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June 15, 1997
LES UNGER: Trick question. Did you ever hear of Alex Smith?
ERNIE ELS: Alex Smith? It's probably a trick question.
LES UNGER: Well, in 1906 and 1910, he won the Open, and he's
the only other foreigner to win two U.S. Opens.
Q. Most recent foreigner. Not the only, but the most recent.
LES UNGER: Excuse me, he's the most recent. I got that note
wrong. There was apparently someone back in the previous century.
But, Ernie --
ERNIE ELS: I'm not really into the history stuff, so....
LES UNGER: Would you please share with the people gathered
here, your emotions over the last couple of holes and when you
finally knew you had it and what you were feeling?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I was just trying to stay positive, was trying
to be myself. You know, three years ago, when I won this tournament,
it was like a war out there. And, I knew it was going to be
the same way today, especially playing against guys like Tom Lehman
and Colin Montgomerie and Jeff Maggert. It must have been one
hell of a show on television because I felt everybody still had
a chance with maybe two holes to go. I had quite a slow start.
I made some really key putts going out, you know, made a good
save on the first and made two good putts on the 2nd hole from
about 45 feet. The third hole, I hit my second shot into the
green-side bunker and made it up-and-down, made about a 7-foot
putt there, and I kind of settled down. Seems like I get off
to slow starts every time. And, you know, when I made those good
saving pars, I felt good about myself. And, I saw Tom made a
bogey on, I think, it was 3. And, I knew the game was on, you
know. It's always -- you know, I was in the same position as
Tom a couple years ago. I had a two-shot lead going into the
final round, playing the final group, it seems like you've got
more pressure on your self and, you know, I knew that and I tried
to just play sensibly. Colin Montgomerie was a good guy to play
with. You know, he's such a talented player. He's such a talented
ball-striker. He's a really great player. And, I have, you
know, I hope for his sake, he wins a major some day. So, you
know, I enjoyed the bearing I was in, as I say, and I knew that
Colin was going to play well. He's such a good player under pressure.
And, I knew if I beat Colin, I'll have a good chance of winning
the tournament. And, that's the way it turned out.
LES UNGER: You can't forget what happened before the round
today because you really set yourself up with the several holes
prior to --
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, direct, this morning I went out and I had five
holes left. I had a good day yesterday on the golf course, and,
you know, the delay or the suspension of play was probably good
for me to go back home and spend a couple of hours in the house.
I had dinner and spoke with the family. And, going out this
morning, I felt fresh and I felt good. And, I knew the greens
were going to be really nice and smooth for us this morning.
And, I felt I could attack it a little bit. I didn't do it on
the 14th hole, my first hole this morning. I came up short on
my second shot. I never made any putts yesterday, but I chipped
it to about 12 feet, and I made a 12-footer for par. I felt really
good about that. Then I birdied the next three holes. And, that
was probably the key for me. I was right back in the tournament,
only 2 behind Tom, and I felt good. You know, I felt I had a
bit of momentum and it didn't seem that great when I started out,
but I felt good about my game.
LES UNGER: Would you mind carrying us through the holes and
then we'll get the questions, birdies and bogeys are most important
ERNIE ELS: Well, as I say, I made some good par saves on the
first four holes. On the fifth I made par there. 6th hole I
pulled my driver left, no chance of going for the green. So,
I chipped it out, had about 100 yards to the hole and hit it about,
I would say, 20 feet past and 2-putted for bogey. No. 7, I hit
a 7-iron just short of the slope about, I would say, 20 feet and
holed that for birdie. At 8 I hit a 2-iron off the tee and a
9-iron to about, I would say, 14 feet, made it for birdie there.
Then 9 was about a bit of a disappointment for me. I felt I
was playing well. I had the lead at that stage, and laid it
up perfect with a 5-iron. Had about 125 yards to the hole, and
I just tried to hit the wedge too hard. And, I flew it out of
the right side and I made bogey there. I chipped it up to about
10 feet and lipped the putt out so I made bogey on 9. Then 10
was a big swing, you know, I knew I had to play well the back
9 and I never played the back 9 well all week. So, I went out
there, hit a good drive down the fairway - and the pin was in
the front right and the water is on the front right as you may
recall- and I just tried to get it on the front side of the green
and take 4. And, I hit the 6-iron a little fat and came up short.
And, I made the chip from about 30 feet or so. So, that was
a good start for the back 9. I birdied No. 12. Hit a really
good 5-iron in there to about 10 feet, made that putt. 13, I
was a little too aggressive. Hit a good 3-wood down the fairway.
I hit a 5-iron which I thought was the right club. I think I
had 193 yards to the hole. I just hit it too hard, went through
the green. And, I was in deadsville to back there, chipped it.
