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June 12, 2001

Ernie Els


RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to have Ernie Els with us. Ernie, thanks for taking some time out to spend a few moments with us. Ernie is the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Open Champion, and this is his ninth appearance in the U.S. Open. Ernie, six of the eight times you've played in the Open, you've made the cut; and each of those times you've been in the Top-10 in greens and regulation. I was wondering if you could speak to the importance of hitting greens in regulation in an Open and how you might go about preparing for that.

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's very important. I think if you look at most of the past champions in this Championship and you look at the stats, I think most of them are up there, either fairways hit or greens in regulation. And the next step that's very important is putting. You've got to really putt well at any U.S. Open site. So those three are the most important. And then this week it's going to be tough hitting greens. These greens are -- some of them are more undulating than Augusta and the speed of them are similar to Augusta. And when you bring in the wind and the dryness of the greens, you know, they've even got more speed. So putting is going to be very, very tough this week. And even hitting greens in regulation, because of the length of some of these holes, it really puts some teeth back into this golf course. 17 used to be a 2-iron and a little flick to the green. Today, I had to hit a 3-wood and a 9-iron. So although a 9-iron is a very short club, the green is designed such that you've got to be very accurate. So I don't see -- I see us in for a difficult week.

Q. How are you playing coming into this Championship?

ERNIE ELS: Well, if you looked at my record the last month or so, it hasn't really been good. I've been having a bit of an up-and-down year. I traveled quite a lot this year. The last five weeks, I've been to England and Germany and back to the States and even back to South Africa for a quick visit down there. So I've done a lot of traveling. But I had a good week last week and really worked hard at my game, and feel a little bit more comfortable with my swing. I've been a little out of sync with a lot of things I've done with my golf swing, and that's caused my problems. So it feels a little better right now, and it's a good time to start turning it around in early June.

Q. Kind of a hometown question for you, but I was looking through the book, and between you and Payne and Lee Janzen, seven of the last ten guys to win the Open have been from Orlando. I'm wondering whether there's a weather factor or anything you can see, or is it just geographic coincidence?

ERNIE ELS: It must be just coincidence. But for a while, a third of the Tour used to live in Orlando. So it was kind of ironic. But it gets really warm there. And I practiced out there a lot. So maybe it's got something to do with it. But, no, just coincidence.

Q. A few of the players, including David Duval were in here a little while ago, talking about in light of how well Tiger plays in these majors, that the other guys have to -- they were using the words "perfect round," "mistake-free rounds." Do you go into a tournament when Tiger is here, thinking you have to play that way to win?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think that on regular Tour events, yes. It's a little different situation when we're playing on the PGA TOUR, and then come play the four majors, you know. I think the mindset is a little different in the four majors. The golf courses are definitely a lot different. Even Tiger is making mistakes in major championships. I don't see him making a lot of mistakes in the regular Tour events. It's just a little bit different. We've got more room. The greens are different. So the way Tiger plays, he's got to really be off to make big mistakes in the regular Tour events. Saying that, in major championships, he's going to make mistakes, too. Especially this week. It's a week where this golf course is as tough as I've seen, especially on and around the greens. Even Tiger is going to have a missed club every now and again. But what he does better than the rest of us -- at the moment he misses it is on the right side. Where we might go and try to push the round, we -- and try to go at a flag you shouldn't go at and miss it on the wrong side and end up with a double or even worse. So I think that's why Tiger is beating us. He misses it in a spot where he can get up-and-down.

Q. What made you decide to get Ricci back on your bag, and how do you believe that will perhaps help you this week?

ERNIE ELS: Rick got back on the bag two weeks ago, and it was really myself and Nick Price -- he actually approached me and said, "Listen, I think we were a good team together, and why don't we get together again." And he's such a great friend of mine and he's helped me throughout my career, he went back with Jimmy Johnson, and I got Ricci back. So we kind of went a full circle in the last three or so years. And Ricci and myself, we've won some good tournaments together. So I feel we can get something going again soon.

Q. No matter how you've played this year, it's a U.S. Open week, and it's hot weather, the conditions you won your two prior Opens in. Do you feel comfortable at this point, no matter how you played this year?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's obviously a very important week, not only for me, but for everybody. I feel that it's June, and it's like in a blink of an eye, the year is almost gone again. So I've got to really start stepping up, if I want to start competing again and have a chance to win. You only feel comfortable when you feel comfortable by the way you're swinging and striking the ball and by the way you're playing. So I'm anxiously awaiting Thursday, because I feel I'm striking it quite nice, and I just kind of want to get going.

