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April 8, 2003

Ernie Els


BILLY MORRIS: Ladies and gentlemen we're delighted to have Ernie Els with us this afternoon. He started the year with four wins on the PGA and the European tours. He won the British Open last year, 2002. He owns 31 international and 12 PGA tour crowns. And he's finished in the top-10 at the Masters the last three years, including a runner-up finish in the year 2000.

Ernie, we're delighted to have you with us. Let's start with some questions.

Q. Early in the year it sort of looked like the big story this week, the big talk, was going to be you against Tiger meeting in the Masters. And now with the injury, to maybe some of the external expectations that have been lessened for you, does that help at all? Does that take the pressure off a little bit coming in maybe under the radar?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it might have been lessened for you, not for me. I've had two weeks off now. And obviously with the injury it would have, should have been only one week. But I tried it at Bay Hill, and that didn't quite work out. I just couldn't quite hit the shots that I wanted to. And I've had experience with some bad injuries in my career. So I didn't want to go through a long period of playing with a injury. That's why I took the last two weeks off.

Back in '98 I had a rib injury in my back and I kept on playing with that injury for two or three months and my confidence just went. So I really wanted to get it right quickly and that's what I did. It's a hundred percent now. And I'm looking forward to it. I've been looking forward to it since last year. So by Thursday I'll be ready to play.

I've been working on my swing with Led now the last four or five days: So I feel like I'm coming back to where I was the end of last year, the beginning of this year. I'm really striking the ball nicely.

Q. Did they determine what the injury was? Was it a ligament?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it was just soft tissue. If you've never had a wrist injury, you know, it takes quite awhile. I thought it was just going to be a week or it might be two weeks, but it took a little bit longer than that. And I gave it enough time now that I feel I can play, play to the best of my ability.

Q. How about with that long string? What was it like? 40,000 miles I think was the estimate on your air account?


Q. Do you feel a little more mentally fresh now, with the two weeks and what that might have given you to sort of come back a little more bushy tailed?

ERNIE ELS: I think so. I think that a nice break always helps your mental attitude to the game. And I might have got a little bit tired mentally there for awhile. Like I said to you guys at Bay Hill, when I come to play, I want to feel like I'm a hundred percent ready to play. I want to compete. I don't just want to show up and make the cut and make a good check. I want to try and compete. And in a way maybe I was a little mentally tired probably at Bay Hill. And it got me a little bit.

But I watched the guys play the last two weeks, especially Davis at the Players Championship and I thought that was great. When you see guys play, you know, it gets you ready. You want to come out here and play some good stuff again.

So always if you don't get yourself up for Augusta for the Masters you probably never will, so I'll be ready.

Q. Recently you were quoted as talking kind of about how you -- with regard to your fast start this year and how well you played at the British last year ending things, that the time is now for you to make a run at Tiger, so to speak.

Can you just expand on that a little bit and where your mental frame of mind is right now. You really only had the one tournament and to have a go at him, so to speak.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I kind of got this question last night. And I've probably got this question the last five years.

(Laughter.) I'll try and explain it. I just, for awhile there, I think I went at it the wrong way. I went, I played tournaments, played Majors, against Tiger. And let's face it, Tiger's going to be there. So if you start playing Tiger on Thursday from the first tee, I think that that's the wrong way to go about it. I think you're going beat yourself up and not play your normal game.

So what myself and Jos have been working on is to go out there and play the golf course. Everybody's going to play the golf course. And if I, with my talent, play the golf course the way I should play it, I should be there Sunday afternoon. And then it's a matter of just keep on doing what you're doing. At times I've done that and at other times I haven't done that. But I feel that that is one aspect we are working on and that's where I want to get to.

Q. Was the British a bit of a start to that? Was that a bit of a start of what you just talked about there?

ERNIE ELS: I think the British was definitely the start of maybe the resurgence of myself of my golf game. I think if I didn't get through that tournament, if I didn't win that tournament I think I would have been a different player right now. But that gave me the confidence and the little bit of the boost that I needed to get to where I want to get to with my career, and we'll see.