I just kind of fluffed my chip shot, made bogey there. Then
coming down the stretch, I played quite solid, you know, I made
a really good par-saving putt on 14. I hit my driver in the bunker,
took my 5-iron out, it was probably about 45 feet away. And,
I mean, a really good save putt. I had about a 10-footer down
the hill. And, I played solid coming in. Hit all the fairways
and hit all the greens. And 17 at the end was the key. I knew
17 was going to be the key when I played my first practice round
here on Monday -- on Sunday. And, I hit a 3-wood in the fairway,
and I was first to play. Colin was about 10 yards ahead of me.
And, at that stage, it was almost like matchplay. We were even.
We were both 4-under par. And, when I beat him in the World Matchplay
a couple years ago, I did the same on 16, you know. I laid up
short of Colin, and I put mine in stiff before he did and -- but
that wasn't the strategy. I really nutted my 3-wood, and he just
hit his 3-wood past mine. But, I was fortunate enough to play
my second shot before he did and put it in stiff, and that might
have had a bit of an effect on his second shot. But, that was
Q. How close?
ERNIE ELS: I hit it about 15, 18 feet behind the hole.
LES UNGER: Did you see Lehman's ball that went in the water?
ERNIE ELS: No. I was standing on the 18th tee and I could hear
from the crowd that somebody went in the water - and I don't know
if it was Tom or Jeff - but when I heard -- I mean, Jeff was,
at that stage, I think 2- or 3-under, and Tom was -- he was 3-under.
So, I knew that, you know, things were looking better on my side.
LES UNGER: And you raised your hands in jubilation on 18,
but did you realize that Tom could make a hole-in-one?
ERNIE ELS: I mean, he hit it over the flag. I was watching that
on television. And, I mean, what's the odds of making a hole-in-one?
I mean, come on.
LES UNGER: In the bag, right?
ERNIE ELS: But, yeah, I felt that, you know, when I made the
putt for par on 18 and Colin hit a good putt himself for birdie,
and, at one stage, I thought he made it. But, the putt just broke
at the end. You know, I -- I had a decent first, but I was about
45 feet away and I was trying to hit it close. Probably the closest
I could get it was 5 feet. But, you know, I was really, really
tense over that second putt.
Q. You came here with a few little putting woes. You worked
hard on it this week and last week. Tell me about your putting
ERNIE ELS: Well, I made key putts. It seemed like I made a
lot of good putts from 15 feet and in. My lag putting wasn't
all that good. The 2nd hole, I was 40 -- or 35 feet and I lagged
it about 8 feet. The third hole, I hit a similar first putt and
it landed about 4 feet. My lag putting wasn't all that good,
but my clutch putts I would say, 12 feet and in, I made most of
them. I've got to thank Robert Baker. As you say, I worked hard
on my putting, right through the week, you know, from, I would
say Monday right through until yesterday -- or this morning.
And I just worked on my tempo on my putting stroke and I felt
good about it, you know.
Q. How many 3-putts?
ERNIE ELS: 3-putts, I'm not sure, really. I don't know. A
Q. Ernie, you said that you thought on Sunday that 17 was
going to be the most important hole. Is it because of its difficulty
and also what -- going off on another area, what does this mean,
what does this U.S. Open title mean compared to the one at Oakmont?
ERNIE ELS: Well, 17 is -- I don't think you'll find a much harder
par 4 in the world, especially where they put the flag on Sunday.
I knew the flag was going to be back left. But, saying that,
you know, I played 17 quite well all week. And, I think I'm 1-under
on the hole -- well, I'm even on the hole, excuse me. You know,
first of all, I -- you have to put your tee ball -- tee shot in
the fairway and then take it from there. I hit a good 3-wood
down there, as I say, and I just felt that 5-iron was the right
club, and my iron shots, I tend to draw, hit it from right-to-left.
And I think the shot just felt on for me. I felt if I aimed
it down the right side and draw the ball in. This morning I almost
holed it, you know, I hit a 4-iron this morning. And, I just
felt that the shot was -- I felt comfortable with the shot, put
it that way. And, I knew it was going to be a deal. If you look
at the hole -- how hard the hole played this week, you probably
see it was playing at 4 1/2 or something. So, to play it at even
par for the week was good for me. The '94 Open, you know, I think
if I recall, you know, I say that it came quite quick for me in
'94. I was 24. And, I wasn't quite a major contender for a
very long time. And, as I recall it, I said people better be
patient with me, and maybe I wasn't all that patient through the
last couple of years. I've come close in a couple of other majors.
