June 12, 2002
FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK
RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to be joined this morning by Ernie Els, 1994 and 1997 U.S. Open champion.
Maybe you could start us off, your two U.S. Open victories have come on very strong courses, at Oakmont and Congressional in terms of length. Could you compare those courses to what you see here at Bethpage.
ERNIE ELS: They are very similar. I think Congressional is the longer one of the three. This one is playing really long, but I think though Congressional was as long. The rough was as penal. We had softer conditions that year. The fairways were softer and the greens were softer and that made scoring a little bit easier. It all depends on the weather, obviously, this week.
Playing the golf course for the first time yesterday afternoon, it was quite an experience. I listened to Ricci, he walked it on Sunday and Monday, and he's got a picture in his mind of how I should play the hole. I haven't seen the golf course. Didn't quite believe when he said which lines I had to take. But I followed his advice yesterday, and I found that this is like any other U.S. Open. You've got to hit your drivers in the fairway. It sounds very boring, but that's just what you have to do. You've got to put it in the fairway.
This golf course, again, you can hit some 3-woods. The way I played yesterday, especially the longer par 4s on the card, you can still hit 3-woods because some of them are downwind, just to try to keep the ball in play; you're going with middle irons.
If I have to compare them, all three of them are very similar. I think Oakmont was obviously -- had a bit of lack of length to Congressional but I would say this one is, in a way, a lot tougher.
I just think that the rough here this week is probably as bad as I've seen it, (laughs) in all of my time playing U.S. Opens. I think it's going to be really penalizing this week.
Q. I heard yesterday that you spent quite a bit of time with David Leadbetter. What were you working on yesterday? Did you feel like you had anything in particular to work out?
ERNIE ELS: My swing has been basically pretty good for quite some time now. Last week over the weekend, I obviously didn't play as good as I wanted to. I shot a 72, 74 on Saturday, Sunday. Although I drove the ball very well at Westchester, I found problems with my irons into the greens. I wasn't hitting them the right distances, and I was putting a lot of them left. You know, on those small greens, you could not miss a lot of greens. That cost me last week.
You know, basically they just came out yesterday, walked with me for about 10 holes, 11 holes and changed a couple of small things. I got my hands up a little bit; my hands were a bit low, so I picked the club outside the line and got across at the top of my backswing, and I was using my hands too much through the shot. I got my hands up a little bit and a couple of other things, but really small things. I haven't changed anything in my swing.
And he showed me a little shot to use around the greens here, and I also had a problem with that last week. I didn't have a consistent little pitch shot out of the high rough. So, he gave me a little tip yesterday, and it felt a lot better.
Q. Different players have talked about the importance of putting always, keeping it straight off the tee, and even the wedge game from 60 to 80 yards in. If you could pick one thing you would like to be a little sharper than every other component of your game this week, what would it be?
ERNIE ELS: If I could really pick one, I wish I could hit 14 out of 14 fairways every day. (Smiles)
Obviously, that's not going to happen. I think you're absolutely right. From there, you can't advance the golf ball on to the greens most of the time, probably 95 percent of the time. So what do you do? You try and hack it out, give yourself a yardage. If it's your favorite yardage, if it's 75 yards, try and get it to that, and then you've got to try and up-and-down it for par.
So I think you're absolutely right. First of all, driving it as a premium, and when that fails, you've got to scramble. You've got to find a way of making par. If it's trying to hit it into a green-side bunker, your bunker play has got to be great. If it's laying it up on the fairway, your pitch shot's got to be great, and like in any U.S. Open, you've got to be putting really well. I remember when I won here, I was either No. 1 in greens hits or No. 1 in putting, or the Top-10 in putting, and so those two factors are quite important.
Q. Can you give us details of the little chip that Leadbetter was helping you with?
ERNIE ELS: I was just a little too wristy. It's a shot where you've got to carry the ball maybe three feet in the air to have maybe a soft little pop out of the rough. You know, I was just using my wrist too much and sometimes I'll flick it and the ball will fly four feet, five feet in the air and run away, or I'll just kind of get it stuck in the grass. So a little less wrist and just a bit more across the ball to get underneath the ball. It started coming out a lot more consistently.
Q. Talk about the mental approach starting this championship on tee No. 10.
ERNIE ELS: Mental approach for this championship, starting at 10. Yeah, 10 I think is a 499-yard hole. I played it pretty good yesterday, but obviously, I hit the fairway. You've just got to -- by No. 10, hopefully you'll be -- well we are actually going off two tees this week, so you're right.
Starting on No. 10 is one hell of a start. (Laughs)
You'd better be warmed up. 5 might not be a bad score on that hole, the first hole of the day. 499 yards, par 4, first hole of the day, that's pretty tough. Everybody's got to do it this week, so you'll probably see a lot of double-bogeys the first morning, the first day.
It will be a tough start, but as I say, a lot of other guys have to do it, and just try and make the best out of the situation.
Q. Two questions in the rough. One, when you've gotten in the fairway rough, how far can you usually advance the ball, and two, the rough around the greens, how deep is that and how is that going to affect the short game?
ERNIE ELS: The length of the rough is really very similar to any other year. It's just that it's so gnarly. It's thick.
