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June 20, 1994

Ernie Els


LES UNGER: How does it feel?

ERNIE ELS: Great. Unbelievable. The dream come true for me. I just wish my parents were here, man. I don't know what my dad would have done. I am still waiting for Sam, my manager, and Mo, one of my best friends, he said last night that they would run naked on the 18th green. What happened, boys? It is just unbelievable. We never-- I mean never really played well. We got off to a terrible start and I just tried to hang in there. I said to Colin a couple of times today, you know, we are not playing very well and I guess it was just good enough.

LES UNGER: After the second hole, did you have a frustrated feeling; wish you could go back and start again?

ERNIE ELS: Yes. Just like that. You know, after I hit that chip shot from the third tee right across the green as I was walking down there I said to Ricky, my caddie, I said, "why in the hell did I make that putt at 18 yesterday to get into this thing?" I just wanted to get out of there. But then I tried to compose myself and I hit a couple of good shots on the third and I hit a long putt in on the third hole that kind of got me back a little bit.

LES UNGER: Us entertain questions, here.

Q. Ernie, I am willing to wager that after this victory many people will try to put the label on you as the next great player. How do you propose to handle that?

ERNIE ELS: Just you know, I have always wanted to win a major. I have always wanted to win any of the four Majors and it has kind of come pretty early for me hopefully, I will be ready for it. I will have to take sometime off and really think about it all, but I just -- I don't think it is going to change me as a person. If people want to label me as the next whatever player, good for them. I want to do it my way; people got to be a little patient with me, I guess. I am going to play a lot of tournaments. I want to play well in the tournaments that I play in. And people are going to maybe expect me to win every week, but it is not going to happen. I have played well this week. I have won this week. It was a major, okay, but we have got a long road ahead of us.

Q. The conventional wisdom is that U.S. Open's are won by the straightest hitters and steadiest players, I guess. How would you respond to that now?

LES UNGER: I have a feeling he knew the question.

ERNIE ELS: No, I don't know, you know, I played pretty well for the 3 rounds, first 3 rounds I played wonderful golf. I hit the ball straight. I hit it onto the greens. I gave myself so many opportunities for birdies; then the fourth round I kind of lost it a little bit, I guess. I didn't hit the ball very well yesterday. It was a different golf course. As I said yesterday, it was hard and fast. Today, I got off to that horrific start. I never really felt comfortable, but we just got very deep today and we brought it out. Whenever I had a putt to make I made that putt. I chipped and putted really well. I knew it wasn't-- nobody was going to make a lot of birdies today. I think it was a tough day for all three of us. And I made a lot of good putts for pars.

Q. Ernie, the victory gives you the 10 year exemption on PGA Tour I guess if you wanted. Will you consider staying in America and being a regular here or will you travel back and forth?

ERNIE ELS: I think I will play a lot more tournaments the next year. Hopefully I will play 15 tournaments. But I will always play around the world, I think. For the time being, I am still pretty young and I can travel around, but I will play Europe, I will play America, I will play more in America; play Japan, I will play all over the place. But I will play-- I think I will keep my card in America, I will play a lot more, yeah.

Q. Just a follow up on that question, will you change your schedule at all for the rest of this year to play more than you have in this country?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I have got -- we got our commitments in Europe, you know, obviously won the U.S. Open now, but I would like to keep everything the same still, I'd like to play in the tournaments where I have committed myself to play in Europe. I am going to play those tournaments in Europe leading up to the British Open and after, so I have got a couple of tournaments left over there, but we will see how it goes the end of the year. I might play a couple more, yeah, we will see.

Q. Ernie, at any point did you think this was almost a hopeless case today; that you were just playing --

ERNIE ELS: I thought maybe after the second hole, I thought, "man, what are you doing out there." You know, but after that, after I made birdie on number 3, you know, I got myself a little more back on track; especially after Loren made a double on number 5; we weren't playing well, but I was back in the game and you know, after nine holes we were right there, but I think after the second hole, yes, I was-- I didn't know where I was going.

Q. What is your caddie's name Ernie and what part did he play in your win?

ERNIE ELS: My caddie's real name is Richard Roberts, I call him Ricky. He was kind of aggressive with me out there today. He always is. But I think he really kept me on track; kept my mind focused. We made a couple of bad decisions on 12, but you are going to make bad decisions, but Ricky really, it was a great help for me, you know, coming up the 18th, you know, we really-- whole time he just tell me, just hang in there, get in there and that is exactly what we did and you know, we pulled it off, man, and Ricky great we are going to celebrate.

