts. You're not trying to play safe, so they are aggressive playing their games, and it's wonderful to see. It's exciting for the game of golf.

Q. Does 46 even seem old anymore?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it does (laughter) as a golfer.
Yeah, it's amazing what he did. I'm 41 now. To think at 46, winning a major, it gives you a lot of hope for us 40-somethings. He obviously showed it can be done.
I mean, many majors have been won in your 40s; you talk about Hogan and those type of players, Vijay, Mark O'Meara. There's many guys who have won majors. But to be the best and then for many years not to be the best, and then come out of the woodwork and show guys that, hey, I'm the best out here; you know, that was quite something. That was quite a statement he made.

Q. Last year in this stretch, you came out with so much confidence, with a couple of wins going into all of the majors and you were frustrated at Augusta and talked about trying to approach it differently in the future. Will you try to do it a different way now?
ERNIE ELS: We will have to wait and see how I get there. I was just fortunate to make the cut last year. In my previous couple of tries, I really lost plot around Augusta. I have a game plan back again. I just need a bit of game began. You need a bit of game going in there with a bit of momentum, and I'm looking forward to that.
I feel -- I definitely do feel like I've still got a major, maybe two, in me. I'm working towards that. I've got a great chance this year: Congressional, obviously great memories there. Royal St. George's, back in the history books will tell you, I was the first guy to shoot four rounds in the 60s, okay. I have to brag about that. I did that at Royal St. George's in '93. So I'm happy to go back there. And then we'll wait and see where the rest falls. But I just want to get back on track here.

Q. In a couple of weeks, obviously Bay Hill, of course, you like a lot, defending champ. What are your experiences with Mr. Palmer during the week like last year?
ERNIE ELS: It's just always great to play. I didn't play for a couple of years. I wasn't so excited about the setup that they had for a couple of years. They got it set up the way I like it; let's put it that way, and went back there and had a great week.
Mr. Palmer is Mr. Golf, basically, brought golf to television and did so much for the TOUR. Just to be around him is wonderful and exciting. I'm really glad to go back there. Can't wait.

Q. As deep as golf is getting at the moment, can you see any advantage to maybe expanding the field, dividing players in the World Golf Championships, or do you think it would lose something?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I think you've got to basically play at some kind of a level to be invited to these events. You've got to have done something special or be able to -- basically, it's a selected group of players that play and it should be kept as that. These are special events. Sponsors pay a lot of money to sponsor these events, and it should be looked at in that light I think. I don't think that should change and I think that was the basic principle that they brought into these things was to keep it separate and keep it different from other tournaments. So I think that should stay like that.

Q. If age has eroded anything from your game, what would it be?
ERNIE ELS: I think everybody would like to hit it a bit longer. My iron play is very solid.
I think over -- it's well documented. I think my short game, my putting, I would like to putt the ball better. I've got old video that I have been looking at from my days in the 90s when I won at Westchester. I remember you following us around there, when I was in my 20s. Putted the ball very well. Putted very aggressively and confidently. I think that's one part I would like to work at or get that back.

Q. A few years ago you were speaking highly of Martin Kaymer sort of before most people even knew who he was. Just curious what you saw in him at that point, and obviously it's kind of coming true now?
ERNIE ELS: I just think he's a very intelligent kid. I like the fact that he didn't change his game. He hits that cut shot. I remember playing with him when he was really young in Germany and I thought, wow, this guy can really hit the ball. He really strikes it very solidly, but he hits a nice fade. A lot of times teachers and guys who want to make names for themselves would like to change that, and I'm just glad he never changed that. He kept his game the same, and he's just getting better. He's working on his weaknesses. He's putting the ball very well now, and it seems like his short game has come on really well. That's some of his weaknesses when I played with him just when he came out.
You know, and it started clicking. He's got a great mind. He's got that cool, very ice cold demeanor. At the moment things don't really upset him. He's just going with the flow. So that's a pretty good package to have.

