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March 3, 1999

Ernie Els


Q. Greg was just talking about individual rivalries and who do you think consider to be your rival?

ERNIE ELS: The game really. To be honest, you know, I think we spoke about this two weeks ago in L.A., and I think there is a group of players coming through in their 20s, you have got to look at the younger guys at the moment because that is probably where the future of the game is right now, professional game is right now. It's got to be Justin Leonard; got to be David Duval, Tiger Woods obviously, Davis Love, you know, quite a group of players. I mean, I haven't got kind of a rival to speak of, I don't think. I think, you know, I just got to try and play good enough and whoever is up there is probably the rival at the time. I just heard Greg talking about Nick Faldo and I think in the '80s you had Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Price - in a way he, was kind of not quite in his prime in those days - Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus was there. So that's a real strong group of players. I think we have got play ourselves up to that level and I think some of the players are getting there. Only way you get there is if you win Majors really. If you look at it, Greg I mean, he should have probably won another six, probably even majors. Nick Faldo won his six, Seve won his five. Sandy Lyle won his couple. The players like David Duval, he is going to win a major soon. Phil Mickelson is going to win one. Those guys start winning majors, that group of players will become even stronger.

Q. Is winning a third U.S. Open the most important of the majors now or is there another one that holds real importance?

ERNIE ELS: To be honest, you take any major that comes your way, you know, I was fortunate enough to have won two U.S. Opens. I will take three. I will take four, five, whatever comes. If there is another major in my horizon, if it is a U.S. Open, so be it. Hopefully it will be one of the others, but, you know, it is so tough these days to win a major, when you do win one, you know, you put it on your resume and off you go. You can't really go out there and pick and choose which one you want to win. So I'd love to obviously do well in The Masters and British Opens, et cetera, but to have won one; you put yourself in history.

Q. With the back problems you had last year, how much regret is there that you came back too fast? You came back; you weren't right.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I wasn't, but what do you do? You play your favorite tournament in the world; that is the U.S. Open for me, and I was playing great golf until maybe a week or two weeks before that U.S. Open when the back started going a bit. But what do you do? I thought I can get through this. I thought I had to defend that tournament. I was enjoying the Olympic Club, but unfortunately it was probably a mistake, but you make mistakes in life and you live with it. What was I going to do, stay at home watch it on television? That probably would have hurt more than not playing. So it just worked out that way.

Q. How healthy is your back right now?

ERNIE ELS: It is good. It is really good. I still got to do my stuff and I do that and at the moment it is really nice. It gets tight from time to time, but it is fine. It is 100% better than last year.

Q. As you know, only four guys have won all four majors. What players now have the game to win golf majors? Takes a little bit of a different game. Obviously you have done well and Greg has lost in the playoffs in all of them; has come close. Who, playing right now, has the game to win all four?

ERNIE ELS: You have got to say Tiger has got the game. He has got the confidence. It comes down to confidence and being positive and believing in your own ability and all of that stuff. But it really comes down to your inner confidence with your own game. I think guys will have to try and go overseas play a little bit more in other type of conditions and with the type of money we are talking about on the PGA TOUR nowadays, it is kind of tough for the guys just to go over to Ireland or Scotland and play over there. You lose out on a lot of money out of the year. So it becomes a little bit tougher. But to become the complete player, so to speak, I think you have to play around the world. You are looking at guys -- as you say, you are looking at really star players, a guy with a lot of talent and it's probably 15 to 20 of them out there. But you got look at the guys who have the complete game. Obviously Tiger has it. I think definitely David Duval has got it. Justin Leonard has got it. He plays his own game. Phil Mickelson, even though he hasn't won one yet.

Q. British kind of spooks him, though, he doesn't think he can win the British because of the high ball?

ERNIE ELS: He is such a long hitter. He hits the ball a very long way off the tee and those Links golf courses, you have got to be a strong player. You have got to hit the ball very strong. When that wind starts blowing, you have got to hit a strong ball in that wind. So there is no reason why you shouldn't have a chance. If he says that, he is probably -- just probably down.

