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NORTHERN TRUST OPEN


February 14, 2012


Ernie Els


PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA

CHRIS REIMER:¬† We want to welcome Ernie Els here to the interview room at the Northern Trust Open.¬† Ernie, making your eighth start in your career here, winner in 1999.¬† Before we get to some of the golf‑related questions, I know you have an announcement you wanted to make and some information you wanted to share on the Els for Autism work that you've been doing.¬† Let's start off with that announcement.
ERNIE ELS:  Thank you.  Thank you for coming, first of all.  We just wanted to announce to the golf challenge, the Els for Autism golf challenge again.  We had the inaugural one last year.  It's 30 events that we have around the country, and it's the biggest charity event, golf charity event, in the world.  Last year we had 9,000 donors.  We had 1,700 golfers and we raised just under $2 million.  As I say, we played 30 events around the country.
And this year we've got a great announcement to make, that one of our sponsors, SAP, has taken over the golf challenge, the Els for Autism golf challenge, as the title sponsor.  So they've come in all guns blazing this year, and I think we're going to have a wonderful time.  So they are our presenting sponsor.
Our existing sponsors we had last year, they're still in.  They are also involved with me, sponsoring me around the world, RBC, Callaway and my good friend from the Wine Spectator, Marvin Shanken.  You know Marvin very well.  So they're continuing as sponsors.
And then we've got a new sponsor.¬† We've got Trumpet Behavioral Health, and we've got a very special deal with what they do.¬† We've come up with an idea of‑‑ we have galleries around golf tournaments, people watching golf, but they can't participate.¬† And in a lot of cases we have people who would like to play but either cannot play the game or can't play because they're too busy, and we've come up with an idea of people in the gallery, where they can actually raise money online and they can still make it to the final two days of the challenge, which is in Vegas, the final event.
So people who raise the most money will still come to Vegas and come and party with us and do that, and play some golf.  So that's wonderful.
And then obviously Irish Links, they do golf travel to Ireland.  They've come in and like last year gave us great prizes, trips to Ireland.  The winners of the challenge in Vegas actually won a free trip to Ireland to go play some golf.  They're still involved.  So yeah, basically that's kind of where we are.
Do you want to add some more?  Mary Kay, she works for me, she's the engine room.
MARY KAY WILSON:  If anybody has any questions about the golf challenge at all or Els for Autism, I'm here and I'll be here for the rest of the week.  We just really appreciate in particular our sponsors but also all of the players coming out throughout the country.  The reaction through the autism community has been tremendous.  So thank you so much for writing about it because you don't have any idea how many people it's touched and how many people it continues to touch, so thank you.
CHRIS REIMER:  We'll have some information to pass out after the press conference concludes, as well.  Any information you need, Mary Kay will be available.
I'll throw out the first question.  Did you think the first year that it would touch this many people or be this successful?
ERNIE ELS:  Obviously we raised a lot of money, but it was really to get the awareness out and to have the first series of events and have the first year under our belt and to see how things developed, that was the real thing.  We need a bit of, what's the word, it's our first entry into that.  So that's a learning curve we went through, and I feel like we're much better prepared and ready for this year's golf challenge.  It's a wonderful way to raise money, and obviously the awareness is the big part.
I was struck when I got to the grand finale in Vegas last year, I mean, these people are most‑‑ well, most of the people, 90 percent of the people there that played in the challenge, those people's lives are affected by autism, and they brought their‑‑ a lot of them brought their kids to the event.¬† I met people, numerous families where the families got three kids and all three of them have autism at a level where they have to care for the kids.¬† They can't even go to a school or anything.¬† There were some really heart‑wrenching moments there.
We learned.  I think we give back to the autism community, and I think we feel like a big family when we get together there.  But I feel with SAP now as our title sponsor and our other sponsors that are involved, it's going to go a lot smoother.
And we play on great golf courses.¬† We've got some of the best golf courses to play.¬† We've got Baltusrol on the east coast‑‑ you can go through this list, some great golf courses.¬† Everything is kind of starting to fall into place with the sponsorship and so forth, and I think it's going to go from strength to strength.
I think we can at least‑‑ I don't want to get too carried away, but I think we can double what we did last year money wise.

Q.  Do you see your golf legacy in events like this, in things that your foundation runs, as well as your resumé on the course?
ERNIE ELS:  Well, you know, yeah, who knows.  I don't know what my legacy is going to be to be honest.  I started out in life, I wanted to be the best player in the world and win as many tournaments as I could.  I got married and had a family, and your kind of direction goes a little different way.  I'm still a professional golfer and I still want to win golf tournaments this year and in the future, but this is very close to our heart, and we feel it's very important to take this thing basically by the horns and drive it and see where we go.
Who knows what the legacy is going to be.  I don't know.  Maybe I'm when I'm dead and buried you can talk about that.  But I think this is important now.  We've got great people working with us, and I feel it's something I have to do.