Q. There's only two par-5s on this course. Are you sad about that, and where are the birdie opportunities here?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm quite sad about two par-5s, especially -- you can reach No. 13. That's a real birdie opportunity. 5 is also a birdie opportunity, because if you hit two good shots, you set yourself up with a little sand iron into the green, there. And with those kind of clubs, you know, the guys are pretty good. So that's a birdie opportunity. There's a couple other ones, but not too many. There's a couple of par-4s that are doglegs, and you can get up with a 3-wood and give yourself a wedge or 9-iron into the green. So there are quite a few opportunities, but, man, it's like I mentioned earlier. 9 and 18, before you even start your round, you start thinking about that, because those greens are very difficult. If you're on your game and you catch the weather right, without any breeze, you can play the golf course.

Q. I think four, five, six weeks ago, you made some swing changes, and I wonder what they were and why you made them and if you've stuck with them and are comfortable now?

ERNIE ELS: I think you're probably referring to before the Masters, I made some swing changes. And we go through it sometimes; and that doesn't quite work, and I'm kind of working on something else right now. My swing isn't any different. It's just a different swing thought. So for a while it worked good, but I don't think it was the right thing to do, and I've gone back to something else now. But it's really just a swing thought to get the club down through the ball the way I want to. So I think I'm feeling a bit more comfortable with that now.

Q. You had the pleasure of playing out there -- you were out there at high noon today and got a taste of the Tulsa heat. There are many that are of the opinion that the heat could play to the advantage of players who are on the American TOUR. Those that come over from Europe, Phillip Price was in a full parka playing last week. Do you think these conditions and the Bermudagrass could favor the American players?

ERNIE ELS: I think the heat will be a factor for anybody. I think this week, I think guys that are teeing off early are definitely at an advantage. They might play before the wind starts blowing, they're playing in calm conditions, cool conditions. So I think if you have a really good draw, you should be feeling good about it right now. Saying that, I think most of the guys, even the European guys are in good shape. When you get into the heat of the battle, you don't even think about the heat. So if you drink enough water or whatever, I think you should be fine. It's going to be 90-plus degrees, and that's kind of normal for this time of the year. But I think most of the guys will be able to handle it.

Q. In reference to Tiger, again, a little bit, though I know you're not paired with him here, but the dynamic of being paired and playing with Tiger in an event, do you personally enjoy that? Does it lift you? Is it distracting, can you talk a little bit about that?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I like playing with Tiger, because you definitely can learn something. I think he lifts you in ways. And obviously when you're swinging well and you're feeling good about your own game, you can really have a good time playing with him, because he can kind of pull you along a little bit. But if you're going the other way, you can have a very long day. Because there are a lot more people watching and it's just a little bit more crazy than you're normally used to probably. But I really enjoy playing with him. I like watching him swing, and you can learn something from him.

Q. How long ago did you start working with David Leadbetter again? I remember it was Robert Baker, wasn't it, before?

ERNIE ELS: I've been with David the last two years, and before that I was with Robert Baker for a while.

Q. So you don't see Robert Baker anymore?

ERNIE ELS: That's just what I said.

Q. Ernie, the odds-makers are talking about Tiger, lots of talk about him winning, and the rest of you guys don't need to show up. Does that make you mad, does it inspire you, does it motivate you, does it put a fire in your belly to hear that?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it does. But you've got to hand it to him. He's won the last four majors. It's no wonder you guys ask these questions, because it's just the way it is. But I definitely can't help that the guy is that good. That's just a fact of the matter. Saying that, I've got to believe that I've got a good chance of playing well and winning this week, and that's what I've got to believe in. But we're competing against a guy that's dominating a sport, unlike anybody else. I don't even think heavyweight boxers dominate their sport like that. Those guys go for four, five fights and then they lose. This guy has been going at us for a little bit longer.

Q. Ernie, I know you played a practice round today with Gary Nicklaus. Can you compare him to his father, not as a player, but how he -- as a person how they compare?

ERNIE ELS: Gary is a good friend of mine. I've known Gary close to ten years now. We played in Europe together for a while. He's just a fine, fine guy. He's a good friend of mine, and we play together quite a lot. And he's just -- he's a good player. He's proved himself. He's almost won a tournament before and he's kept his card out here. And I think he just wants to get on with his own life. I can't speak for him, but I think he's doing a fine job with his own golf game. It must be hard to be the son of the best player ever. So he's doing well.

RAND JERRIS: Ernie, thanks very much for your time, and good luck this week.

End of FastScripts....

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