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August 13, 2002

Ernie Els


JULIUS MASON: Ernie Els, ladies and gentlemen, joining us at Hazeltine National Golf Club for the 84th PGA Championship. Ernie, welcome to the Twin Cities. Some thoughts on the golf course and we'll go to questions.

ERNIE ELS: I played it this morning for the first time, and it's a heck of a golf course. It's a big golf course. It's long. It's a great championship golf course. You know, it's in great shape. The greens are running pretty good, and obviously, it's like any major championship golf course, you've got to keep it in play and take your chances where they come. But you've got to be patient again this week, I think. The greens are quite difficult to putt on in places, so I guess you've got to hit it into the right levels and give yourself good opportunities. You know, really, it's a ball-striker's dream. If you're on your game, you should have a good week.

JULIUS MASON: Thanks, Ernie. Questions, folks.

Q. You said after the British that before the playoff, you thought to yourself that you would be a different golfer, however it came out. Could you just elaborate on what sparked that thought in your mind and in what respect, how have you changed?

ERNIE ELS: I think it's a little early. (Laughs). You know, surely, my record is better now than it's ever been. At least I've got three majors now. You know, this game, you've just got to keep working on it. I'm working on different things again this week, that I figure will help me this week. Obviously, winning the Open, I didn't play perfect golf, as you could have seen, so I feel I've got to work on a lot of aspects of my game and that's what I'm doing at the moment, with myself and David Leadbetter. Hopefully, by Thursday, I'll be -- I'll feel like I can really compete and I'm playing my best golf. I've got a lot of work left. Looking at the picture as a whole, yeah. My career is turning into a pretty good direction now. Always when you win a major championship, you feel that -- you feel like you can get to the next level and that's where I want to get to. Yeah, I feel very good.

Q. As you point out, the resume now has three major championships. I know it took a lot out of you and was harder than you wanted it to be that Saturday at Muirfield, but do you think it was a reminder to golf fans that winning major championship is art, it's difficult to do? Tiger might have blurred people's vision to that, but you don't just go out and enjoy your day and win your major; it's hard work?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, you're absolutely right. I think Tiger, the way he's won some majors, he really won it by quite a margin, at times. He's such a competitive player, when he's right on his game, he can blow other people out of the water quite easily. Yeah, it seems like the three I won, I really had to work hard. '94, I had the playoff. '97, I really played well down the stretch, but it was really very, very tight. I think the shot I hit to 17 that day, won me the tournament. I only won by one, I think. The Open, a couple of weeks ago, I kind of took control there for a while, but I just fell back. It's hard work. In some ways, I guess I've really earned it and you really feel good after that. It would have been nicer for my health to do it a little bit easier. But as you say, major championships is the most important tournaments that we play, and so I guess we put a lot more pressure on ourselves, also.

Q. Bethpage, we figured there was only going to be a handful of guys who could win, and Muirfield, we all agreed a bunch of guys could win. Where does Hazeltine shape up? Is length going to reduce the pool of winners or can a guy like Nick Price win here?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it depends if we get a lot of rain, it's going to be -- it's really going to favor the long hitters, obviously. The golf course measures at 7,300. That's, I think, even longer than Bethpage was, so that tells you something. But it doesn't quite play the same length as Bethpage. I don't know if you get more roll here, I don't know quite what it is, but I'm hitting a lot more 3-woods off of the tees. Obviously, the par 5s are the longest I've seen all year, all four of them. There's maybe only one that I can really get onto, and that's number 7. The rest is really three-shot par 5s. No. 1 is a very long par 4, 460 and there's another one that's 472, I think it's No. 12 that's really long. You know, I would say the way the golf course is playing now, it favors a lot more players than Bethpage did, but not as many as Muirfield.

Q. You hear stories about where the hockey players bring the Stanley Cup around. Where have you brought the Claret Jug? What response have you gotten?

ERNIE ELS: I've taken it everywhere. I took it to Denver a couple of weeks ago, when I played there. The week after the British Open, I was home in London, and especially on a Monday, we took it around the area, shall I say, and had quite a few nice drinks out of it. At the moment, I'm kind of just keeping it very close to myself. It's actually not here this week. I left it in Orlando with the guys at Lake Nona. I'll travel with it more most of the year.