Q. Can you talk about the putts at 17 and 18 having to make them on top of having to watch Roberts do it?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, even if Loren missed his putts, I still-- I knew had to make those putts. I missed a couple yesterday, but I made a couple of putts leading up to 16 and 17 already, so I was at least my swing wasn't in the right rhythm but my putting stroke was. I was feeling pretty confident with my putts. The greens were running beautifully today. Even if Loren didn't make those putts, I am sure I would have made them because I was very focused at that point.

Q. Did it shake you for a moment when you got to the 18th fairway and found the ball at the edge of that divot hole?

ERNIE ELS: My drive?

Q. Yes.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, I walked up a little closer to see if it was in the divot. It was this far away from it. I thought, well, this must be my day.

Q. Could you just say what you hit there on the second playoff hole and what statement, if any, does this make about foreign golfers?

ERNIE ELS: Off the tee on the 11th second playoff I hit a 2-iron off the tee and 9-iron for my second shot.

Q. How far?

ERNIE ELS: It was 150 yards away from the hole.

Q. Ernie, second South African to win the U.S. Open. What, if any, relationship do you have with Gary Player] And how will this win play in your country?

ERNIE ELS: Well, Gary actually sent me a little note this morning, it was hanging in my locker, and you know, just wished me all the best and that is great to follow in his foot steps, at least in this tournament. I think he has won this maybe once or twice, I don't know how many times, but it is really nice to be the next South African to win this great major championship. It keeps our country on the map and we got a lot of talent back home and you are going to see some more good players coming through, I am sure of that.

Q. How did the two saving putts on the back 9 help you in terms of keep you in the match?

ERNIE ELS: Which ones?

Q. The 13 and 14th.

ERNIE ELS: 13, that was a big putt, I think that was the biggest putt today, you know, after 12 we made that bogey on 12; I was a little down on myself and I hit terrible tee shot there and after I made that putt, I kept us in there and then 15.

Q. How far was it?

ERNIE ELS: The one on 13 must have been 18 feet. One on 15 must have been about 10 feet. I knocked the first putt way past but I knew coming down the stretch, we were all kind of tense out there and I just had to make those pars and you know, when I had the opportunity for birdie I made the birdie, so I will just hung in there.

Q. Could you talk about the play of your two partners?

ERNIE ELS: I played with Colin a couple of times. Colin obviously didn't have a very good day today. I am sure he is going to win a major soon. He is a great player. He won Volvo, and a European tournament last year. He is top 10 in the rankings. People in America don't really know him that well. He is a good player. Roberts, he is having his best year of his career this year. Great person, really was very nice to play with both of them. I think Loren played, could I say, the steadiest golf of the three of us today. He hit a couple of greens and he kept it in play all the time. Myself and Colin were scrambling around the place, but I am sure Roberts is also going to win a big tournament a major soon.

Q. On the last hole 15 feet going into 2-putt to par, can you talk about what went through your mind when the first putt went by 3 feet and when it went in the hole?

ERNIE ELS: First of all, the first putt I had-- I left it in a pretty good spot to get my second shot in. Believe me, I tried to leave that putt short. I don't know how that, you know, just went passed the hole; must have hit it too hard. I mean, I was pretty nervous at that stage. One coming back, I didn't take too much time out of it. I was just going to get up there and knock it in the hole and get it over and done with. That is exactly what I did.

Q. Ernie, your father is low handicap player. Did he introduce you to golf and can you give us an idea of what it was like when you were 6, 8, ten years old and learning the game back home?

ERNIE ELS: My dad used to be a low handicap golfer; not anymore. He is about a 9 now. He started us-- my-- I have got an older brother. He started us playing golf when we were young. I was back home. I was pulling his golf bag around when I was younger. I was never really any good until I was about 13 when I won a pretty nice tournament as a junior; came over to this country to San Diego, won the junior world, the 13 and 14 age group and that got me on the road, you know, I was a pretty good tennis player, but I through that out of my -- I didn't play anymore tennis after that not serious tennis anymore, and concentrated on golf.

Q. I know it may be painful but can you go number 2, the seven shots?

ERNIE ELS: First of all, I went with a 4-iron off the tee; get it into play. I kind of missed it a little bit, just in the semi-rough. The ball was lying pretty nice. Hit it about 130 yards to the hole. Also I had to hit it with a wedge -- hit a wedge pretty solid to get. . I thought I'd get it up high and the ball just took off. It just flew. It went straight over the green; hard bounce into that bush or whatever that was, and I was dead. I played a little drop; I tried just to knock it on a 2-putt. I hit way too hard; went down the green and took three more from there. Never hit a good shot on that hole.

LES UNGER: Was that ball close to being lost or was it found quickly?

ERNIE ELS: Well there, was a Marshall standing there, so he saw the ball go into the bush and we found it there.

