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May 22, 2012
VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND
MICHAEL GIBBONS:Â Always a pleasure to welcome you back to Wentworth.Â Before we talk golf, we should talk golf course.Â A few more changes, talk us through them.
ERNIE ELS:Â Thanks.Â Obviously No. 12 is a par 5 this year.Â We tried it as a 4 last year, and obviously a lot of the players didn't like that too much.Â We tried to shorten it so that the guys would go in with no more than a 7‑iron, but conditions were such that eventually, we put the tee off almost the ladies tees to get the guys hitting 7‑, 8‑irons in there, and still a lot of complaints.
Went back to a par 5 this year.Â The green was designed for a par 5.Â It's quite a severe green.Â And then we changed No. 15.Â There's a big bank just before you reach the green over a bunker which we don't like.Â Felt it was unfair.Â There's a long iron shot that you come in with there, and you need a bit more flatter area where the ball can actually pitch and stay on the putting surface.Â So I think that's much better.
On 17, you know, the new green there's quite a bit of fall‑off on the right, and we felt, we'll put a fringe in there on the right side so it slows the ball down so it doesn't go all the way down and could maybe go through the road there.
So it's staying on the bank now, and yeah, I think that could be a better one.
What else have we done?Â 18, excuse me.Â 18, the bunker on the right, took that away in the fairway so guys can get the ball down there.Â We actually lifted the fairway before you get down to that little water area there.Â So I think guys can really drive the ball down the right side and come in with almost a middle iron into that 18th hole now.
So it's going to play very‑‑ a lot easier and that tree on the right there is taken away.Â That tree died, so we took the tree away.Â So there's a lot more room for you to shape the ball right‑to‑left into the green.Â So that's going to play very much almost like a long par 4 now.
So I think the guys will have a lot better scoring opportunities.Â I think the scoring is going to be better.Â It's a par 72.Â I think 6‑under won last year, I believe‑‑ I think double figures at least.Â I think we'll have good weather.Â I think 14, 16‑under is going to be the winning score again.Â Hopefully we'll have more smiling faces from the players this year.
Q.Â Earlier Chris Kennedy was telling us that they put several 100,000 tons of material‑‑
ERNIE ELS:Â We had to lift the fairway quite a bit as you know.Â That fairway sloped away quite a lot.Â So, yeah, lifting it up, and now you're almost looking down at the green from that area.
So you never know, we might make it a par 4 next year, it's going to be so easy (chuckling).
Q.Â It really brings the risk and reward back to reward now, doesn't it?
ERNIE ELS:Â Yeah, I think so.Â I mean, made a couple of changes.Â Obviously we were not happy with the green the way it was.Â We changed that last year, and obviously there was no fringe around that green, either, last year.Â Spinning it into the water, that wasn't the plan, either.Â Hopefully they have got that fringe around the green this year.
But yeah, I think it's going to be a great finishing hole again.Â There's water, there's water features, and so there's risk and reward, as you say, if you hit a proper shot in there, if you want to go for.Â It, and it's an exciting finish.Â You can make an eagle there now.
You can make a 6 there now.Â You can bail‑out and make a five out of the bunkers or up‑and‑down it out of the bunkers for birdie.Â So I think it's a great finishing hole now again.
Q.Â I remember you being very angry about the complaining last year, but that was more to do with the fact it was being aired through us, wasn't it?
ERNIE ELS:Â Well, I think the first year.Â Last year was a little better.Â (Laughter) I think the third time will be fine this year.
Look, you make changes on a great golf course like the West Course, you know, people are going to not like it.Â And you know, that's part of what we do as designers.Â You do something that you feel fits your eye and hopefully it fits most of the other golfers' eyes but it's not going to, you'll have people that are not going to like it (shrugging shoulders).Â But I think we have passed that bridge.
I think guys even last year started coming to me rather than you guys, and I know you guys need to do your job, so this is great for you guys.Â I think last year was a lot better.Â The first year was the year which I didn't really enjoy it too much.
Q.Â In that moment where Lee did spin the ball off the green, as a designer, did you look at that and think, ah, got that wrong, or is it just a case that he got it wrong himself as a player?
ERNIE ELS:Â I think he knew he needed to drive at the flag.Â The green does slope towards the water.Â He did pitch it left of the flag.Â But as I said, there was no fringe.Â There was no collar, as we call it.Â I think the collar died away.Â There was good weather I think over the weekend last year and that collar disappeared.Â I always felt that something could happen, and unfortunately that happened with Lee.Â Hopefully there's a thicker fringe around the green this year, so that kind of shot won't happen again.Â Because he didn't hit that bad of a shot.Â He hit it left of the hole but the penalty was quite severe.