Q. Or his least chance?

ERNIE ELS: I know what you are saying, least best chance. You know, he has lost a little bit of confidence now, but I mean, he has got the game. He has got to believe that. He came close at The Masters, U.S. Open, PGA, okay, he hasn't done really well at the British Open, but you got to look at guys who are year in, year out at least make the cut in all of the majors and have a top-20 finish. You have got to look at those kind of players.

Q. How much are you going to play overseas this year?

ERNIE ELS: I will play -- I have worked out my schedule for the year. I am going to play my 19 over here, maybe 20 in the U.S. and as I said in L.A., when you guys asked me this question, the European Tour, so to speak of, the tournaments that I play in South Africa, are now-- coexist with the European Tour. So if you talk about European Tour tournaments, that is two in South Africa I play the one in Australia which is another European tournament. I am going to play the PGA in Wentworth. I like that golf course. I will play the week after that in Germany. And I might play Loch Lomond and the British Open obviously and that might be it. It is kind of the same as previous years. It is not really more.

Q. Are you playing here this week because you got out of the Match Play early or how did that work; what were you planning to do?

ERNIE ELS: I wasn't going -- it wasn't on my schedule. But then as we -- although I lost on Wednesday quickly, I was out of there Wednesday night. I was, you know, landed on Thursday - Friday, Saturday -- and Friday morning I thought I can't have another week off, I mean, I have got to play sometime, and I decided early Friday morning I was going to come down here and play. It is only a two- or three-hour drive down here, so actually worked out perfect. I am looking at next week.

Q. Despite the Andersen loss you have been very hot at the beginning of the season. How surprising is it for you on how quickly your game has picked up, taken shape?

ERNIE ELS: Probably being healthy and really wanting to play well more than anything, really. I had a really great off-season. I was in South Africa, December is beautiful weather down there. Great summer, I was with my parents and sister and brother and everybody. We had a great time on the beach there. I practiced every second day, I hit some balls. I just had a really great time. There are some nice thoughts coming about. I talked about The Presidents Cup, was also a little bit of a turning point for me last -- in the last year, I was really struggling and after Sun City, the tournament in South Africa, we had to get on a plane that evening and fly all the way to Australia. I was on the plane with Nick Price. He was very excited, but, yeah, it was winding down after a very long season, we just wanted time off. To be honest with you, we were not in a very good mood going to the Presidents Cup, but the whole team and everybody the way we played, really boosted my bit of confidence that -- I had even more. I just -- I found something in my swing that week and I started putting nicely, so, going into my holiday, I really had some good thoughts about my game. I just felt that I wanted to play when I came out.

Q. Married on New Year's Eve?

ERNIE ELS: Married, yeah, that is another one, so I got all the distractions out of the way.

Q. How much help was that in getting yourself back in shape and feeling good about yourself?

ERNIE ELS: Wonderful. As I say, I practiced and worked out a little bit and drank a lot of beer and you know, just -- it was a great time off. I got married on the 31st of December to a wonderful girl, you know, good frame of mind off the course, you know, you kind of sometimes get it on the golf course, too.

Q. Even though you only had one day at La Costa, technically it is going to be six in a row. Can you recall a time when you played that many weeks in a row?

ERNIE ELS: It won't be six in a row.

Q. What are you missing?

ERNIE ELS: I won't play -- actually, yeah, it might be. I played, what, L.A., La Costa, this week, I am looking at next week.

Q. But you still have Bay Hill and THE PLAYERS, but even --

ERNIE ELS: Week off and then --

Q. Five out of six even, have you played that many, that long a stretch?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I have done it a bunch of times. Maybe not last year, you know, I really took it very easy the last years, only played 15 events on the U.S. Tour last year, but I have played four, five in a row. I probably won't play six in a row.

Q. When you say you are looking at next week, are you undecided about Honda?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I am checking it out. I am not sure yet.