Q. Do you plan on playing in your home country that much anymore? What commitments do you keep in your home country?

ERNIE ELS: I will play South African Open. I'd like to play in South Africa, but not much anymore. I have only played four times -- five times I lost there and I think it is-- I might play one or two this year, so I'd like to play there, but the timing is always kind of wrong. We start the season overseas pretty early in these days, so the timing is not really right.

Q. Was this broadcast live back to South Africa; were people able to watch it?

ERNIE ELS: I don't know. I guess maybe it is a delayed transmission, maybe. What time-- we played at ten o'clock, that is 4, what, that is 6 hours yeah, maybe, I don't know. We will phone back home just now.

Q. Ernie, yesterday you pulled a lot of tee shots especially with your woods. Now, this morning, do you work that out on the tee and what was your feeling when you got on the first tee and, boom, hit it right there on the left again?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I worked on it this morning. I got the shoulder back. I hit my drive left and right. I kind of got driving practice too -- I guess every time I got quick at the ball, trying to hit it, it goes left, and I never gave myself time on my swing on the first tee and I hit it way left again, and you know, kind of got me angry at the first tee but it was a long way to go. I never hit my driver well the last two days, so I will have to work on that, I guess.

Q. When was the first time you actually started thinking about winning a major championship? Did you -- where were you when you started thinking about that kind of stuff?

ERNIE ELS: I think two years ago when I played with John Cook and I lost when John missed that short putt on 17, and we were in the second last group together. I hit a 74. I kind of got the feeling, you know, of playing the last day, you know, all the people were there and all the pressure and that kind of stuff, so I actually kind of enjoyed it that day. I learned a lot from that day, and you know, I kind of got the feeling then.

Q. Just a follow up. Did you play in South Africa this year, 94?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I played three tournaments in South Africa this year.

Q. Ernie, how big was Roberts' misput at 16, do you think?

ERNIE ELS: His putt on 16, how long was it?

Q. No, what was your thought, how big was it when he missed it?

ERNIE ELS: You know, as I said, I was going to make either two or three. I wanted to put my score on the board first. I think I was-- was I one shot behind then? I think I was one shot behind. That was a big swing there, I think I knew I could birdie the 17th, that would kind of get tight then, pretty tight at 16.

Q. Roberts is one of the better putters going in. What were your thoughts when you saw that putt on number 11 almost going in. If that had gone in it might have changed things, what were you thinking?

ERNIE ELS: Might have changed things. Maybe I would have tried to make it. I mean he hit an unbelievable putt. I mean, I thought it was going -- I was standing to the left of him and I was watching-- the ball got up there and I thought, whoa, this might go in, and it hit the hole, and kind of changed into my favor, I mean, I wouldn't think he would 3-putt from there; tried to 2-putt. If it went in, maybe I would have made mine, you never know.

Q. After what happened yesterday at 17, did you ever consider not hitting the driver there today,?

ERNIE ELS: Well, from last Monday from my first practice round I always went with the driver. I think one practice round that I hit an iron off the tee to see where it goes. But, no, I was always going for the green; thought that I could reach that green in one shot. The pin was back again, back left which made it easy for me, missed the green left, I could always chip it up close to the hole, maybe and make the putt. Yeah, I was aiming or the green there.

Q. Now, you reached a major goal today with your victory. Do you have any other general goals for your year whenever you think about it?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'd like to you know, obviously people are going to look up and say, you must win a lot of tournaments now, but this is the biggest tournament of my whole life. I'd like to enjoy it. I'd like to enjoy playing the game. I have got a long road ahead of me. I just want to go out there enjoy my game, whatever happens, happens, and if I get the opportunity to win a major again that will be great. I am sure those opportunities will be there in the future.

Q. When did you look at the leader board coming down the stretch today?

ERNIE ELS: I didn't have to look at the leader board. Come on.

LES UNGER: We got last one or not.

Q. On the 18th tee did you ever consider not hitting a driver?

ERNIE ELS: After pretty good driver on 17, no, I was going with the driver down 18. I could take the bunker out of play left and I was just going to smash it as hard as I could down 18. That is when I hit it the best, I think.

Q. Ernie, do you think your victory might open some eyes of some other foreign players; show them you don't have to be necessarily be straight down the fairway and can play in the U.S. Open conditions?

ERNIE ELS: Definitely. I think that this has opened the door for a lot of guys, to show them that the foreign guys can do it over here. In a way, I must have been very fortunate to have won this tournament the way I have hit it the last two days. But definitely it is, I think you have to watch Mr. Montgomerie in the future. I think he is going to get pretty close.

LES UNGER: Anything you want to say in closing?

ERNIE ELS: I want to thank you guys for being pretty patient with us this week. Don't write too much nasty stuff tomorrow about our game today. I know we didn't play that well. Thank you guys; hopefully we will see you pretty soon again.


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