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June 23, 1999

Ernie Els


LEE PATTERSON: Thank you for spending some time with us this afternoon. I know you are back in a very familiar and happy place. Couple of thoughts about being home again.

ERNIE ELS: I like these lamps you got here. (laughs). What is that? You get them out of the clubhouse? It is nice to be back, yeah. I didn't have a very good round last week so I don't even want to talk about that and I just want to concentrate on this week. I had a nice round this morning. Thought it was a good extra practice round for me. The golf course -- the fairways are very lush this year, very lush. It is not running too far. The greens are getting really firm, I think, again. That has been -- Westchester is really at its best when these greens are firm because they are small and very undulating. They have got major slopes on them. So you want to be in the right position on the greens to give yourself a run at a birdie. It is not overly long this golf course so you will find guys shooting good numbers. But as the week wears on I think guys will really realize how tough the golf course is. So it is never really very low score that wins here, which helps me out a little bit. So I feel like I have a chance before I even start playing this golf tournament. Maybe it is the record and my love for the golf course. So I am looking forward to the week.

Q. Did you spend the weekend here already?

ERNIE ELS: No, I got here yesterday. I played nine holes yesterday. Had to go down and do something in New York City yesterday afternoon and played 18 this morning. So I know the golf course pretty well. I have been coming here last five years, so I was just really looking out for the greens today, seeing how they are rolling. I kind of have a basic idea of how to play the golf course.

Q. Any problems with your back anymore?

ERNIE ELS: No, my back has been really fine, really good, especially this year. Until maybe October, November last year it got better. Still seeing the guy off and on. I saw him last week and there is no problem with my back at all. It is more in my head knew.

Q. Difficult decision to pull out of year last year?

ERNIE ELS: It was. I really didn't want to pull out. I remembered before that first round I never even hit a practice shot. I was in the fitness trailer until my tee time. I didn't get out of there. I walked straight out of there onto the first tee. I played with Davis last year and I wasn't close to being fit enough. I played nine holes, I think I was 4-over par, whatever. I couldn't go on. I couldn't make a complete swing. The next week was the U.S. Open so I thought I needed some time off before that tournament started and then at the end I wasn't even ready for that. I probably should have taken off a lot more time.

Q. You said the problems now were your head. A lot of guys on Tour will say he is dangerous all week. Do you feel that you are not as invincible as you --

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I am saying that because of last week, I thought my chances last week was pretty good. I thought the golf course was set up pretty well for my game. But I just didn't play the way you should play, play away from the flags. I was going at the flags, you know, (laughs) you can't play Pinehurst like that. That is probably why I said that. I just played it way too aggressively and I made -- I made 3 double bogeys in two rounds which is uncalled for. I look forward to playing this week. We have got a really good field. Vijay, he is probably playing the best of anybody in this field today. I think David Duval, he is playing really well. We have got a really good field, Justin Leonard is here this week, Freddie Couples so, we have got a really good field, but I feel my chances are pretty good. Obviously tomorrow is the first round and we will talk after then.

Q. Do you feel for the year as a whole though that this is -- is your game where would you really like it to be? Are you comfortable after last year --

ERNIE ELS: In a way, yes. I had really good start to my year. I play a lot of tournaments outside the U.S. and I have had 12 Top-10 finishes outside the U.S. and Europe. So I have played pretty well over there. I went to L.A. earlier in the year, I have had a couple of Top-10 finishes, but I have been a little disappointed in the majors this year, especially The Masters; didn't play very well there. Didn't play too well at Bay Hill so, I have had a kind of up-and-down run in the U.S. where I have been very consistent outside of the U.S. It has been going to be an up-and-down a little bit, but I feel my game -- I am hitting the ball really well now. If I don't make too many mental errors I think I will have a good week.

Q. Have you had to make any adjustments because of the back? Was there something that --

ERNIE ELS: I did last year. I really didn't swing the golf club very well for a while last year; then when I got healthy and everything I have been really working hard at it recently. So I am waiting for the hard work to come off now. We will see. Hopefully it comes off in three week's time. But I have put a lot of work into my game. I have really worked out quite a bit. My fitness is good, so I feel like things should come around for me soon. So hopefully it happens sooner than later.

Q. Ernie, you said you have been consistent outside of the U.S. but a little disappointed in the majors; how do you go into playing Carnousti?

ERNIE ELS: It is a little early now. I have thought about it a little bit here and there, not too much. I have played Carnousti in the past. I played the Scottish Open there in 1996. It is when Woosnam won, played in absolute gale for four days. Woosy one with a 1-over score. There wasn't too much rough then. I hear news from over there that if play it now and the wind blows, 300 might be the winning score, so it is just very, very tough golf course. It is the toughest links you will ever find anywhere in the world... They tend to make the fairways really narrow nowadays at Open Championships. With that golf course over 7,000 yards, if the weather is bad, it is going to be a really tough week. But saying that I am looking forward to it. I like playing links golf. I have had some good results on links golf courses, so, who knows. As I say, I have put a lot of work into my game, so maybe it will come off then.

Q. You have had just 1-over par round on this golf course. Do you remember anything about that?

ERNIE ELS: I haven't really thought about it until you brought it up now.

Q. Your record is phenomenal; they are all under par.

ERNIE ELS: I can't explain it. All I can say is I like playing here; I like the way it sets up. You got to hit fairways and greens and you have got to putt well. As I said before, you can score well on this golf course. If you don't have a good start you have got to be patient. Birdies don't just come along like other golf courses. Especially when the greens are firm like it is going to be this week, you have got to be really patient. You have got to try and put the ball in the right spot. I just -- I like the way the golf course fits into my game.