Q. This event, since it's changed to the World Golf Championships, did it lose anything? Now there's not the cut, there's not the full field. You've played in a number of them before that?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, it's different. Used to have past champions play. I'm talking quite a few years back; is Ray Floyd used to come and play. They used to have special invites, guys from the area. I remember seeing Erik Compton for the first time. He's kept on -- they kept giving him an invitation to come and play because he's such a special guy.
So there are a couple of things that have changed in that light. It's obviously a smaller field and you get a more international field here, which is probably good for Miami. Yeah, obviously things will change for the better and there will be a couple of negatives because of the flavor of the field has changed a bit.

Q. The other thing is I was reading after last year's win, it had been discussed after the Honda where you struggled, you went to the Bear's Club I guess and worked on your game until like dark. Did you do anything after this Sunday similar and did something click in? How are you feeling now?
ERNIE ELS: Very similar. We played that Seminole pro/member, and we did that again on Monday, yesterday morning. I played with Lee again like I did last year, and Lee is still striking the ball beautifully, Lee Westwood. I like to pick up things from players who can really play, and I think I've got something again. So I should maybe play with him more often, because he definitely helped me last year without helping me. I've got a couple of thoughts that I want to work on again.
I've been working hard on my game, sitting at home for five weeks. I've got to just get it going on the golf course in tournaments.

Q. You just mentioned that you kind of admire the way Martin worked the ball around and didn't try to change his swing. He was in here a few hours ago about wanting to change his swing specifically for Augusta to add a bit of a draw. Can you talk about, is that just a golf course that's going to invoke those types of changes that if you feel like you have to hit this shot?
ERNIE ELS: That shows you where I'm at (laughter).
I think his draw will still be a soft fade. (Laughter) But, hey, listen, thank God we are all different. He feels that he needs a different, let's say ball flight, at Augusta, and that's what he feels he needs to work on. I would maybe disagree a little bit because you don't need that big of a draw or a hook around Augusta like you used to on the old course.
But he knows what he needs to do, and you know, good luck to him.

Q. Over the course of your career, how much value, if any, have you put on the World Rankings, being No. 1, being in the Top-10; did it mean anything at any point?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think it does. From an ego standpoint, it's quite nice to be recognized as obviously the world's best player. Obviously when you are Top-5, Top-10, Top-20, it's nice to look at. There's obviously incentives to be in Top-10s and Top-50s because you get invited to tournaments like these. You get into the majors and so forth.
Even some contracts that I know of, there's clauses like that in there, too. So it's become quite important and it's being talked about quite a lot more, especially with Tiger not being No. 1 now and it's quite a discussion. And the shuffle, it looks like it's close together. So it's quite exciting.
But yeah, I think through my career, yeah, I took it quite seriously and looked at it.

Q. I wanted to ask you about kind of the defining shot last year there Augusta was Phil hitting that shot out of the trees on 13 in the pine straw, if you were not watching it live, I'm sure you've seen it a million times now on Callaway commercials and whatnot. What did you think of his plan of attack there? I know it's obviously vintage Phil. Was that something you might have tried on your own?
ERNIE ELS: That's vintage Phil there. Quite a ballsy play.
I remember at Augusta -- it just shows you, when you have momentum at Augusta and you have positive vibes, good things happen. If I probably tried that shot, I would have hit it in the creek the way things have gone for me there.
It was a great shot by a great athlete. Just, you know, what it's all about. It's win or nothing. And he went for it and it worked out. I think not too many people could have played that shot. Probably only Phil to be honest. He's just kind of a magician, the best at times, and around there, he's just unbelievable.
Great shot and obviously great for the company. (Laughter). He got a lot of mileage out of that. It was a shot well worth waiting for.

Q. Going back to the No. 1 thing, you know what it's like to be No. 1, not many people do. What does it feel like to be sitting atop the rankings while you are competing?
ERNIE ELS: It's an unbelievable feeling; to look at the ranking and all the way to the top, there's no one ahead of you. It's a great feeling. I had it a long time ago and felt great. You walk out, and there's a certain appreciation that you have for it, and then obviously a certain respect from the players. They look at you a little differently and you feel differently and really on top of the world.
For Martin to have it at 26, it's a great feeling. Obviously Tiger had it since he's been, I don't know how old. But you know, it's really an unbelievable feeling. It's almost like winning a major. It's that kind of feeling.

