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May 22, 2002

Ernie Els


JOHN BUSH: First of all we would like to thank Ernie Els for coming by the media center.

Ernie, three top seven finishes here out of the past four years. Obviously a place that you feel pretty comfortable. How do you feel heading into this year's tournament?

ERNIE ELS: Good. I always enjoy coming here. It's a great golf course. Conditions on this golf course are probably the best we see on to the Tour, although we never really get the weather right for some reason. But it's really a great week and obviously with Jack Nicklaus as the host, you know, you couldn't ask for anything better. So that gets us excited and I feel that I, when I hit the ball well and I play well, this golf course suits my game pretty well. So I'm looking forward to a nice week. I got a couple things I got to work on. My swing and my game and I had a week off last week, but it's always nice to come back here.

JOHN BUSH: Questions.

Q. What are you working on?

ERNIE ELS: Everything, really.

Q. What happened to just a couple?

ERNIE ELS: I really played well at the Nelson. I probably should have got it on and played last week, but I didn't do anything last week. I went down to the Bahamas last week and the two company days that I didn't practice at all and so I feel a little bit rusty. I felt a little rusty this morning and Led was out there helping me out a little bit.

And I got a couple hours this afternoon and then obviously tomorrow I'm looking forward to it. So I hope it will all fit in tomorrow. But there's a couple little things I got to work on.

Q. You mentioned the Top-7 finishes, what is the thing that you've seen in those finishes that maybe anything, I don't know, consistent that maybe now you know what you need to do to break through and win here?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think you got to play the par-5s very well here. They're set up to long hitters pretty nicely. I think long hitters can get to most of the par-5s in two. So driving is very important on this golf course. And then depending upon where they put the flags, if you are very aggressive on the course and you keep going at flags and they come off, you can shoot low numbers. There's no question about that. Because some of the areas where they put the flags are very small and if you can get it in there, you got -- you can have a lot of birdie opportunities. But if you're a little bit off you can get some serious drama too. So I would say the keys are again to play the par-5s well and then the par-3s are pretty important too. If you can play them in level par, in a day and play the par-5s well, you can shoot under par.

Q. The weather a couple years ago certainly finishing up on Monday. Do you prefer the traditional Memorial weather, which seems to be wet?

ERNIE ELS: No, not really. The golf course is playing pretty wet at the moment. I know they have had a lot of rain here the last couple of weeks and the fairways are pretty generous, pretty soft. The greens are, I think they have been rubbing them quite a lot and they're putting very fast. They're very fast on the greens. But they're holding. You're not really spinning the ball a lot. Because there's a bit of sand underneath. But they're very fast on the surface.

Q. You mentioned Jack obviously being the host, he's made a decision to play this week. He was kind of hedging a little bit. He had some back trouble. What does he mean to the field knowing he'll be out there with you on Thursday and Friday, regardless of whether he makes the cut or not?

ERNIE ELS: Well it's great. I see Gary Player is here this week. And we play Arnold Palmer's golf tournament in Bay Hill, and that's just a special tournament. These guys are all legends of the game. They have really made golf what it is today. They meant so much to the sport. And to our Tour. Obviously, before Tiger, before he came, Jack and Arnold and Gary put golf on a nice stage for us, and we are reaping a lot of benefits from what they did for us. So now they are hosting a lot of golf tournaments and playing in a lot of them. So it's great. Jack is probably not going to play too many regular tournaments on tour any more. So when he plays it's special.

Q. You never saw Bobby Locke, obviously, in person, but were you aware of him growing up as a youngster?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I actually met him once. His hometown was kind of where I grew up in Germantown, South Africa. So this -- one day, I think I was 12 years old, I went into a store with my mom and in a clothing store to, I think I had to get fitted for a jacket or something. And I went in there and he was sitting on the couch in the store. So I met him there. I remember that pretty well. He was very, very friendly. He really encouraged me because I obviously told him that I'm a golfer and my mom was there and she was bragging about me a little bit. So he was very generous, very kind man. And yeah, I know Bobby's record quite well, you know. He's had a great record, obviously, in the British Opens. I think he's won that a couple, three, four, times. He was a hell of a champion.

Q. How often do you talk with Gary Player?

ERNIE ELS: We speak quite a few times in a year. I always play with him at the Masters. So we spend a couple of days together there. Through the year we have, we do a couple of things for charity together. We see each other, speak to each other on the telephone. And at the end of the year, he's always in South Africa having a holiday with his family and that's pretty close to where I live. So.

Q. What's the --

ERNIE ELS: We run into each other. But it's never kind of planned. We just kind of run into each other.

Q. What's the most meaningful thing he's ever said to you? I imagine it wasn't a short conversation.

ERNIE ELS: No. I pick his brain quite a lot when I am around him. So it's kind of hard to say what really stands out. But quite a few things he's said to me in the past.