Q. Are you saying that in the past perhaps you were too Tiger focused?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah. I think that, yeah, before 2001, yeah. I think my focus was -- it wasn't channeled in the right direction. I think it was more channeled towards players instead of to the golf course and the shots that I have to play.

Q. Does that include last Sunday's back nine when Tiger was at the top of the board and you came to 13 and didn't play it the way you wanted to play it?

ERNIE ELS: Last year here?

Q. Yeah.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I think, yeah. As I said, at times I've done it really well and other times I haven't done it. And I think that last year it was just, you know, I was trying to chase. I'm not sure. I think I made a bogey on 10 or 11. And I was trying to get going again. Because I played such a good front nine. And I was trying to really get it around the corner there and have a shot at eagle and all of that stuff. But after the tee shot, you know, I was dead. And then I just made mistake after mistake after that. But I was trying -- after the first mistake I was trying to really rectify it as quickly as I could and subsequently I just got myself deeper in a hole.

Q. Are you saying that you would approach that kind of thing differently with your new mindset?

ERNIE ELS: You know, I hope so. I mean, we work on things all the time and when you get to the moment, you've really got to be head strong and sometimes, as we have also mentioned before, the little guy wants to take a chance, but you've just got to be more -- I have got to be more disciplined and take, play more maybe the percentages. And if you make five on 13, it's still not the end of the world, you can still make it up coming in. So let's hope I am disciplined enough to make the right choices.

Q. How much do you attribute the run you've had in the past year since the British to your work with Jos? And also before Retief had his success and won the Open, were you at all skeptical of sports psychology?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I think that last year it really, what we have been working on has really started coming through in my game. And we have been working since 2001, July 2001, and I think that especially in the last year I feel that the benefits of what we have been working on -- I've had some tournaments where I just felt totally in control. And that's a great feeling. And Jos is trying to get me to think that's more normal. And it's not just a flash in the pan anymore.

So that's more the way I want to play. So I would have to say, yeah, I've learned a lot from him. And before Retief, yes, definitely, I never thought of really approaching guys like that. I've seen Dr. Rotella out here for a long time and I've never really had the urge to speak to anybody, but it definitely works. Up to a certain point, definitely.

Q. How little is the little guy now?

ERNIE ELS: He'll always be there.

(Laughter.) I've just got to start whipping him a little bit more.

Q. You're were talking about taking two weeks off and getting mentally refreshed but do you worry at all about losing early-season momentum. Is that a downfall do you think?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I look back now on those two weeks, it's been a long two weeks because the way I've been playing, I just wanted to get out there every week and play. And I've been around like you say, but I felt ready every week. I've been out there. So it was a tough two weeks for me to go through it. But saying that, I've had the family with me now. They came out after Bay Hill from England and we have had a great time. My fitness is a little better now again. And I had some other things I could concentrate on. And I actually got away from the game totally for about 10 days. I couldn't hit the ball because I was getting this wrist better. And keep on watching golf, you really get the urge to play. So in a way, we'll see how it goes this week. But that's in the past now. I've got to look to the future now.

Q. When was the last time you were away from golf for that long? When was the last time you were away from golf for 10 days?

ERNIE ELS: Quite often I do it. I do it.

(Laughter.) Every now and again. I normally take -- after Hilton Head I normally have two or three weeks off and I do it quite often.

Q. First of all, what is the state of your wrist? Would you say it's a hundred percent? Not an issue at all?

ERNIE ELS: It's not an issue at all. I've had all the scans and stuff done to it, so medically, no, there is nothing wrong. It's just I can still feel it but it's not an issue at all. I know when I go hard at it now and I feel it, I can't damage it. And that's a big deal. Because at Bay Hill I thought well, I don't want to hurt it more. And that's why I played shots differently. But I can go at it now and I know I can't damage it.

Q. And secondly, as well as you're playing this year, did you find yourself thinking more about The Masters than you have in previous years and do you run the risk at all of being so jacked up about it that you, if you have an average score the first day, it's already getting under your skin a little bit?

