January 10, 2001
LEE PATTERSON: Ernie, thank you. We appreciate you spending some time with us. Maybe just a couple thoughts about the golf course you just got through. How do you feel as we're heading into another season?
ERNIE ELS: Golf course is kind of the same as last year, I would think. The wind is the same, almost the same strength, I think. Hopefully it stays this way, which is the way I remember the golf course. A little blustery, windy. You got to play some shots out there. The course is designed for the wind. It's an interesting golf course. Of course, it's a course unlike we'll see again this year, because of the elevation and stuff. I enjoy this course. I enjoy hitting the shots here, especially the 18th fairway, you can just let it go down there. The greens are quite awkward. I know the guys aren't used to this kind of grain on the greens, but this is what you find in these kind of conditions. You need a tough grass because the wind blows quite a bit, gets pretty warm here. I think some of the guys might not be all that familiar with this type of greens, but I kind of grew up on these greens, so I'm pretty familiar with them. I'm looking forward to the week. Got a very strong field this year. Got some players in form. But I've got some good vibes from last year, so I'm looking forward to the week.
Q. Do you think it helped that you played last week?
ERNIE ELS: I think so. Broke the ice last week a little bit, so to speak, got some rust off my game. Played some good golf; played some very bad golf. Lost my last two matches. Yeah, I think it was a good week. It was a good start to my year. At least I've got some competitive golf under my belt coming in here this week, so I feel it will help.
Q. A couple guys have been in already talking about their plans for the year. Is there a way you can get better this year than you were last year?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah (laughter).
Q. Do you care to discuss?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I've got some goals this year. You know, at least I'm playing with a bit more confidence than last year this time, so I can look forward to better things hopefully early on in the year. I've got a pretty full schedule. I'm playing this week, I'm playing next week and the week after. So it's a pretty strong start to my year. But mainly concentrated on the US PGA TOUR, unlike previous years where I've been hopping around, playing South Africa, playing Europe and so forth. I'm playing mainly in the US till after the Masters. I'll go to Europe for the PGA and SAP, but that's in May almost. Obviously, it's to get my game really in fine, fine form heading into the Florida Swing and into the weeks before the Masters.
Q. Is that why you added Phoenix? You never played there before.
ERNIE ELS: Well, not really. The matchplay last week really screwed up the whole schedule for me. When I decided that I'd play the matchplay, I kind of figured, you know, you got such a long way to get to Australia, you might as well head on, so that's what I'm doing. I'm playing this week, next week, and I'm play Phoenix. Kind of going home for me. I'm kind of in the middle of my trip, going to South Africa (laughter). I've got a couple of really nice weeks coming up, then I'm planning a three-week break before Doral.
Q. No Nissan?
ERNIE ELS: No West Coast, no. No Nissan.
Q. No California?
ERNIE ELS: No California, sorry. Phoenix is pretty close.
Q. What were the factors that made you decide to concentrate this year mainly on the PGA TOUR?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I'm skipping the one tournament in South Africa this year. I'm skipping the Heineken Classic, which is normally played in Perth. So those are two European events, "European" events. That was kind of my start to Europe. A couple years ago they used to have the Johnnie Walker Classic also this time of the year. Then I decided to come here last year, and I enjoyed it so much. As I say, the Australian tournament was on the first week, so it kind of just, you know, was feeding off last week. That's why I'm playing the first four weeks of the US PGA TOUR. I could go to Dubai the week of Doral, but I decided no because it's one hell of a flight again, and I'm doing a lot of flying as it is right now. I'd rather go into Florida and have a nice, peaceful kind of a month before Augusta instead of flying to Dubai and maybe flying to Qatar and so on. You know, I looked at the schedule. That's kind of what I wanted to do. There's plenty of time to make up in Europe. I'm going to play the SAP event, it's a Deutsche Bank tournament. I'm playing a British PGA, I'm playing Loch Lomond, British Open. All in all, I'll cover Europe pretty easily.
Q. How many events will you play on the US tour this year?
ERNIE ELS: You know, I haven't counted. It was 20 last year. I think it will be 21, maybe 22 this year. We'll stack it up as years come on, as the years go.
Q. Are you a better player than you were in '97?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I think I got a lot better swing thoughts. I think a little bit of experience. Definitely a better player, better striker, better player. Yeah, I would say that. You could see that last year. If not for one guy, I probably would have won a major last year. But I had a good year last year. I would say I think I'm a better - touch wood - better thinker on the golf course (laughter).
Q. Do you think because of what Tiger did at Pebble Beach last year, the score he shot, you can expect Southern Hills to be as brutal as the US Open has ever been? Do you think the USGA would be put off that someone would dare shoot that score and do everything they cannot to have it happen again?
ERNIE ELS: We've played The TOUR Championship.
Q. Different weather.
ERNIE ELS: Tough for the USGA to get the greens rock hard, firm and fast because of the heat at that time of the year. Texas, we're going to play in 90 degree heat.