Q. What's been the liquid of choice in that Claret Jug?

ERNIE ELS: Just some really cool, cold drinks. (Laughter.)

Q. You said a minute ago that you are working to get your game up to the next level. What is the next level for you?

ERNIE ELS: The next level for me is to really compete and challenge in major championships. The next level, let me put it this way, it would be for me to try and win as many majors as I can, and obviously, you would know, I'm trying to win all four at least once. That's my ultimate goal. I guess that's kind of the next level. Just to really compete in the next five, six years of major championships.

Q. Do you feel that you chipped away at the Tiger mystique by winning at the British Open, or do you have to, in order to do that, beat him head-to-head on a Sunday in a major?

ERNIE ELS: That's a good question. You know what, as I said, I'm just trying to get better. I believe if I can play to the best of my ability, I can really compete. As I said before, if Tiger is on his game, you know, he's such a competitor that he's probably still going to beat people, probably. At least if I could play to what I think I can play, that's what I'm trying to work to, who knows, you know. Might make a couple more putts here and there or chip-in or something like that and get lucky. It will be great to play with Tiger on a Sunday afternoon and really compete and be competitive with him and see what way you can go.

Q. A countryman of yours, Gary Player, said, most likely, you are the next player to win the career slam; halfway there. Do the two jewels that are missing in the crown hold you more hungry for those championships?

ERNIE ELS: Yes. I think the way the Masters is set up now, I played it this year, obviously, on a new layout and I really enjoyed it. I really feel -- again, I've got to get my game in shape to compete and then be competitive. So that's really what I want to do. And then we can start thinking about the rest of the stuff, but first of all, I've got to play well, I've got to strike the ball well, I've got to manage my game well, and if I can do that well, I've got enough talent to carry me through. It's all just -- I've just got to get all of the stuff, it has to be rightly timed for me. It's great that he said that, I actually spoke to him yesterday. He's in South Africa at the moment. I've just got to keep working on my game and try to get it in shape.

Q. During the week in Muirfield, you seemed a little bit shaky in terms of confidence, particularly going into the week early. What has that victory done for your confidence, I don't want to say self-esteem, but in terms of the nagging doubts that you may have had and all of the work you did with Jos, has that changed at this point?

ERNIE ELS: Again, I think it's a little early. It's only been three weeks since the British Open. Obviously, my confidence is pretty high at the moment. I'd like to keep it there. I'd like to perform well this week. I guess I'll be going through highs and lows throughout my career. I think that's only normal. At times you are hitting the ball well and you're putting well and everything seems nice, so you're going to play better. I think as a whole, I think I'm a different player than I've been a year ago. I think with Jos's help, getting myself a little bit more focused before events and during events, and the work I've done with David Leadbetter, I think all of that stuff put together, I think the package is a little bit better than it used to be. So, I'd like to think that, yeah, I'm a different player and I feel a bit more confident. Especially more confident than before the British Open. That Monday and Tuesday, I was not in a very good, positive frame of mind.

Q. This tournament has a history of being very competitive and also providing opportunities for players to break through and get that first major victory. Why do you think that is, and how do the players perceive this event, when they do?

ERNIE ELS: It's a major championship. I think the PGA of America has really taken it to great venues. I think the reason why you get more players involved, it's the end of the summer, it's August, a lot of guys have played a lot of golf. Some of them might start getting a little bit tired by this time of year now, and especially the guys that play worldwide, there's a lot of flying involved. So the guys might be a little bit tired coming into this week. It's very warm every year in August, so that has a bit of an affect on players. You know, this tournament is very highly regarded, obviously. Any major you play is as important as the previous one. As I say, this is a great golf course. I think you'll really see a quality winner here this week.