And that went through my mind today, you know, I didn't want
to lose today. I just felt that my game is here this week, and
I was -- I believed in myself and my mom and dad are here. And,
I just -- I wanted to show off a little bit and show them that,
you know, how you win a U.S. Open. And, you know, it's a good
feeling. It's going to take awhile for it to probably sink in,
but I'm really going to enjoy this one.
LES UNGER: Are your mom and dad in the room?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, they're back there.
LES UNGER: Just stand up and wave at us. Where are you?
Q. Talk about the 17, 18 close together, taking five minutes
to putt, wondering what you're going to do and wondering whether
the crowd is going to explode?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I wanted to get on with it. Obviously
I saw -- Colin was really -- he was worried about the crowd or
something, you know. He really hit a good chip shot to about,
I would say, about 8 feet, 6 feet. And, I saw Jay Haas and Tommy
Tolles on the other side of the lake on 18 and they were prepared
to wait. I don't know what Colin's strategy was there. But,
I was always in two and a half feet away and he was sitting at
8 feet. You know, I'm sure the crowd was bothering him, but I
felt that we could have played the hole without waiting so long.
And, it got to me a little bit. It almost got to me there.
And, you know, he missed his putt. And, I just went up and knocked
it in. And, you know, obviously the crowd, you know, on 17 and
18, they must be, what, 15, 20,000 people sitting there and you're
not going to get 20,000 people quiet when a couple of international
boys are leading the U.S. Open. So, you know, you can stand on
your head, I don't think you're going to get the people that quiet.
So, I don't know -- I'm not sure what his -- he probably just
wanted to feel comfortable over the putt. But, I was ready to
move on and play.
Q. What was the atmosphere like at 7 this morning? What
was the gallery like and what was your strategy going into those
four holes, five holes?
ERNIE ELS: This morning, well, there was nobody around this
morning at seven o'clock. And, I don't blame them. Well, obviously
I was 2-over par starting out this morning. I was even par for
the tournament. What I wanted to do is get back to even par for
my round, 2-under-par for the golf tournament. And, I thought
I would be in striking distance. And, I thought even if I don't
make those birdies and if I play them even par coming in, I'll
be even par for the tournament, probably 4 or 5 behind, and that's
still in the picture. As it turned out, you know, I played those
tough holes very well coming in and that was probably a turning
point for my golf tournament.
Q. The general observation about you in play is you're very,
very cool. Is that something you work on? Does it come natural
or is it not true?
ERNIE ELS: Well, maybe my exterior outside is very calm. I
think inside any player will tell you that you're pretty intense
and tense. I was quite intense. But, I had confidence in myself
and I had confidence in my game today. Other times, it might
feel different. That's maybe why I've lost a couple of majors
in the last couple years. Today, I felt comfortable, and I felt
I had that will, and I was going to push it through. And, you
know, I wouldn't say other times that I don't feel that way, but
today was different. And, I think that just comes with experience.
You know, I've been playing a lot of majors in the last four
or five years, and, I think with experience, you become a little
bit more calm. You have to be calm to win major tournaments.
You know, there's a very big spotlight on golf at the moment
with the emergence of Tiger Woods and other really good players.
So, it seems like there's more attention and there's a lot more
pressure, I think, even from the time when I won in '94.
Q. Ernie, not often do you -- not often do you cope with
that high rough right around the greens in tournaments around
the world. The guys that you played with in the first three rounds
were gushing about how often you were able to get it up-and-down
out of there, and you've been practicing out of Brillo pads or
how do you explain, you know, how well you did this week there?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I don't think I missed too many greens the
first few days. But, yeah, that's a shot in the practice around
the chipping area. Also, again, experience maybe comes in a
little bit. You know, you've got to find one shot that you're
happy with to play out of that stuff and just go with it. You
know, and sometimes a bit of luck plays a part. Maybe if you
practice that shot enough times, you get more lucky with it.
But, you know, quite a few times I obviously didn't play it very
well. But, you know, I think with experience you kind of learn
how to play those kind of shots.
Q. What was your technique?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I've got these sand irons. I have a 60 degree
sand iron, a 56, and I just played with a 60 degree a more lofted
club, and just hit about, I would say, 3, 4 inches behind the
ball and almost played it like a bunker shot and hoped for the
Q. Front left here. You said standing over the last putt
that there was some tension involved there, maybe a lot of tension.
What did you do? What did you drive? What was your thought
processes of just getting yourself to bring the club back and
ERNIE ELS: I can't even remember now to tell you -- well, the
first putt I was more concerned with probably. I really knew
I had to -- I couldn't blow that one. I couldn't hit it 6 feet
short or 6 feet by, you know, you never know what might happen.
You might drum the next one out and drum it out to 2 feet away.
I didn't want to think that way. I wanted to try to stay positive.