ERNIE ELS: No, I think that I've had a -- I've watched a lot of tape the last two weeks about Augusta and The Masters. And so I got myself I think jacked up for it, as you say. But not too much. I think I've got enough experience now. I think this is my 10th time around this place and I've had some good finishes here. I've played just about from every area of this golf course. So I know the course very well, it's just to go out there and play my game.

And more than anything, what I've been trying to do is just trying to get everything just right. And that's where I've got to just calm down a little bit. I've done a lot of practicing. I'm swinging it really well and it's now time just to go to the tee. That's how I feel. I can just let it happen. But I don't feel like I'm going to get ahead of myself too much. I think I've past that.

Q. Tiger is driven by history and career records. How much of that is a motivating factor for you, particularly as the Majors click by?

ERNIE ELS: That's a good question.

When I was younger I felt that -- especially watching Gary Player, and Bobby Locke was before my time, but then starting to watch The Masters on television when I was a boy and watching Seve win and Jack Nicklaus win in '86, obviously you dream and I guess the main thing is not to let your dreams go. I still have those dreams. But the reality of the fact is I'm 33 now. I'm not 23 anymore. But I still dream of my goals becoming reality, and I'm not too far away from it.

Q. And the ultimate goal is a career grand slam?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that would be the ultimate goal. I mean there's only five players that have done that. There's quite a few players, yeah, that can still do it, but it's probably a tough thing to do.

Q. As you probably know, this weekend protestors plan to demonstrate against the membership policies here. On any level do you think that they make a valid point?

ERNIE ELS: You know, I think both parties have a strong point. Me personally as a golfer, I think, you know, and I come up to Augusta National before every Masters, I've done it for I think seven years now, and it's a private club. I always call up a member to see if I can come and play. And when you're a competitor, you don't have to have a member to play with you, but I normally bring a friend of mine with, so we play with a member. And to be honest with you, I've seen many lady players out here, either playing with their husbands or friends. So there's not an issue about ladies playing this golf course. It's just the issue is them becoming members.

And I think they've got 300 members here. And I'm sure that's the way they want to keep it. And for us to go to the members of Augusta National Golf Club telling them, listen, you've got to let a lady member in here, it's not for to us say. It's a private club. And that's probably the bottom line, isn't it?

Q. Personally, what's your feeling and would you like to see it?

ERNIE ELS: I would -- yeah, I don't think it would hurt. Personally. But again, as I said, it's a private club and they have got their private rules and basically they can do what they want.

Q. The theory this week is that with the conditions that it sort of narrows the possible winners considerably. How much of an advantage do you think that being long and soft helps you?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it will definitely make putting a little easier. Touch wood.

(Laughter.) I was here last Thursday, as I said, and the weather was beautiful. It was dry and there was quite a nice breeze blowing. And on the first green I just put a tee down where the flag is normally on the back left there and I put my ball just past pin high right and I putted two balls off the green.

(Laughter.) It was the quickest I've ever seen it. And I came back -- I went back to Orlando and I got the greenskeeper at Lake Nona to get that practice putting green almost dead. So I practiced on that and then I looked at the weather report and saw what happened. And as you can see, it's wet, really wet out there, which will help us getting the ball to stop on the greens, make putting a little easier.

I mean, the golf course is going to play 7600 yards this week, so it's really going to help guys that hit the ball longer. But saying that, I played with Nick Price this morning. He hits the ball so straight and he still got it around pretty well. But definitely longer hitters will have an advantage.

Q. You mentioned your round Thursday. Sergio said he played with you. How do you like that paring with him, first of all, and what were the highlights of that round? Sergio said he was working on his swing. Do you see anything different? What kind of result is he getting that you can tell?

ERNIE ELS: Well, he's driving the ball beautifully. He hit the ball around 13, I remember on Thursday, I think he hit a 7-iron in there. When he's on his game and has got all the confidence going, he can win this thing. Quite a few times also. He's got youth on his side. His game's perfectly suited for this type of golf course. He hasn't really changed his swing. I just think that he doesn't want to take it outside the line as far. Because when he takes it outside, that little loop he's got really becomes quite a big loop. So he wants to take it a little straighter back and then in that he's still going to have that little loop there but not as bad. But that's not a bad thing. Because it's always coming from the inside and he's always going to hit a nice high draw. So he's been going through a bit of a rough patch and this is his first rough patch in his career. So it's nothing serious. He played really well on Thursday.