Q.Â The first year, did you say to the complainers, do you mind saying something to my face rather than behind my back, or not?
ERNIE ELS:Â I think I did.Â I think I did.
Q.Â Would you like to elaborate?
ERNIE ELS:Â No, not really.Â It's past, history, and we have matched things up with all the players.Â You know, you don't want to have something like that happen.Â Criticism is always tough to take, but if it's granted in the right way, I'm fine with it.Â But the way it was put forward the first year was a little childish.
Q.Â I think that Monty had the same in Bahrain.
ERNIE ELS:Â Did he?Â Okay.Â Well, as I say, you're not going to please everybody, but I don't believe that everybody should criticise just because there's changes.
Q.Â Is there one golf course that you have not designed, somebody else has designed, and you have liked all 18 holes and all of the features out there on the golf course?
ERNIE ELS:Â No.Â As a golfer, no.Â (Laughing) I'd love to say yes.
I mean, there are some‑‑ I mean, Muirfield comes to mind.Â It's just an unbelievable links; the Old Course, and there's been changes to the Old Course.Â But some of them I like and some of them I don't like.
But you know, that's just the way we are, you know, we like to criticise as players, because it's our job and we take it quite seriously.Â And if a hole doesn't fit your eye, you know, it's tough to play it sometimes.Â So I can see where they are coming from.Â But to your point, I've played many, many courses‑‑ next week at Jack Nicklaus's golf course at the Memorial, he's made changes through the years, and some of them I've loved and some of them I don't like.Â And that's just the way it's.Â You know, but it doesn't mean that I have to, you know, get very involved.Â It is what it is, and get on with it.
Q.Â On a personal note, can you explain why you've managed to win six World Match Plays‑‑
ERNIE ELS:Â Seven.
Q.Â You've won seven World Match Plays around here but have not managed to win the BMW PGA.Â Is there a reason for that?
ERNIE ELS:Â It's the time of the year.Â Not quite there yet at this time of the year.
It seems like it's going to be nice this week.Â The weather seems beautiful, and the crowds are wonderful.Â It's also the format.Â Obviously in match play, 36‑hole match play, I was always‑‑ I felt comfortable.Â Even if I got out of bed a little bit slow, I felt like I had all day to try and get my guy.Â So I think the format really helped me.
In stroke play, it's a different animal.Â You're protecting your score sometimes, and you know, sometimes you're aggressive and sometimes you're not.Â So managed to, you know, just go for it in match play and in stroke play, I haven't really gotten all of the pieces together.
I have a bit of time left to win this thing, so hopefully this year.
Q.Â In Spain last week we were hearing stories of the condition of the West Course.Â Have you had a chance to‑‑
ERNIE ELS:Â I actually arrived yesterday.Â Been speaking to Julian and Chris Kennedy the last couple of weeks, and obviously the weather has been a little wet here in April.
I actually putted some balls yesterday on the 16th green and 15th green last night, and there seems to be a little bit of poa coming back into the greens, so they are going to have to watch that.
But they seem to roll quite nicely.Â Obviously as I said, this is quite early in the year, so the growth looked a bit thin on 16.Â But I think Chris Kennedy will manage it.Â I mean, we've got a big field the first few days.Â The weather is going to be nice, so it should hold up nicely.
Q.Â Do you do any practise on your mental game or‑‑
ERNIE ELS:Â Mental game.
Q.Â Do you ever do any specific practise or focusing?
ERNIE ELS:Â Yeah, I've done that the last couple of years.Â Obviously I worked with Jos.Â But I've been working on my putting with Sheryl Calder.Â She did quite a lot of good stuff in the rugby circles and we are on a programme, so to speak for the last four or months now, so it's coming around a little bit.
Q.Â Have you had any discussions with Julian and the Club about the changes to the course‑‑ have you sort of said to them that for a while you're not going to touch it or is it going to need further tweaking?
ERNIE ELS:Â Well, I think we are just about there now.Â Obviously Mr.Caring, when we designed, re‑designed the course, Mr.Caring came in and he had some7 ideas, also.Â So you know, I think after the changes we have made now, you know, like on 15 and so forth, I think we are just about there.
I think we have looked at the scoring.Â I think Mr.Caring really wanted to have scoring go more like a major, and I think you had that last year.Â I think 6‑under won, am I right?Â 6‑under was the playoff.
I think that was a big focus that he wanted to have.Â He wanted a real tough test, and we wanted that, too.Â I think trying to do that, I think we might have pushed the envelope a little bit here and there; like playing No. 12 as a par 4, where in past history, 12 is a hole that you score so you can get ready for the back nine.Â And last year was really a lot differently played.Â So the guys felt that they didn't have that birdie opportunity, and I think it put a lot of players under pressure.