Yesterday, when I drove it in the rough on some of the holes, sometimes I got lies in them and I could really advance the ball maybe 160, 170 yards at times. And other times, the one time I just missed the second cut by less than six inches, and that was the worst lie I had. That's kind of just where it's cut and then I could only just advance it maybe 40 yards.
It seems like if you hit it into the rough pretty decently, you get better lies. Around the greens, it's the same as ever. It's very thick, so you've got to have a particular shot, and that's what I worked on yesterday. But you can get the ball up-and-down. If you miss them on the right sides, you can have a chance of getting them up-and-down. The greens are very flat, so that's maybe the only plus we have going for us this week.
Q. What do you think the USGA's goal is each year when they put you though this, like a torture chamber?
ERNIE ELS: That's what it is, a torture chamber sometimes. When you're done here in four days, you know you've worked hard and you've worked hard on every aspect of your game.
I think one thing that they really do get right is they get the right champion for that week. Every year, every aspect of your game gets the test it deserves: Your mental strength, you've just got to hang in there; your scrambling ability, long iron play, driving ability, fairway, wood play, everything gets tested this week. And definitely, your nerves.
Q. And if it's set up similar this year, why does the defending champion have struggles the next year?
ERNIE ELS: Although it's set up very similar every year, the golf courses change. Some golf courses don't suit some players. I can tell you last year's golf course really didn't suit me. I could have told you that before the week started. I never had a good record at Southern Hills, and I really didn't like the way some of the holes were doglegging up the hills. I just felt that that was abnormal. You have a golf course that slopes this way and you have most of the holes going up against the hill. I didn't feel comfortable on that golf course.
Again, the set up was similar. It was different grass, but the fairways were as narrow, and the rough was as thick. So that's the difference.
Q. Some players are intimidated by major championships and others, like yourself, seem to produce their best golf in the most difficult circumstances. Is that something that came naturally to you or is it a conscious effort on your part to raise your game when you come to a U.S. Open or British Open or whatever?
ERNIE ELS: I think even before I started playing golf as a professional, I always had -- obviously, watching on television and watching Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus and even Seve and those guys before I turned pro, I watched them play U.S. Opens. I watched them play Masters and all of the majors. I just felt that I wanted to do that one day, play and compete and try and win majors.
I really think that I try a little harder. In my way, I stride a little harder, and there's a bit more emphasis on playing major championships well. I just feel my concentration level goes up a little bit. I know everybody else is going to have a tough time, so it almost makes you feel a little better. (Smiles)
Q. You obviously, earlier in your career, had all of those great finishes in the British Open and people would have assumed that would be the first one that you won. But you've turned out to be one of the best international players ever in U.S. Opens. Why have you had so much success under these conditions, and how does your game fit this particular course?
ERNIE ELS: Well, again, I can't really put my finger on it. I'm not the straightest driver in the world and I'm not the longest. I don't hit every green like some of the other guys. Tiger, I think, hits 75 percent of the greens; I'm not up there. I'm aggressive at times, and again here, you can't be too aggressive. So everything kind of, that I've done in U.S. Opens, plays against the stats that I have.
I guess I get the ball around. I've got a way of getting the ball around and get the ball in the hole. At times, I'm really on, when I'm on with my ball-striking, I can hit it with the best of them.
Overall, I miss quite a lot of greens, so I've got to scramble a lot. At times I hit a lot of fairways and I can hit it long. So when my game is on, I can feel that I can play a golf course pretty easily, pretty well.
So hopefully my game is on this week.
Q. From what you've found, does it fit this course? Do you like the look of it for your game?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I do. I like East Coast golf. I like the grasses they have up here. I like the poa annua greens. They are going to be pretty firm. You hit good shots into them, the ball will stop, and I like putting on them. I like the pace of the greens.
Ever since I played Baltusrol, I liked playing up here. I think playing it yesterday, I'm going to play late this afternoon again, and we'll have another look at it. But what I saw yesterday, I liked. As I say, you've got to take the good with the bad. You're going to miss some fairways, you're going to make some mistakes, but you've got to take that and move on.
Q. Is it fair to say that you can be a little hard on yourself?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah. You guys have been around a long time enough to start knowing me a little better. Yeah, when I don't perform, I don't like it. I don't like talking about it with you guys too much, but, yeah, I get a little bit hard on myself, and maybe the last couple of years I've been a little hard on myself. I've played some good golf the last couple of years and I haven't got anything for it in major championships. So, yeah.
Q. How do you balance that with staying patient in a championship like this; and how is your attitude important in this major than other ones?
ERNIE ELS: Well, we'll just have to wait and see when the bell goes tomorrow, what my attitude is like. At the moment, it's pretty good. I've worked on it a little bit. That's why I've probably seen Jos, to do work on my attitude a little bit, maybe not get as hard on myself as I used to be. I think at times I've been my own worst enemy.
Although I've had some success, I've had a lot of Top-10s, Top-20s in majors. Obviously, you want to win these things, and a lot of times I go into my own way, and maybe it's because I was a little tough on myself. I think I'm overcoming that now. I'm maturing as a player, as a person maybe. I'm 32 now, so I've been around a long time. I know what I want to expect from myself and I'll go out there and try and do it.
RAND JERRIS: Thanks very much for your time and we wish you the best of luck this week.
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