Q. You mentioned the shuffling of the rankings now. Do you think we are past the point where one player, and I guess I'm speaking of Tiger, can sort of intimidate and overwhelm the TOUR anymore? Are those days past?
ERNIE ELS: I don't know, man. I played for ten years when that guy dominated, so it's tough to get a different mind-set on things. Tiger was the dominant player. He won 14 majors. Think about it, 14 majors, in such a short period of time. Who is ever going to do that again? Who knows? That is pretty dominating.
So for us, myself, Phil, Vijay, Davis, Fred Couples, guys like that to have played under a guy who was that good, we took a beating, not only from him, but from you guys, too. It's been a tough -- it was a tough ten, 12 years for us. So to see kind of the new world out there, you know, with these young players coming through, Martin No. 1, Lee Westwood was No. 1 for a while. Lee has been around for a while, too, but the youngsters, they have got something going for them. They didn't have to play under a guy that was so dominant and I don't think they will ever appreciate how good Tiger was back then. He could do it again, who knows. He's just got to sort out the new swing again. He's so mentally strong that he could well dominate again. But at that level, who knows, I don't know. It's kind of an unfair -- it would be unfair for me to really comment more on that.
It's nice to see that the 20-somethings are actually producing now. They have started winning majors now and they are winning tournaments. It's basically almost their time to shine now and for us to do what we can.

Q. You mentioned a few minutes ago that you don't need to hit that draw as much as you used to at Augusta, but yet two of the top four guys in the world right now it, both Martin and Graeme have talked about in the last weeks, that that drive is what's holding them back there. Is it harder maybe to hit even a little bit of a draw now with a driver than it was ten, 15 years ago with the equipment and the balls and the changes? Is that what is tripping them up now?
ERNIE ELS: Not really. I'll start from the end down.
I think equipment; the guys are so good in the trailers now. You can get a head bent the way you want it with the loft that you want and get the shape that you want, and even change golf balls to get the launch angles. So that's not a problem.
Graeme McDowell is a natural drawer of the ball, so I don't know why he wants to work more on a draw.
And Augusta, the holes that they have changed, you don't have to hit that coat hanger around 10, 13, 14, even 9. Those holes were lengthened by 30, 40, 50,60 yards. You know, you don't have to coat-hanger anymore. You just have to drop it left if you want to.
In Martin's case, on 10, doesn't even have to draw at all because the slope of the land let's it fall left in any case. Maybe a draw on 13 still, No. 9 still; No. 2 is so long, you just hit it to the top of the ridge. So drawing the ball is not that big of -- in my eyes, I'm just talking for myself, that big of a deal anymore. You almost need a high, soft fade on your second shots, which Martin has.
So maybe I should be his coach. (Laughter) World No. 1.

Q. I'm only reminded by the flags on the desk; have you made any head way toward November?
ERNIE ELS: Spoke to Commissioner Finchem last week, last Wednesday, and they are talking; meaning himself, George O'Grady and our South African Commissioner, Gareth Tindall, and it's basically in their hands and it's a bit of an issue to resolve. Hopefully they get it resolved. Somebody's going to have to kind of --

Q. Shuffle?
ERNIE ELS: Shuffle. Somebody is going to have to move a date or something.
The problem is, you know, The European Tour, they want to end their season at The Race to Dubai. The South African Tour, we used to start the next season in December. And now they have got all those tournaments that they need to move to before The Race to Dubai, and so they have run out of weeks.
Obviously Tim Finchem put his slot in there first, but you know, with all of these tournaments that they need to shuffle around, they were going to overlap some tournament over The Presidents Cup and it happened that the South African Open is the one. So it's a bit of a problem.

Q. Dunhill wouldn't make it any easier for you, would it?
ERNIE ELS: Exactly. Dunhill, I go a really long way back there, way back when I turned pro. That's another one. So it's quite an issue. And not just for me, for the other guys, too; Louis, Charl, Tim, Rory is back in the picture. It could be quite something. We'll see where they golf I think they are meeting at the Masters and I don't know if they will be able to resolve it by then. So we'll just wait and see.

Q. Did you at least go through your fitting, your Presidents Cup fitting?
ERNIE ELS: I did. I got my fitting done.

Q. Dimensions, please?
ERNIE ELS: Just nice -- not too tight, you know.
JOHN BUSH: Ernie we appreciate your time. Play well this week.

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