Q. Do you ever feel like you reach a point in your career where you are last of the -- do you always feel you will be a guy who enjoys playing everywhere?

ERNIE ELS: If I was an American citizen, if I was born and bred in America I probably would have played like David, I would have played the majority, all my golf in the U.S.. But for some reason I was born in South Africa and I grew up there and we are a small country. I am a pretty big golfing star down there so people want to see me play down there. That is why I start my year down in South Africa. Nowadays I kind of go from there to Australia and to work myself back to the states. So and I spoke to Sid Wilson this morning. I said maybe I should start playing a bit more over here; especially starting next year. I have got a house in England now. It is very central for me. I can go out to South Africa. It is an overnight flight and I can come over here pretty easily. But you know, all the competition, the real competition is in America nowadays. We have just had a little baby girl, I got married last year, so a lot of things have changed in my life. So you will probably see me play more over here in America next year. But I will always be a world player.

Q. Target number when you say playing here more?

ERNIE ELS: I have never played more than 20 tournaments in the U.S.. Last year I only played 15. But I had other problems. This year looks like it is going to be 18 or maybe 19; which is really not a full schedule if you look at other players' schedules over here. So I don't give myself a really good chance for money list and Player-of-the-Year, I don't even think about it. I think I have got to give myself a little bit more of a chance of competing against the guys. I mean, the guys have made $2 million here already. If I won four tournaments I probably also would have made two million. But I think if I play a bit more here I will have a chance of competing against these guys.

Q. You said you are a big star back at home. You have had a little bit of a taste with it here with the Open and seen the way the public covers Tiger and David. Is that something that you would like to experience here; being the kind of star that you are at home in the states?

ERNIE ELS: No, that doesn't appeal to me at all. Because people are looking at David and Tiger it is because of their records. They have won -- they have been the dominant -- two dominant players in world golf over the last two seasons. All credit to them. If I was a spectator I would go watch Tiger; then I will go watch David. I mean, those are two guys people you want to watch hitting a golf ball and playing golf. They are very exciting players and it seems like when they play, they are in contention. All credit to them. Me, you know, I will be there. I don't think I will ever be as popular as them, you know, that doesn't bother me at all. I do my thing like any other player out there.

Q. What is your schedule for the year?

ERNIE ELS: After this week I have got two weeks off before the British. I will go back to England next week sometime, watch a bit of Wimbledon; British Grand Prix is on next weekend, so got some good sport to look forward to. The week after that I might go to Scotland play a couple of courses, play some links golf and see how my game stands up. Then after the British I will come here and I will play a pretty full schedule through August, I will play the PGA, Sprint, World Golf Championship and then I have got some weeks off after that. So I have got some -- a bit of golf left these next couple of months.

Q. What was the logic to buying a home in England? Is it just that you like being there in England?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we thought about it a little bit myself and my wife. We don't want to let go of our house in South Africa. Our family is back there. We have got a really nice place down there near Cape Town. We like going back there - our summer's December, January, February, we like to be down there. And the weeks off like I have got two weeks off after the British so I might even meander down to South Africa. It is an overnight flight from London. There is no time change. I can spend a couple of days there and back to England. England is pretty central. I enjoy it there. I have spent a lot of time there through the years when I played on the European Tour. I have got some good friends there, so it is a good place to be. I would love to have watched the South Africans win the World Cup, but I mean, the sport is good there. It is a good place to travel out of. You can go to the east, South Africa, you can go all over the place.

Q. You talk about playing more in the states next year. Does that mean you may play less in Europe next year?

ERNIE ELS: To be honest with you, I like to think that I am a U.S. Tour player. I still play my majority of events here. I play 18 or 19 tournaments that is more than I play anywhere else. So my Tour that I play is the U.S. Tour. So living in England is really fine more for me travelling. I don't think I could play more in Europe looking at my schedule. I play the PGA there and because it sounds like I play so many tournaments in Europe is because I have some tournaments in South Africa. They are now co-sanctioned with the European Tour. So I have played four events in the European Tour but I have -- I haven't ever been in Europe, you know what I mean? Go to South Africa and Australia, that is playing in Europe, you know? That is not going to change. I will have to play in South Africa because I am South African. Just -- it sounds like I play more tournaments in Europe, but my Tour, I play in the U.S.

Q. You said you weren't too aggressive last week. You could be more aggressive here --

ERNIE ELS: You know, I was just -- I wasn't patient enough. I was kind of over-anxious to make a good shot, instead of letting the golf course take care of my golf game; I tried to push things where I shouldn't have. Being saying -- I got over-aggressive is maybe not the right word. I think I just played it the wrong way. I played it -- shouldn't go at flags. Should play safe. I am normally pretty good at that. Last week I was -- my approach was wrong.

Q. You still have to be judicious on this course?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, the greens are small here. You got small greens here, so you kind of play middle of the green and trying to control it, you can have it 25-, 30-foot putt and guys are good enough - a 25-, 30-foot putt is almost a birdie putt as long as it is going uphill. And the golf course is not as long as last week. They have got some short par 4s here where you can really attack the hole. You have got some really good birdie holes on this golf course. You play the tough holes well and try to make birdies on the easier ones, you will have a good score.

Q. Has that fatherhood changed your lifestyle?

ERNIE ELS: I don't sleep as much anymore definitely. I used to enjoy my sleep. Get up twice, three times an evening. This week I have got two rooms, my wife is in the one room and Samantha, my mom is also here this week, so the three of them are in one room and last night I had a good night's rest; that is why I am so chirpy today. But it is wonderful. It gives you a new meaning on life. It changed my outlook on life quite a bit. My daughter is only a month old today so I am a very new father, but it is exciting. It is fun. It is new. It is good. Got to manage your time now.


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