Q.  As you said, it's close to your heart, Ben obviously affected by autism.  Are you still stopped by a lot of fans at PGA TOUR events and European Tour events where you play who come up and talk to you about autism?
ERNIE ELS:  Yeah, all the time, week to week.  Every week there's somebody that comes up.  You know, we also run a junior foundation back home and get a lot of questions, especially when I'm in South Africa, for people to try to get their kids into that.  But when it comes to autism, every week, every day there is a new person that comes up and tells a story or whatever.  And I learn as much as they learn from speaking to one another.  So yeah, it's nonstop.
Obviously there's going to be some concern going forward, what the government is going to do, governments around the world is going to do, how they're going to basically treat kids.  Some of the kids, if you're highly functioning, you're not going to get the benefits anymore, and that's going to be a big concern going forward because there's a lot of money at stake and a lot of people's lives are going to be turned upside down if their kids are not on the autism spectrum but they can't go to a normal school.  What do you do?  So there's going to be some hassles coming.

Q.  Where do you stand on your goals in this regard, in terms of the money raised, what it goes to, research, direct aid to families, the facility you want to build?  Where do you stand in all those?
ERNIE ELS:  Well, what's the number now?  What are we on now?
MARY KAY WILSON:¬† The project is a $30 million building project, and we have a little ways‑‑
ERNIE ELS:  I think with the money I'm putting in, I think we're probably past the $8, $9 million.
MARY KAY WILSON:  It's $9 million so far.
ERNIE ELS:  So we've got a little ways to go.  But the center that we're going to build is going to cover everything.  It's going to cover research, it's going to cover treating these kids and also schooling and giving them jobs at the end of the day, the real serious cases where they cannot get into normal society.  They need to do something.  And there are kids that are 30, 35 years old, and they can't get into normal society, so you need to create something for them.  So we're going to cover the whole bit, from research to reaching out to everything.
And I guess with this money we're going to raise this year, I think‑‑ and in future years, I think in the next two, three years we can start building the center.¬† That's the goal.
CHRIS REIMER:  Ernie, maybe just some comments on returning here to Riviera and playing this week.
ERNIE ELS:¬† Well, it's always a great event to come to.¬† It's a wonderful golf course.¬† They've got it in great shape now.¬† The last couple years it's gone unbelievable, the way they've got the course around.¬† It's just a classic course.¬† I mean, you feel like when the weather is good you should shoot a really low number.¬† But it's in such a‑‑ designed in such a way where it grabs you, gets you at some point.
I'm just looking forward to trying to shoot four rounds under 70, and if I can do that, I'll be really happy.  You know, it's just wonderful to be here.  It reminds me a lot of South Africa where I grew up, with the vegetation and even the design of the course.  I always love playing here.

Q.  I wanted to quickly ask you a question about the U.S. Open coming up at Olympic Club.  Have you played that much since '98, and have you played the redesign?
ERNIE ELS:¬† I have not.¬† I'm sorry.¬† I played it back‑‑ last time I played was in '98.¬† I think I played four rounds.¬† I didn't have a great tournament, but I played there, and obviously I played the TOUR Championship I think back in '94, '95 I think we played there.¬† So it goes back a little ways.¬† So I'm going to have to do my homework when I get there.¬† I haven't played it.

Q.  And it has gone through a fairly significant redesign.  As a designer yourself, how do you go into a redesign yourself, if you have done, with your design firm?
ERNIE ELS:¬† Well, we redesigned Wentworth, which has been well publicized, especially the 18th hole, and I think the main thing you have to keep in mind is really the style of design that the original designer did the course.¬† There's a certain style of bunkering, there's a certain playability that he had in mind, and I think you have to honor that.¬† You don't want to‑‑ you shouldn't change that.¬† Green designs you can‑‑ if it's a bit severe because we play different speeds now.¬† Maybe back in the day the speeds were a little bit slower so those designs were good for them, maybe change that a little bit if you need to.¬† But the look of bunkering and the playability, I don't think you should mess with that.
Today obviously we're playing a different ball, different club.¬† I mean, there's an expert there, Buddy Marucci, did Merion for the U.S. Open in 2013, and I think he did a wonderful job.¬† It's just placing the bunkers and not really changing the‑‑ as I say, the shot values that the guy had in mind back in 1920, whenever they built it.¬† Like the 18th hole at Merion, now we're going to be driving it close to Hogan's plaque where he hit 1‑iron.¬† It's a 4‑iron for us.¬† I played it in an SAP day four, five years ago.¬† We played it from the back tee, and I hit it close to Hogan's deal there, and I hit 4‑iron on.¬† That shows you how different the clubs are from today to yesteryear.
I think you've got to keep that in mind and bring the old glory of the golf course back.

