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August 2, 2000

Ernie Els


LEE PATTERSON: We appreciate your time. I know this has been a special place for you. Maybe just a couple thoughts about coming back, and what you saw on the golf course today and then we'll open it up for questions.

ERNIE ELS: Well, as you say, this is one, was one of my first events ever on this Tour. I think I played in '92, for the first time. This gentleman over here will know. He got me in with Sam Feldman. I've always enjoyed it here. I think it's a really good golf course for the format they have here. You've got some real birdie opportunities out there. Again, if you miss some shots, it's a Nicklaus-designed course. If you miss some shots on the wrong side of the greens there you can make double bogeys very easily. For the format double bogey is minus 3 score, birdie plus 3, eagle plus 5, it can swing both ways quite quickly and rapidly. I've always enjoyed the format and I enjoy the way you keep your score right through till Sunday afternoon. There were a couple years where you start from scratch on Sunday morning. You could have been playing really great the first three days and a guy that just gets into the final group, he starts from scratch. I like the format the way it is. I love the golf course. And again, the golf course is in great shape this year. So... I'll be looking forward to it. Got a really good field this year. Some very top names in golf are playing this week. Always everybody is trying to win this golf tournament is trying to get the game set for two weeks' time.

Q. Ernie, you have said that this course fits your game. How does it fit your game, and what does it take to win here?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it kind of fits my game, because you know, I make quite a few birdies in 18 holes normally -- touch wood. And that always helps. You know, you're not playing for a score here. You're not playing stroke by stroke here. It's kind of like you're playing a game almost with your buddies. You turn out there and every hole is a birdie hole. You try and shoot for a birdie. If you get into trouble, do everything you can to stay away from a double bogey. How it fits my game? I think the golf course suits my game because it gives me a little bit of room off the tees. When you've got it on the fairway, and you're long enough down the fairway, you have to short the irons into the par 4s and reach some of the par 5s. The putting surfaces are perfect. You've got all the ingredients there to make a lot of birdies. I think most of the guys enjoy that.

Q. How's your game? You said "Getting your game in shape." How do you feel it is?

ERNIE ELS: My game's been okay. I've played well, I've won a tournament quite a few weeks ago before the British Open. That was really nice, because I haven't won a tournament for a while. I'm doing things quite well at the moment. I'm driving it quite nice, my irons are pretty good. So my game is kind of there. I just need to put everything together to try and win a tournament. You know, the British Open was the last tournament I played. You know, I did everything pretty well. I just didn't quite have everything going my way. Every time --.

Q. Were you with your game when you left there?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, playing a major tournament, you know, you don't get everything going your way always. Something's always kind of missing a little bit and you got to play with it. I wouldn't say I played my best golf ever. I could have played better, but I had a pretty good week there.

Q. You're a long hitter. Do you think the course needs to be lengthened to better challenge guys like you these days?

ERNIE ELS: You know, if you make golf courses longer, you know, guys are average, and everybody's hitting the ball further than we did five, six years ago with technology. But there's another way to counter that and that's with what they're doing with the environment. They're making the golf courses even firmer so even though the guys are hitting it so far, you still have to put it in place. That's why you see a lot of guys back off drivers and hit 3-woods and sometimes 2-irons to keep it in play, to get the ball around, you know. I think the future of golf, yes, I think the golf courses are going to become longer. I think they're going to become more demanding. And you know, that's probably the right thing to do, because how much better can a golf ball get, and how much better can we make golf clubs? Right now, I guess we're on the top of the curve. I guess the golf courses are next to change.

Q. Does it frustrate you a little bit, what's gone on in the majors -- you finished second three times. That's pretty darn good in a lot of people's eyes the fact you've been there and been in the hunt. Do you think that gets forgotten a lot of times?

ERNIE ELS: I don't particularly care. It would be nice if I finished second maybe in a playoff. I think you would remember that a lot better. Any real chance I had of winning a major championship this year was Augusta. I had a real good chance, even the back nine. I didn't make the putts when I had to. I pretty much hit every shot the way I wanted to, but it didn't turn out my way. The U.S. Open I just happened to play a good Saturday round. Went from nowhere to second. Played in the final group on Sunday, and kind of played very mediocre on Sunday. Kind of just happened to finish second. Seemed like everybody kind of backed off that week. Then, the Open, like I said, I thought I played pretty well, I played better than I did at the U.S. Open but didn't get everything going my way. Every time I made a good move on the front 9, seemed like I gave it back on the back nine - just didn't quite keep the momentum going every day. So finished second there again. So with a little bit of luck I'll finish second every time in the majors, I don't know if that's ever been done, but who cares? (Laughter.)