Q. How important is the world ranking to you? You are 4 right now. How important is it for you to --

ERNIE ELS: We had this question earlier. Years gone by, you know, the players on their respective Tours, we kind of knew who was the No. 1 player. We still kind of do. But I think with this world ranking and new, good tournaments coming up, and really a lot of emphasis on the world ranking right now, it is very important. We look at contracts, you sign a big deal, you try and get a couple of bonus pools into your contract; if you become Top-10 player in the world, Top-20 player, Top-5, No. 1 is a big bonus and probably in a lot of players contract; so, money-wise, it is beneficial. And getting into these golf tournaments, is also -- the British Open right now, if you are in the top 50 you get in. THE PLAYERS Championship go off the world ranking. So a lot of tournaments are feeding off this world ranking system, so it is very important and I think the way they are doing it now is a pretty good system.

Q. Do you believe you should be higher than 4?

ERNIE ELS: No. I think it is pretty fair. I mean, David Duval has won 10, 12 times, whatever number he has won. Tiger Woods, if he doesn't win, he is in the Top-5 or Top-10. Mark O'Meara, winning two majors. I should be in the Top-10, I think, but I mean, there is a lot of good players out there.

Q. Later on this month Seve is going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Do you have any recollections? How did you view him when you were growing up as a player?

ERNIE ELS: Seve, you know, was one of my idols really. In '84 when he won that British Open I always remember that at St. Andrews when he went a little ballistic on the green there. He had so much charisma. Brought so much charisma to golf tournaments wherever he played. Good looking guy, Spanish, got that Latin kind of temperament and blood in him and he showed it. He was, after Arnold Palmer, he was probably the world guy, you know, he was the world player. I mean, he won tournaments in South Africa, Japan, all over the place, and people love watching him. I mean, I love watching him. I tried -- when I was a youngster I tried to emulate his follow-through. He had this nice follow- through and he hit the ball a long ways. Very exciting player. I think it was him and probably Greg Norman in the '80s was probably the most exciting players out there. He was more -- probably more flashy on the course than anybody, even Greg.

Q. Have you seen Greg play lately?

ERNIE ELS: I haven't played with Greg lately. I didn't play a practice round with him at The Presidents Cup either, so, but I have watched him play in Australia, you know, I watched the Golf Channel. I had a week off, I played The Masters, I watched him play there; looks like he is probably back to his old best. He has still a little bit of confidence now. It is more mental now. I think his game is back. It is just pulling the trigger in and trying to win tournaments now.

Q. Any part of your game you are not pleased with?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, always. You know, you can always improve. I mean, you know, I am just trying to get out there and play the golf course now. I am trying to just stay with these guys now. They really are playing good golf right now. I am just trying to stay with them. Trying to play myself into a position and take it from there really. That is all I can say about that.

Q. When you look at all the focus that seems to be directed now at Tiger and Duval, does that motivate you at all? Does that drive you in any way?

ERNIE ELS: To be honest, a little bit, but I don't really think about it every day. You got to look at their record. I mean, they go out there and it is kind of automatic Top-5 for these guys. They just are playing great and they got everything going for them, so, in a way, yes, but I mean, I am out there trying to do my own thing. So it is hard to answer that question. I have probably got to say, in a way, yeah, it is kind of a motivation, but it is not everything for me. I know if I play well I will be there automatically so, you know --

Q. What does motivate you, Ernie?

ERNIE ELS: To finish a tournament and to be -- to have that little satisfaction in your stomach, really. It is hard for me to say this -- to walk into a golf tournament and tell myself, okay, you have got to win it - that is the only way you are going to satisfy yourself. Surely, but if I have a good week and I know I was good enough on the golf course mentally and I did my practice and I feel that I have accomplished something, I think that is what you should strive for. I think to try and play better every time you come out here, I will be very disappointed if I go out there and not give it my best, at least, in my own mind.