Q.  You're in the field for the Match Play next week.  Just wondered if you had a chance to thank Phil yet for not playing.
ERNIE ELS:  Yeah, I know there were days when I didn't even go there.  It shows you how times have changed.  Now I'm very grateful to be in the field.  I'll be playing next week, and I've got to play myself into Doral and I've got to play myself into the Masters.  That's a nice break coming my way.
Yeah, so I'll buy Phil a steak dinner this week at some point, maybe send him a good bottle of bordeaux or something.

Q.  You talked during the Fall Series about being on the outside looking in and how you kind of relished the challenge of staying alive in the Playoffs.  Along those lines, what kind of motivation is it not being in Augusta right now, and in the next few weeks how will that be to get there?
ERNIE ELS:¬† Yeah, it's a motivation, I mean, obviously.¬† But the big picture is if I can do what I‑‑ my goal this year is to really get back and play proper golf and maybe get back to that short putter.¬† I spoke to you earlier, and I think I'm close to getting back to that and playing the way I can play.¬† That's what I want to do.¬† And I think if I do that, I think the rest will take care of itself.
But obviously the Masters is right around the corner.  I've never really been in that position where I had to try and qualify for it because I've been fortunate enough to basically glide through and get in there.  So I've got to do some work, and I think it's good for me.  It will keep me focused, believe me, get me trying.  And I think that that's a good thing.  I'm going to play quite a few tournaments now running up to Augusta, so I'll give myself a good chance of getting in.

Q.  You mentioned the short putter.  The USGA has said they're taking a fresh look at the belly putter, long putter, anchoring.  Do you welcome that?  What do you think about that?
ERNIE ELS:  Yeah, I think so.  Although I've used it, I've used it for, what, six months now, I feel the same as most of the traditionalists.  I feel that no club should be anchored to your body.  I don't know how they're going to go around it, maybe use a putter as long as you want as long as it's not anchored to your body any way, even up your arm.  You see a lot of the guys use it in their armpits now.
Nothing should be anchored to your body, and I believe‑‑ I still believe that.¬† I was in such a state that I felt that I needed to change something, which I did.¬† I went to the belly.¬† It hasn't really helped me that much, but it has helped me.¬† But I'm for it.¬† Ban it.¬† It's fine.

Q.  Back on the architecture angle, what is it about the features of this course or what stands out that has allowed it to stand the test of time and be so popular among today's TOUR players?
ERNIE ELS:¬† You know, I've had my‑‑ Greg Letsche works with us, is our chief designer.¬† I've had him out here many times.¬† I love the bunkering.¬† I think it's phenomenal.¬† I love the angles they have with their greens, the way the course flows.¬† You've got to draw a lot of shots, fade a lot of shots.¬† I like the fact that there's not too much elevation change other than the 1st and 18th.¬† And it's in front of you.¬† You know, I don't think there's too many blind shots out there, maybe only 18.
But the greens are fairly small, so you've got to be accurate with your iron shots, and as I say, if you miss a shot, you're going to be penalized with the bunkers there.  And I love the design of the bunkers.  I like those high faces and the grass face that comes around.  It's spectacular stuff.
You know, it has an effect on you when you see it.  I love the 10th hole.  It's a great hole.  You can go for it.  But if you miss it in the wrong spot, you know you're dead.  You can lay it up and probably have a better chance of making birdie that way.  It gives you all kinds of options, and I think that's great sign of a golf course.

Q.  I know you're working on your game last week.  I don't know how much you saw Pebble Beach on Sunday, but as well as Phil played, how surprised were you by Tiger's final round there?
ERNIE ELS:¬† Well, Pebble is that way.¬† In the U.S. Open the second hole is a par‑4, so the second hole at Pebble Beach is a par‑5, so you feel like you need to get off to a start.¬† The first hole is also a short par‑4, so that's a birdieable hole, second hole is birdieable, third, fourth, fifth and sixth and even the seventh if the wind doesn't blow.¬† So you've got the first seven holes, if you can get it to 3‑, 4‑under par, away you go.¬† And Phil got that start and Tiger didn't.
And then you start pushing, No.8, 9, 10, if you try and push there you're going to make mistakes, and that's kind of what Tiger did.  And Phil had the start.
It was kind of guys playing two different rounds, one guy getting off to a great start and riding the momentum, the other guy trying to get back in the game.  And that's golf.  It happens.  Tiger has had the momentum going his way many times.  This time he got off to a slow start, and you can't read anything more into that.
I thought Tiger looked good.¬† I watched quite a few holes, and it's just‑‑ that's just the start.¬† The start was great on the one player, and the other player had a slow start.¬† That's that.
CHRIS REIMER:  Thank you, Ernie, and best of luck on and off the course.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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