Q. You wouldn't want to do it again? 2, 2, 2 and 1 would be nice.

ERNIE ELS: Imagine that, yeah. That would be nice.

Q. Has there become a point where finishing second starts eating at you a little bit?

ERNIE ELS: I've had quite a few second-place finishes this year outside the majors also. You know, at least you know you're playing pretty well for one guy. You're playing pretty well. At least that's a positive. I'm trying to work at my game this year. I'm trying to get it to where I think I can compete with the best players in the world. Sometimes you get it there, sometimes you're not. It would be nice to get a win before the end of this year on this Tour though.

Q. Ernie, you mentioned that this is a special place where you started out. What would that do to your career if you were able to top that off with a win this weekend?

ERNIE ELS: That would be great. This is, as I said, one of the special places in my golfing calendar in the year. It's one of my favorite courses around the world. It's always in great shape. I've met some really nice people here; made some good friends at this tournament. I've had some chances to win here. In '95, I think I made bogey on 18th to lose to Lee Janzen. Hey, if I don't, so be it. I've had good finishes here anyway. It would definitely be a good win this year because I haven't won a tournament this year on this Tour so it would be great.

Q. Are you playing next week?

ERNIE ELS: No, I'm not. Taking it easy.

Q. This is your get-ready for --?

ERNIE ELS: This is my "Get-ready" so I'm going to be in Orlando next week, go out 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon hit some balls; get ready for the heat in Louisville. I remember the last time I was there in '96, jeez, it was pretty warm.

Q. Ernie, you said this was one of your favorite courses. Which holes are your favorite and why?

ERNIE ELS: There's some great holes out here. With the elevation, I like the holes going down the hill, for one, it's easy to walk down, and at the visual, when you can get on the tee and you see the hole from tee to green, you know, it's quite spectacular. I think 10 is the best hole on this golf course. I think it's one of the tougher holes on Tour even. It's a hole you got to hit the fairway. It's pretty long. When you miss the fairway, you've got to cross the pond. There's a bunker back left. A great design. Another great one is 14, the par 5. Hit off a good drive, long hitters can just about get there. It's really a long hole. Other guys can lay-up and you have got to hit a good third shot to make birdie. There's so many beautiful holes. 15 is a great hole. Short little par 4. Hit it short in the water -- some excellent holes. This whole golf course, Jack Nicklaus design. He did a good job here.

Q. I don't remember Valhalla very well. It seems to me that going from there to here in 1996, people talked about how that was a Nicklaus course; this is a Nicklaus course, it was a good preparation for this. Does this course help you prepare for Valhalla because Jack designed both courses? Are there enough similarities between the two -- this is a good place to tune up your game for Valhalla?

ERNIE ELS: I think so. That's a good question, a good point. You know, Nicklaus has got a certain method in designing his golf courses. I think when he started out, he started out with Pete Dye, and there's a lot of Pete Dye in Jack Nicklaus designed courses. You mess up on the wrong side, you're dead. It's X. You can shoot real low scores on Nicklaus designed courses on your game and everything goes your way and you get your distances right. You can play to little corners of the greens where the flag's going to be. Some days, you're right on, you know. And if you keep on playing that well-being that aggressive somewhere this golf course is going to bite you. So you go a lot of times, you can play safe, and you can get around with a nice safe round. You can shoot your even par 1-under par pretty easily. But if you want to go after it, you're going to take the risk. Maybe shoot a very high score. I did that at Valhalla. I shot a 68 in the second round, and I went out and shot a 79 in the third round and shot 69 again on the final round. So there's risk on these type of golf courses. You got to think your way around them. I think it's good to play here; then go there.

Q. Do you do anything differently when you come out here preparing for the tournament for the altitude physically and also with your equipment? How do you stay in shape when you're not golfing?

ERNIE ELS: Don't drink too many beers this week. Or don't smoke, whatever you do. You need all the air you can get. You know, it's pretty demanding walking this golf course. You walk down the first fairway, you look back, and you know you got to come back sometime. (Laughter.) Not a good thought to have. The same with down 10. It's a pretty demanding golf course to walk. Most of the guys, we're not used to this altitude. 5, 6 and a half thousand feet. I walk out here to the locker room, I'm going to be exhausted.

Q. Did you grow up in high altitude?

ERNIE ELS: I did. But I haven't been at Johannesburg for nine years. So you know, living in Florida and London and where I am -- I'm in South Africa. I'm on the coast there, so I'm a sea-level kid now. To come here and walk around these fairways, it's -- you need your air.

Q. Do you do anything off the golf course to stay in shape, and again, equipmentwise, do you take anything out and putt anything in the bag this week?