Q. What are your thoughts about the changes on number 5?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's quite significant. Because that used to be a nice easy driving hole for us. It used to be nice and wide there. And now it's one of the most difficult driving holes. It's really at that narrow where they put the bunkers at. I might just go with a 3-wood there. It's 286 to the first trap and it's nice and wide. So I might just go in there, and especially with a soft conditions, I can go in with it two or three clubs extra and still keep it on the green. But you do not want to go in those traps. It's bogey.

Q. In this transition, your mindset changed from playing players as opposed to courses?

ERNIE ELS: Golf courses.

Q. Playing courses as opposed to players. Sorry. Did you have any setbacks or like any instance where you thought that in spite of myself I'm playing the player instead and it was disappointing to you?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I think I've got to come back to what I said earlier. At times I do it perfectly. And other times I just -- sometimes you can't help yourself. But you kind of get dragged into that old habit. So yeah, you kind of kick yourself afterwards, but it's such a demanding mental game we're playing. Sometimes you've got to go with your instincts. Sometimes you've got to go with how you feel on the day. There's many different ways of getting through it. But I think that it comes back down to discipline. You've got to be disciplined enough to go with what you have on that day.

Q. Knowing how difficult this championship is to win and how close you've come, if Tiger would win a third in a row come Sunday, can you just address what kind of accomplishment do you think that is, if that comes into play?

ERNIE ELS: Well, he's done so many amazing things. It would just be another one. (Laughter.) Hopefully it doesn't, but you know there's 93 other players. But he's probably got a very good chance of winning again, but that's just one of those things. He's a great player and we got a great tournament, great golf course, and I'm just excited to play the course. I don't want to, as I said before, think about him winning three times. I would like to win my first one. (Laughter.)

Q. Just following that up, if it comes to that on Sunday, would you like to be there or long since gone?

ERNIE ELS: You know, I think when it comes on Sunday, hopefully I've got a chance, first of all. Hopefully I'm there. Like I was last year. I had a half decent chance last year. And I probably will do things differently this time. I've had some experience. I remember in 2000s it was probably the best ball striking round I've ever had around Augusta National Golf Club, that Sunday when Vijay won. And I just couldn't make a putt that afternoon. But I would like to think of that round and make some more putts rather than think about last year's round.

Q. While we're in the world of the hypothetical, were you to win this and suddenly you would be in the position of holding two Majors and Tiger would only have one, what would that mean to you?

ERNIE ELS: Again, I mean, -- it would mean a lot to me. As I said to you before, I think that you probably know my goals by now. And that will be just -- that will be me closer to my ultimate goal. So that will be it. I don't particularly care that I would have more Majors than Tiger would have at that stage. It really doesn't matter at all. It's just you try and -- I want to try and get to my ultimate goal.

Q. How did your wine thing at Disney the other day go? I always thought you were more of a beer guy?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I am still.

(Laughter.) I'm just happy, I'm glad I got a good wine maker. I don't make that wine. But we have been fortunate enough to get good grapes and we have had some good results. And it was a good dinner. You were supposed to be there. I don't know what happened to you.

Q. Me? You told me not to come.

ERNIE ELS: Who told you?

Q. Has Gary ever talked to you about the Masters and what's the best or most memorable piece of advice he's ever given you about this?

ERNIE ELS: Well, he showed me where not to hit it quite a few times. And he's an amazing man. I still remember the putt he made in '78 down the hill on 18. And I think I jumped about this high (Indicating) I think. What was I? About ten, nine years old at that time. I remember my dad and myself, we were very excited for him. And nowadays I play practice rounds here with Gary. And I used to play with him at The Open Championship. Every Tuesday morning I would play with him there. So it's great playing with your heroes. But, yeah, he basically just told me where not to hit it on the golf course.

Q. He's fairly animated, isn't he?


Q. In speech?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. He keeps you on your toes.

BILLY MORRIS: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. And Ernie Els, good luck to you this week.

ERNIE ELS: Thank you.

End of FastScripts....

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