Actually that first putt, I tried to make it. But, in the same
breath not hit it way past. You know, that just comes with the
way I practiced this week. I practiced a lot of those long putts,
didn't hit a great putt, but I gave it a chance to go in. The
second putt, I kind of looked at the ball when it went past the
hole, saw what it was doing. It was just breaking a little to
the left. So, I had an idea of what the line was. And, it was
a pretty straight putt. It was inside left putt. But, it was
just a matter of pulling the trigger. I was counting the 1, 2,
3, let's go, you know, and the ball went in the hole.
Q. Ernie, just for the record, you did check the leaderboard
walking to 18?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I did. I checked the leaderboard all day,
actually. In fact, you know, I wasn't going to make that mistake
again. Thanks for mentioning that.
Q. Ernie, Monty said that he wept at the end. Having beaten
him in a playoff, initially, three years ago and then again today,
do you feel sorry for him or what are your emotions towards him?
ERNIE ELS: Obviously I've got a feeling for Colin. We've had
a lot of close matches, you know. You know, he beat me at Sun
City Million Dollar in a playoff last year, December, in front
of my home crowd, in fact. That wasn't a great feeling. But,
you know, that's the game, you know. I've had a couple of close
misses myself. In '94 or when was it -- '95 at Riviera I was
leading by 3 and I didn't play very well, and Colin came through
with three birdies in the last three holes to beat me and, well,
then he lost the playoff to Steve Elkington. Well, I guess this
was my turn. I don't know when Colin is going to get his turn.
I do feel for him. Believe me. I think he's a great player.
We are pretty good friends, I would say. He's a great competitor.
He's probably close to -- he must be in the Top 2 in the world
right now. I mean, if you look at his major record and the way
he's been playing in Europe, you know, he's a great player. And,
I know he's going to win. He just needs to stick to it.
Q. Ernie, you mentioned your grandfather on the greens ceremony.
Why did you call him last night and what did you talk to him
ERNIE ELS: Well, I just -- you know, my grandfather has always
been a big part of my life, a major part of my life. If it wasn't
for my grandfather, I probably wouldn't have played because he
got my dad involved. And, my dad, obviously, got us -- myself
and my brother involved in the game. And, my grandfather is --
he's 89 years old, and I knew he was going to watch it, you know,
we got him satellite television back in South Africa. And, I
knew he was going to watch it. I just felt that, you know, I
just had this urge to call him. And, we speak every week. But,
I just felt like I wanted to speak to him. He's such a wise man.
And, you know, he's been such a great influence on myself and
my brother and the whole family, and I just had to call him.
I just wanted to know what he was going to say and if he was going
to watch, and I just had a good feeling after that, you know,
speaking to him. And, I had him in my thoughts all day.
Q. Was there any advice that he gave you or just talking
ERNIE ELS: No, just talked, you know, just spoke. You know,
we just spoke about how he was doing and he was encouraging me
and it was just a nice vibe we had.
Q. You've now won two U.S. Opens. How do you feel about
being mentioned with some of the upper echelon guys in golf?
How do you feel about being up there now after winning two majors?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's good. You're going to a different class
now. A lot of guys have won one major. I've won two now. You
know, you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself. But, I'm
very happy at the moment. Obviously, there's a lot of young players
in their 20s coming through and it's going to be -- golf is very
healthy at the moment - I can tell you that. But, it's a great
feeling, you know, to win two before you -- before your 30s, it
is okay. I think John Daly was the last guy to do it. And, I'm
sure Tiger will probably win a couple before he's 25 still. But,
at least I've got two now and I'm looking for more.
LES UNGER: One more and then we will ask Ernie to hold the
Q. Ernie, Colin has described you as a person of enormous
talent talking about your golf game. But, also what seems to
have most impressed him is your attitude. You talked about being
calm before. But, how would you assess your strength and how
would you describe your attitude?
ERNIE ELS: Well, if you look at my record on the US PGA Tour,
I can tell you that my attitude wasn't all that good coming into
this tournament. Normally it's pretty good. If you ask a lot
of players when they're playing well, their attitudes are obviously
very good. In majors, maybe my attitude is a little better than
other times. I may be a little bit more patient with myself,
with my game, with my putts, with my caddie, you know, with everybody.
I don't push it all that much. You know, I try to put the ball
in play and take it from there. Well, obviously, I try not to
make big numbers - made one big number this week on 2 with my
double bogey. You know, you've got to be strong. If you look
at all the great players, if you look at Jack Nicklaus, you know,
he made it happen. And, he was calm. He was always in control
of his game. And, it's hard to do that. But, I'm getting closer
LES UNGER: Ernie, if you don't mind putting that mic down
and holding the trophy up, I think a few guys would like to shoot
ERNIE ELS: Okay.
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