Q. What did you and Freddie do all week when you stayed at his place and could there be two more laid back guys staying in the same room?

ERNIE ELS: He is great. He has really been very positive for my golf. I have known Fred since 1992 and he has helped me a lot in my own golf game and, you know, in his own way he kind of tells you what to do and he gave me a lot of advice in his own way. He is not going to sit there to give you a lecture like other people, but I have learned a lot from Fred and he has been a great friend for me. Yeah, we didn't do much. We went out for dinner a couple of times, but he likes the remote control.

Q. You talked a minute ago about "staying with them," other golfers, there are a lot of people who would say you are one of them - one of the best golfers in the world. Were you saying that you don't feel you are one of the best golfers in the world yet?

ERNIE ELS: No, I don't think I want to say that. But I wouldn't say that I am playing quite at the level of David Duval or Tiger. I mean, when they are on, they are shooting 62s and 59s, you know, when I am on, I am probably going to be shooting 65, 64. So there is a little bit of a gap. I mean, I am just -- if I can keep on scoring well, I will be, okay, but I mean, when they are on, they are on a different level, there is no question about it.

Q. Jack Nicklaus is associated with The Masters. Is this Masters going to have a different feeling without him in it?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, sure will. I have played with Jack the last year on the Sunday and it was quite an experience for myself. 55 or 56, whatever he, is and making a run at the championship, and that was quite an experience for me, to say the least. Yeah, I was just fortunate enough -- I don't know if the players-- I think some of the players will really miss him, but I think the fans will really miss him out there. It will be a little bit of a void this year without Jack Nicklaus.

Q. In what way, does this particular golf course suit or not suit your game?

ERNIE ELS: This course should suit my game, you know, give us a little bit of room, these fairways are quite generous. The wind is going to be a bit of a problem. I don't like playing in the wind too much. But it is a pretty long course depending on which way the wind blows. The par 5s, some of them are reachable, probably two of them are reachable. So you have got to try and score big on the par 5s this week; try and birdie those and try and play the tough holes well, try and play 18 really well. You have got to try and play No. 3 really well. There are some key holes out there where you have got to try and just get a par and get out of there. But I haven't played very well here. Greg Norman is probably the favorite this week. This is like a home golf course for him. He shot 62 here a couple of times. So he has got the feel and he knows how to score on this golf course. I haven't really found that yet.

Q. One of golf's mysteries why you haven't done better at Augusta. Did you put your finger on that? You seem to have the game that --

ERNIE ELS: I am not sure. Probably giving that course too much respect. My first year I got there I finished 8th and that is still my best finish there. I have been trying to maybe find out too much about the golf course instead of letting my game play the golf course naturally, so, I think that is probably my answer to that question that I am just showing it too much respect. I have finished kind of level, 1-under, 2-under par the last three years and I missed the cut in 1995, so, I have been kind of in the top 20, but I haven't played it the way I should play it. I have asked some players how to play it. They have given me some feedback, so we will see how it goes this year. Maybe I will -- just got to be really on top of my game and just let it flow.

Q. Least favorite hole there, the one that has given you the most trouble at Augusta?

ERNIE ELS: Really the front 9. I don't play the front 9 well. I haven't played the easy holes on the front 9 well. Easy holes, par 5s, I haven't played 2 very well. I haven't played 8 very well. Number 7, I haven't played. Probably the short holes I haven't played well at Augusta. So that is probably the whole golf course that I mentioned. (laughter).

Q. Last year going into Augusta you said you were going to be more aggressive. Did you try that?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, I tried that, but obviously didn't work. You have got to drive the ball well to be aggressive on that course. I haven't really driven it really well. I would say 13, you know, most players go in there thinking making 4. I am just trying to kept it out of the creek on the left. It is not a very positive way of playing that hole. Maybe I think I found a good driver now. I am hitting this driver very nice, so I think you have got to drive it well to give yourself the thought of being aggressive. Is that okay?

End of FastScripts....

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