ERNIE ELS: Well, look at me, I'm in shape, I'm in great shape. I don't need to work out (Laughter.) No working out for me this week. I need all the energy I can get. Normally a guy that travels around here on Tour -- I haven't seen him this week, that's a good thing. If he sees me, I may have to go work out. I'm not going to work out this week. I've got a week off next week, I can try to get that back. Equipmentwise, no, I go with the same clubs I normally play with. I'm not quite familiar with a 4-wood or a 5-wood. So I'm not going to try it out this week. I don't even know how far I'll hit that club. I may hit it farther than my driver. You never know how far it will go. I'll go with the same equipment. I'm trying to find the right putter for me right now. So there we are.

Q. You haven't played since St. Andrews. That was extremely hard and fast. Now you've got a totally different situation here; right?


Q. Have you an adjustment?

ERNIE ELS: We got to make an adjustment. But, you know, you're kind of going to go from one week to another week. You go from St. Andrews, and I know I'm going to The INTERNATIONAL, and my memory banks tells me how to play this golf course. It's just one of those things. You go from one place to another place and you know how to play this golf course. I think most of the guys in the locker room know how they're going to approach this week. To go from here to a links course takes you a lot longer. A lot longer. I'm still -- when I left, I was still not familiar with all the shots you have to play. Here the game's in the area, you put the ball in the fairway. Get yardage, hopefully get all the calculations right, and just fire. Fairways are almost as quick as the greens out here, exceptionally fast and firm.

Q. What is the psychology of the guys going into the PGA knowing it's the last major of the year; Augusta is a long ways away. Does it help to have played well in the previous three as opposed to someone that missed a couple cuts? Do you sense those type of players may be pressed a little bit more than normal?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah. It's always good to have a better form going into a major obviously. Especially when it's the last one of the four. It's your last chance for the year to make an impact in a major championship. You know, I've played really well going to a major without any form. I've actually -- in years I missed the cut the week before, so... In a way that means a lot that you are playing well going in there, because you can tee it up; kind of feel comfortable with your game and play your game. When you're not playing that well going in there, you're sometimes feeling desperate is a plus. Because you feel like this is your last chance, I mean, give it all you have. All that stuff. In your mind, it might even be a better thing, because you're trying to really fight yourself through this bad patch you're in, and all of a sudden, things click, and you play a great tournament. A lot of times the guys are really desperate to play well play well that week. Other guys that might really play well going into the week, kind of take it easy, and you have a good week anyways, but if you push yourself a little further you can play a better week. It can go both ways. I definitely prefer going in there with a little bit of form. You feel comfortable.

Q. (Inaudible.) Are you totally at ease with your swing and mechanics?

ERNIE ELS: As I say, sometimes you got to work yourself as hard as you can before Thursday comes around. Sometimes -- this year's Open, I went down on the Sunday, started working the golf course and started playing the course. I found something early in the week, like on Monday, I found something in my swing I could go with and felt comfortable with, and that's with what I went with. I do believe -- you got to have it before at least by Wednesday. If you're still trying to get it before Thursday morning tee-off time, you are in deep trouble. At least you need to know what you need to work on before you get to a major.

Q. You mentioned looking at yardages right hopefully. It occurred to me in four rounds you're going to have 60 or 70 shots where your caddie has to figure the yards. Has to do the calculations. Now anybody can make a mistake. Have you had occasions here where you flew the green and he says: Sorry it was a mathematical --?

ERNIE ELS: Definitely. I've almost fired a number of caddies around this golf course. (Laughter.) Rick caddied for me before Neil. He almost got fired four times Rick caddied -- (inaudible) I almost fired him. I kind of said to him this morning: Give me the number. Give me the real number, and I'll try and work it back. Take 10 percent off or 12 percent off when it's really warm. I'll go with -- a lot of times you got to go with feel sometimes. The 9th hole, today, I hit 186 to the hole. I hit a 7-iron, passed the hole, and the ball came back to pretty close. But 7-iron flew uphill about 197 or something. So, you know, you just never -- sometimes you never know. I like my caddie to just give me the number, and my own way, I'll just work it back. So at least, I take the pressure off him this week a little bit.

Q. Will he fire you?

ERNIE ELS: Wouldn't be very good for him.

Q. Given how much you like the course and the format and the fact you played it eight years, are you surprised you haven't won here?

ERNIE ELS: (Inaudible.) I won't sound too cocky, but yeah I've had chances to win. Sure you come to a course you enjoy and you feel you can play it really well, but you've never won there before, what can you do? Other guys played better than I did. Maybe I made too many mistakes. I still feel very positive about playing here, and even if I don't win this week, I'm going to have a nice week. We'll see how it goes really. I think this is my 9th time here. So we'll see.


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