Q. Jack was hoping that this course was going to have a little bit of roll because I think it hasn't rained in about five days, which is an eternity around here. But from what you're saying, is it playing pretty similar to the way it has the last three years and does that give the same guys the advantage that carry the ball a long way?

ERNIE ELS: Same guys or same guy?


Q. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt.

ERNIE ELS: Okay. No, it's -- this golf course really is along hitter's dream. Obviously when it plays firmer it brings a lot of other players into the equation. I feel when it's wet you would think that everybody has the similar chance or same chance. But I feel when it's really wet, that's when those par-5s really play up the long hitter's alley. At the moment the golf course is as firm as I've seen it in a couple of years. And I'm still only getting about two yards of roll on my drives. We're not picking up any mud on the balls on the fairways. As I said, you know, if they -- they have really done a good job on the greens getting them dry. They're not bouncing and firing. They're very fast on the surfaces and the ball's not spinning back. So if we have the same weather for the rest of the week, you'll see scores go up and up and up as it goes on. And, but, still if you can put the ball high up in the air, on all kinds of shots it will really be a benefit for you this week.

Q. Has Jack changed your strategy off of the 18 tee at all by what he did to the hole?

ERNIE ELS: No, it's still a 3-wood for me. I never really hit driver down there. It's a 3-wood, 6 -, 7-iron. You definitely see the water a little bit closer to the fairway. That's visibly changed, which you can see. But it doesn't change the way I play the hole.

Q. You haven't been one of those guys who have tried to carry the dogleg?

ERNIE ELS: No. No. I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to that. I just get it on and play.

Q. Jack said yesterday that in pressure situations too many players play Tiger as opposed to playing the golf course. Does that happen to you and how do you keep from doing that?

ERNIE ELS: That's true. That's true. Yeah. I think that's the biggest problem of the Tour at the moment, the players. And especially guys that consider themselves close to his level. Well, it happened to me again this year at the Masters. I think trying to get things to move in my round because I felt like things were kind of standing still in my round. I felt I had to get things moving. And I played a shot that I shouldn't have played and played myself out of the tournament. So, yeah, I think Jack is right. And I think that guys get kind of sucked into his game plan. And I'm sure he doesn't play myself or Mickelson or the Tour, you know, or the players. I think he goes out there and he plays the golf course and place to the best of his ability. And I think that's why there's such a big gap. I think guys have found themselves playing to his level or not to his level, but trying to compete against him instead of against themselves or the golf course.

Q. What are you specifically going to try and break that with?

ERNIE ELS: I've got quite a few things that I'm thinking about at the moment. And that I'm working on. It's basically to play each and every shot the way it should be played and the way the hole kind of sets you up, instead of playing the whole golf tournament on one shot.

Q. Two questions kind of on those lines. If you would have punched out on 13, which I presume is what you're talking about, and your round continued to stay still all the way through 18 and you finished two back, do you think you would have been just as upset with yourself for not trying to attack? I mean it's all easy to talk about in hindsight.

ERNIE ELS: You see, I had that situation in 2000. That last round in 2000 I played as good as anybody, really. I hit just about every green. I hit the par-5s in two and I was just, I just could not make a putt. And that was as frustrating as I've ever been on a golf course walking off there. Because I felt I played good golf to have won the tournament and I walked off not making anything. So that was very frustrating. And I guess I look back now, I guess I felt I didn't want that to happen again. I felt that I needed to make it happen myself instead of just hitting the shot, hitting it on the green and if it goes in, great, if it doesn't go in, okay. I was kind of tired of that situation. I tried to get something going. So chipping out and making five there, who knows, you know, it's such a crazy game. Maybe I got, I got something going. You could never say. I felt that things were staying still and I was going backwards and not forwards, so I was really pushing the situation.

Q. How hard was that shot?

ERNIE ELS: Well, the shot that I took on was not really the shot I should have taken on. I didn't have much of a success rate there.

Q. 40 percent?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. 30 percent. So, it's the kind of a shot I had in Dubai and I just went with it. But it was totally different situations, obviously.

Q. Would you, if you were in that situation again, not that specific location, but in another Major in the same round where it feels like it's standing still, what do you do? I'm not sure I understand this. Will you continue to go for it if you feel like you're spinning your wheels or what?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I will still, you know, depending upon the situation, you can never really say. I might feel different next time. Those, this previous time I felt the way I felt and I feel I couldn't really change the way I was feeling. Other times you can stand on the tee and in such a frame of mind that you can just go with how you feel. Or you can tell yourself, "Okay, that's not the right situation, let's go with this option." That time I was so into trying to get things going and I was, my mindset was just that way. And I couldn't step back and get myself out of it. That kind of a thing.

Q. One of the other things Jack said the other day was he never cared who was in the field and because he couldn't control them and we heard that forever in golf.

ERNIE ELS: That's true, yeah.

