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June 15, 1997

Ernie Els


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 here.

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 the key.

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 today.

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 couple, probably.

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? (Audience applause)

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 best.

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 hit it?

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 about?

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 to him?

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 trophy up.

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 to that.

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 that.


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