I think this year is going to be different.Â The 15th, as I say, we weren't quite happy with that, but I think we are just about there now.Â I think the course, we'll look at it this year again, and maybe Mr.Caring wants it as a par 4 again at 12 for the next one.Â Because I really think the scoring is going to be better this year.
Q.Â Have you got many courses on the plate at the moment?
ERNIE ELS:Â Not really.Â We have got three going in Asia.Â We have got in Langkawi in Malaysia, the north part of Malaysia, we have an 18‑hole golf course going there.Â And then we have two going down south near the Singapore border, and obviously we are looking around Vietnam and India, all of the usual suspects and so forth.Â But it's been quite tough.
Q.Â Just on 12, as a player, what do you prefer, a par 4 or a par 5?
ERNIE ELS:Â 12?Â We designed the green originally for the par5.Â We lengthened the tee a little bit.Â So I think it's playing at like 540 now, which is relatively short in today's standards.Â But we did put those two bunkers in the right on the fairway, and then the green was cramped a little bit.Â We made it smaller and we bunkered it quite severely.Â So for a long shot, as a par 5, it's a demanding shot.Â But still, you know, it's short enough where it's a short enough par 5.
As a 4, you know, I always felt, you know, we needed to get it where the guys are coming in with 8‑irons and 9‑irons, because that's the kind of green the ball is going to hold.Â So I like it better as a 5, personally.
Q.Â How is your game, your personal game?
ERNIE ELS:Â It's all right.Â Last week was fine.Â Sunday I had a big number on the 14th hole.Â I had a ruling, I hit it in the hazard and I played a ball I thought you couldn't play a wrong ball out of a hazard but they changed the rule on us.Â So I played the wrong ball.Â I had to go back.Â I made 7.
Other than, that I played nicely.Â So my game is quite nice.Â I'm looking forward to this week obviously and next week at Memorial and then the U.S. Open.Â And the things, like I said I've been working on, like my putting, is really coming around.Â I think I'm just about ready to try and win a decent tournament for a while again.
Q.Â And is this like coming home?
ERNIE ELS:Â Yeah.Â We're at the house here.Â My kids aren't here.Â Samantha's birthday is on Saturday, but she's in America.Â Couldn't get out of school.Â Ben is back there.Â Liezl is here and she's going back on Thursday.Â Yeah, we are in the house, and very nice, really nice.
Q.Â So party at your place, is it?Â Saturday?
ERNIE ELS:Â Sunday.Â (Laughter) if we win, you're all invited, seriously.Â (Laughing).
Q.Â Was it hard not being at Augusta?
ERNIE ELS:Â Yeah, it was.Â I watched a lot of the golf, especially when Lee got in contention.Â But you know, so many years I've been going there.Â I was therefore, what, 17, 18 years, and didn't quite win it.Â If you don't win it in 17 or 18 attempts, chances are slim.Â So, it was fine.Â I was home.Â I watched it, they had a great tournament and hopefully next year I'll be back (missed it).
Q.Â Are you surprised at how much support you're getting for Augusta to give you an invitation?
ERNIE ELS:Â Yeah, that whole month, I had quite a few chances of winning tournaments, and I blew quite a few there.Â So I had my chances to get in.
But you know, it was a little overblown, because obviously I want to win a tournament, but it wasn't just to get into Augusta.Â It was really to get my game and my confidence back.Â But it was really nice to have the support from the media and people trying to get me in there.
Q.Â Can you speak about the three venues that are being played now, The Open, U.S. Open and Kiawah Island?
ERNIE ELS:Â Yeah, Olympic, I hear they have made a lot of changes to that course.Â And going to have to check it out.Â I haven't been there since 1998.Â Didn't play particularly very well there.Â I remember I played THE TOUR Championship there, I think in '94, I played it quite well.
So it's quite a tricky course.Â It's built on the side of a hill and a lot of the doglegs go up the hill, which is kind of lopsided, so you've got to get used to that.Â Tough to keep the ball in play off the tees and greens are very small, so it's very tough to shoot par there.Â And they have made the first hole a par 4 now, which is a difficult change.
But Lytham also is a great course.Â I've had some good finishes there and looking really forward to going there.
And then Kiawah Island should be interesting.Â It's going to be a tough one.Â Depending how they play it.Â If they play it with the back tees, it's going to be brutal.Â But it should be interesting (laughter).
MICHAEL GIBBONS:Â I think we'll end on that note.Â Thank you, Ernie.
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