Q. Never stopped them before.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah. Saying that, Oakmont was pretty firm and fast. Probably get them firm. It's not the same kind of course at Pebble Beach. It's a shorter golf course. You'll see guys -- I would say you'll have a tighter finish. It will be very hard for a guy to run away. Saying that, Pricey did that at the PGA. We know what Tiger did. I just feel it's a different type of course. Guys like Logan Roberts, Justin Leonard, there's a lot of other guys coming into the equation.
Q. Do you like that course?
ERNIE ELS: I played a good TOUR Championship there, so I have a good record out of four years there playing well once (laughter).
Q. One tournament or one round?
ERNIE ELS: No, a couple of rounds actually (laughter).
Q. Have you played Atlanta Golf Club?
ERNIE ELS: No. Don't know anything about that. I don't know anything about that.
Q. I know you've always played worldwide and prided yourself on doing that. Have you ever wondered if you would even be a better player if you just focused on one tour, like a lot of guys do?
ERNIE ELS: I've had that conversation with my wife, my dad, my manager, a lot of people. I've never really done that. I think last year was the first time I ever played 20 events over year, in the States. It's definitely the tour to play on. I don't know. I mean, I don't know if I'll get bored, you know, I don't know. I definitely know that the golf courses are better here. The competition is a lot stronger. You'll become a better player playing here. That's why I've been playing the majority of my events over here. To play here 12 months of the years, I don't know. I think in years to come, you'll see me play a lot more over here. You know, it's just a natural thing to do, I think, for myself. Build myself a nice place in the Bahamas, close right there, yeah. Maybe from next year. Feels good talking about it (winking). It's really nice.
Q. What do you remember most about the last day here last year?
ERNIE ELS: I really do remember the last nine pretty well because that's when you don't want to make mistakes. When the big shots are being played is obviously on the Back 9. I played three rounds with Tiger last year. We had a really good time. I felt I played really well. I definitely missed two crucial putts on 14 last year, a little five-footer down the hill. And 16, I was about ten feet above the hole, hit a really good putt, you know, it lipped out. I definitely remember the two eagles we made. That's something you won't forget in a hurry. I remember the second shot I played into the 72nd hole, 2-iron in there, quite special. Then obviously the putt. Obviously I remember Tiger's 45-footer, quite well. We had a good time last year.
Q. You came in after and you kind of wanted us to go on forever. Surprised that you wanted to keep it going and going.
ERNIE ELS: When he was sitting here?
Q. When you were talking afterwards, you were kind of surprised because you got the feeling from Tiger that he wanted this to go on till it got dark, didn't want it to end.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think when the playoff started, especially the way we both got ourselves into the playoff, I think going into the first extra hole we were starting to really enjoy ourselves. I think at that time, although we were really trying to win it, it wasn't -- we knew exactly where we stood with each other. I think we both knew that we played as good as we possibly could probably. Whoever won from there on, you know, it was kind of a bonus, because we already had our fun. I think we both felt that way.
Q. In the practice round, you just played one practice round besides the ProAm?
ERNIE ELS: Last year?
Q. No, this week.
ERNIE ELS: Yes.
Q. When you got to the first green, were you tempting to go back to see how that putt went?
ERNIE ELS: No, not really. We had a little chuckle when we walked off. It the first time since last year back on that green. Kind of had a little chuckle when we walked off the green.
ERNIE ELS: A little smile, what is that (laughter)?
Q. I thought it might be worse.
ERNIE ELS: The green is a little bit different. There's a bit more color in it, but slower than last year. I was kind of surprised that he made the putt, but the way he made the putt. The ball was really going in at quite a speed. The putt I hit, I thought I hit the hard enough. It came up at least a foot short. He probably knew something I didn't on that green.
Q. Forgetting results from last year, were you happy with the way you played? Do you think you'll play that well or better this year?
ERNIE ELS: I think I'm pretty pleased with the year I had last year. It was a consistent year. I didn't win as many times as I probably could have won. You know, I definitely had a very consistent year from starting the year to the year end. I feel that I want to continue in that way and get better this year. I feel the time is right for me to get better and play at the higher level, the level that I've always wanted to play at.
Q. You mentioned yesterday the way to get back into it, so to speak, to get Tiger early in the year, almost as a way of sending a message.
ERNIE ELS: Yes.
Q. Could you discuss that a little bit more? This may be a poor question, but might your year have been different last year had you won the playoff?
ERNIE ELS: Could have been. First of all, I think to start the year off strong not only gives you self-confidence, it really sends out a message that you're ready to play. This will be my second tournament in the four weeks, and I definitely want to have a good start, and I want to play well early on, get myself off on the right note. You know, last year, if I won this championship, who knows, it could have been a little bit different. From here on, I mean, Tiger was just very dominant. He just got stronger and stronger as the year went by. I think about the putts he made here last year, the way he got himself out of trouble last year, kind of set the scene almost to speak, you know. Who knows? The guy that wins here this week might have the same kind of -- he might have the same kind of flow that comes his way. It could be very important. I was watching on the The Golf Channel or something last night, the guy that wins this tournament hasn't finished out of the top six of the Money List. It definitely helps to win this tournament.
LEE PATTERSON: Anything else for Ernie? Thank you, sir.
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