Q. As the guy who stopped Tiger's slam, I'm curious for your opinion on this: Do you have the sense that the golfing public wants to see people other than Tiger winning majors now?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I can hear some comments out there, yeah. Let's face it, we are playing in the era of one of the greatest players ever, maybe the greatest, when he's done with his career. When you have a player with that kind of talent, he's going to win a lot of golf tournaments. He's very focused. His swing is very sound. He's got everything going for him and he's got a lot of confidence. When he tees up, he feels that he can win. His record is pretty good. I've listened to some comments out there on the golf course, just from the general public, and I feel that they would like to see more players compete against him or actually beat him and win more tournaments.

Q. After what happened in the third round of the British Open, do you believe that Tiger weighs most vulnerable in inclement weather?

ERNIE ELS: What happened there, you could have shot anything out there, I promise you. I don't know if you were there, but that was some of the most demeaning conditions I've ever seen in my life. When you're hitting 2-irons about 180, 190 yards, you know you're in trouble. It was difficult for everybody, obviously for Tiger, included. You can't really say he had a bad day. It was just one of those days where the weather just beat the hell out of you. He's a great player. I can't say that he's a bad player in that kind of weather because how many scores were over 80 and how many scores were over 78? That just proves to you what kind of a day it was.

Q. Looking back to the major championships you played immediately after your two U.S. Open wins in the summer of '94 and '97, did you feel any different in those tournaments, being that you had won the most recent major, maybe even more so than the defending champion, and are there heightened expectations, internally, when you go into those majors?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah. I think last time I won a couple of majors and played after that, I don't know if I was inexperienced or what, but it took me a while to get going again, to really get focused and get into the tournaments again, the ones that I was playing. I remember that time when I won the first U.S. Open, I hit the ball better than I did at Oakmont, but I just couldn't quite get myself focused. I wanted to play but when I got on the golf course, I just couldn't see the lines and I was not quite into it. This time, I feel different. I don't feel anymore expectations for myself. I guess I've got to an age now where the media and other people, they really want to see young guys coming through now, so I'm really not in the spotlight maybe like I used to be. So it really favors me in a lot of ways. I really feel like I want to play whenever I play and really compete.

Q. You've won a few times this year, including a major. But if you were to have a good week this week, and by that, I mean a win, how strong an argument could you make for yourself for Player of the Year consideration?

ERNIE ELS: I had not even thought about that. I've never been in consideration for that award, so I'm not even thinking about that. I've won, what, four times this year around the world. That's got to mean something. But I guess Player of the Year is playing on the U.S. PGA TOUR. I've missed one cut in -- I think I've had quite a few Top 10's, but obviously, you have got to look at Tiger. He's won two majors and another tournament. So he's probably going to get it. (Laughs).

Q. I asked Tiger, so I'll ask you, among the four majors, Augusta has Bobby Jones, the U.S. Open is our championship and the British championship is the oldest championship. What is it about this championship that distinguishes it among the four majors?

ERNIE ELS: Good question. One word? I don't know. If I look at those champions back there, I kind of almost want to say the people's champion. If you look at the field here this week, it's the strongest field of all the majors, if you really think about it. If you look at the World Rankings, I think I read something where the Top-100 is here this week. I don't think you are going to see that in any other major. So, I guess it's got the strongest field on paper.

Q. A lot of people see you as the natural rival for Tiger. Do you see yourself in the same light?

ERNIE ELS: No, not really. It's kind of funny. If you look at the last couple of years, I think in 2000, finishing second to him, I don't know how many times, I think three times in majors and a couple of other times in other tournaments, I think I was more of his challenger then. I think last year was David Duval, this year it's been Phil Mickelson. Sergio is there, he's young enough. I played with him this morning and he's driving it beautifully. I really think he's going to compete this week. It's kind of a week-to-week thing, isn't it? I'm No. 3 in the World Ranking, so I guess Phil Mickelson is at the moment. I think if you look at my career, I've been quite consistent. But it's hard to say. Let's see in a couple of years. I don't even want to think about that. I just want to play as good as I can. If he's there and I'm playing with him, good. If not, that's also good. Even better. (Laughs).

JULIUS MASON: Good luck this week, Ernie.

ERNIE ELS: Thanks a lot.

End of FastScripts...

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