Q. Have you ever finished second and felt okay about it?

ERNIE ELS: Couple of times, yeah. I couldn't say what percentage of it, I couldn't give you a percentage. Maybe 20 percent of the time I felt good about it. And 80 percent of the time I haven't felt very good about it. I think back to 2000 and I had six or seven seconds. Out of them maybe one or two I felt good about. I think, yeah, I finished second, yeah, one year. I think that was 2000. And I shot a really good final round to finish second. So I felt good about that. Because I kind of grinded the whole week and then, boom, played a great final round. So not really being in the hunt of things but finishing second I felt good about that. But there's nothing like winning. Nothing like winning.

Q. Have you been to Bethpage yet?


Q. Were there one or two highlights from your week in the Bahamas? What did you do that was memorable?

ERNIE ELS: The whole week was a highlight.

Q. What do you do when you're there?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I didn't go fishing. I had two golf days I had to do. To I went to the Ocean Club down there and I had some guests that came down and I had to play two days of golf which was a bit of a drawback.

(Laughter.) But, no, we went out to a couple of the islands. I got a friend that's got a boat there. And went snorkeling and swimming and he is a man that is swimming pretty well now. We had a nice time. Then I didn't go gambling either, which was another drawback.

(Laughter.) I only go once when I'm there.

Q. Can you talk about what made you at a young age, move from tennis to golf?

ERNIE ELS: Well, if you look at my size at the moment. I actually, in the Bahamas, I played tennis every day. I tell you one thing, I'm not moving very well. I'm a little heavy on the top side. But, no, I had a lot of talent in tennis. I didn't have a lot of coaching but when I had coaching people tried to encourage me to keep playing. But it was just that I didn't enjoy that kind of competitiveness. It was a little rough, I felt. It was -- parents were out, just sitting next to the court and there was a lot of stuff going on. And I all the work you had to put in. I just didn't feel that was the way I wanted to go. I felt better hitting balls all day on the range at the golf course or chipping and putting and playing with the pros than practicing tennis. So it was just, I was never going to do that. I was always felt better about playing golf.

Q. Is it not a friendly game?

ERNIE ELS: It's different. It's just totally different. The competitive thing out there is totally different. Tennis is a kind of too in your face kind of a thing.

Q. You're playing the other guy specifically, not the golf course in golf I mean it's pretty personal isn't it? Did you not like that part of it also?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I don't think I liked that. Team sport, cricket and rugby, I didn't mind getting physical. But tennis was just a different feel. I really didn't enjoy it. That kind of bitchiness.

(Laughter.) I don't know the exact word for it .

Q. That's a good one.

ERNIE ELS: I didn't like that. It was kind of a different kind of a sport. At least in golf I can take it out on the club face. Or caddy.

Q. Not a make McEnroe fan?

ERNIE ELS: No, not a very good attitude on the tennis court anyways.

Q. Do you think a U.S. Open tests every facet of your game?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. More than anything. I think that Augusta is getting up there and the British Open's been up there, but the U.S. Open really tests everything. The golf course for one, you know, you got to be very mentally prepared for the U.S. Open golf courses. The different shots, ball striking, your short game's got to be on. Especially your 8-foot putts and in, you got to be really strong. And that's again a mental strength that is very important there. And then obviously long play. Your driving. Driving is at a premium more than anything.

Q. We were asking this of Phil a couple weeks ago and his complaint was that it doesn't test your short game. If you miss a green, usually, Pinehurst being the exception, there is only one style of chip that you could play. I wonder if you could speak to that or would you just disagree with that?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, I think he's got a point there. The high rough is around the whole golf course. And around the greens, sure. But they're different types of shots out of that long stuff too. It's not just a big bunker shot, big swing shot at it. Sometimes you got to play differently. But I think he's got a point where it's always long grass. You never really are playing a little chip and run or a lob shot or stuff like that. So I think he's got a point there. But whatever your situation is like, your short game's got to be good. Out of the long stuff or those fringes or out of the bunkers, you know, you get different shots and the greens are so firm that you really got to be on.

Q. Is the Open your favorite of the Majors and how would you rank them in your own pecking order?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, it is my favorite maybe because I've won it. But, yeah, I enjoy the U.S. Opens when they play them on the east coast. And I did enjoy Pebble Beach. I did not enjoy Olympic or I did not enjoy Southern Hills. I felt that it was too many doglegs. And I'm only talking for my own personal point of view. So I didn't like that. I like east coast, New York type of -- Oakmont type of golf courses, Winged Foot, Baltusrol. I liked the way they set them up with the poa annua greens. They're really firm, very fast. You know what the ball's going to do when you're chipping it. So I really enjoy that. And they seem to be longer golf courses. So you're hitting drivers more often.

Out on the west coast or even Southern Hills, you know, I really didn't like Southern Hills much. It was doglegs every hole and doglegs up the hills and I just, you just had to fiddle with it too much. And I like down the straight away stuff. Long stuff.

JOHN BUSH: Any more questions? Ernie, thanks for coming by and good luck this week.

ERNIE ELS: Thank you.

End of FastScripts....

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