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July 15, 2013
MIKE WOODCOCK: Good morning everyone. I'd just like to welcome the defending Open champion and the defending champion here at Muirfield, Ernie Els.
Ernie, thank you very much for joining us this morning. I believe you just handed back the Claret Jug. How did that go for you?
ERNIE ELS: It was a nice moment. Always to come back‑‑ I say "always," but to come back as defending champion, giving the Claret Jug back to The R&A, Mr. Dawson, is always an honor. You've had it for a year. In my case it went all around the world, just about in every part of the world, except maybe South America. But everywhere else it went with me. And taken some great photographs with it with fans and friends and family. And I think that's the great bit that comes with it. Winning this championship you can actually have the actual trophy and keep it for a year. So it was a wonderful time.
MIKE WOODCOCK: And you must be looking forward to this week at Muirfield. Obviously some great memories here for you.
ERNIE ELS: Yes, nice coming back to Muirfield, staying at Greywalls, again, and obviously played here in 1992, finishing 5th. And then 2002, prevailing in the playoff. So, yeah, it's a wonderful time to come back, seeing the course. The course looks very similar to what it did in '02. It's a little firmer, but very similar golf course, it's a great golf course.
Q. Darren Clarke said last year when he returned the trophy, it wasn't quite in the same pristine condition as he got it. How was your trophy when you gave it back?
ERNIE ELS: No, the trophy, the Jug had some time for itself. We left it home in Wentworth for the last two or three weeks. So it's been cleaned and buffed and it was very, very shiny when I gave it back to Mr. Dawson.
Q. How much buffing is required?
ERNIE ELS: Not as much as in '02. We're getting a little older.
Q. What did you do with the Jug in '02 and '03 compared with this time?
ERNIE ELS: Very similar travels, but a lot different‑‑ how do I want to say‑‑ juice drunk out of the jug. It was a little different. But very similar travel schedule. The Jug went around the world in '03 and it did a very similar thing in 2012. But maybe a little bit easier on the lid. There's a lid that you have to slide open. But a lot of pictures have been taken with it.
Q. The list of people who have won here at Muirfield reads like a who's who of the greats of golf. Do you think there's something about Muirfield that breeds that kind of success or do you think it's the course? Or what's your explanation for why the best players seem to win here?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I'm not totally sure about that, why that's the case. But I'm just fortunate enough to be in that group of players. Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, obviously Nick Faldo winning twice. Before that my memory doesn't serve me that well. But I notice obviously there's some marquee names that's won this tournament. I just feel that this is a great golf course.
It reminds me a little bit of Lytham, a little bit. But where Lytham goes in and comes back out, this course goes out, out south side on the front nine, and it moves a little different directions each shot that you play. And then obviously the back nine you play more in the middle of the course. And it's just a wonderful design. And the par‑3s are unbelievable. The par‑5s have been changed a little bit; they're longer. Each and every hole is a little bit different. There's left to rights, right to lefts, and it all happens out there. Every links shot that you can imagine, you're going to play it this week.
Q. A couple of questions: First of all, how is your preparation this year in comparison to back in 2002? How have you prepared? And secondly, how does this course compare with the other courses that The Open uses?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's quite similar, in my build‑up. I remember playing Loch Lomond in the Scottish Open, and I think I finished 61st. Obviously last week I didn't make the cut at the Scottish. I've had some extra time coming into the event. But I've played quite a few practice rounds, feel quite good about my game. I feel like I'm striking it nicely. There's a lot of good things happening in my game.
I came in last night, played nine holes last night, very quietly. It was beautiful, just to get another look. And we'll start out a real build‑up from today. I really can't wait for Thursday to come. I really have a good feel about it. Since I've played my first practice round two weeks ago to last night, it's amazing how the course has changed. Your weather has been unbelievable. The course is getting firmer and firmer and faster.
So you have to keep your thumb on things. Things are changing quite rapidly out on the course every day with the weather.
Q. How does this course compare with other Open courses?
ERNIE ELS: Oh, The Open courses, you know, depends so much on the weather. If you have a lot of rain, obviously it's green, lush, the rough is very thick and obviously you can't really go there, like last year at Lytham. But this week is getting very firm, there is lots of rough. So accuracy is going to be at the premium and your shot making is going to be really tested. You're going to have to come in high sometimes, you're going to have to come in with bump‑and‑runs, your short game will be tested. Everything about it. This one is right up at the top of the list for me, right at No.1.
Q. Can you tell us how you think Phil Mickelson will feel coming here after winning on a links course? And can you relate to what Phil said, it's time to learn how to play links golf?
ERNIE ELS: It's taken him 22 years, I guess.
He's such a talented player with his short game, it's amazing he hasn't done better. But obviously getting used to the bounces, that's the big thing. You've got to envision that a 3‑iron could go 280 yards downwind, and into the wind it's probably going to go 180. Those are the things you have to really take into consideration and learn, the bounces and stuff. And obviously Phil playing on a very firm course last week at Castle Stuart, obviously really learning about it and really putting his mind to it, and I think he's got as good a chance as any, obviously. He's got a bit of confidence now that he's won. And obviously he's one of the favorites now.
Q. Could you add a little bit about what you're talking about. You mean this maybe suits the European players, more used to the bump‑and‑run and hitting low shots into the wind and maybe even putting from off the green, is that the sort of thing that you're thinking about?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I don't know if it's going to favor Europeans or American players. There's so many European players playing on the U.S. Tour, but who knows. The guy that can adapt the quickest‑‑ a guy can come in from John Deere and never played links. It's happened before, guys come in and adapt and off you go. So if you feel comfortable with certain shots and you can pull it off you're going to have a good week, if you don't, you play the shots that you know, and it doesn't quite happen on a links course, they're going to have a great week. It depends on how you adapt. Any player is good enough. Phil seems like he's comfortable after so many years, and some guys can do it in a week, who knows. It could be anybody.
Q. On a parochial note, as a Wentworth member, you realize you're going to be flying the flag for Surrey this week, as well as South Africa, because none of the other Surrey boys have managed to get through. So I think at Wentworth they'll probably be rooting you on.
ERNIE ELS: Thanks. I'll take that note (laughter).
Q. Last year at this time you'd just been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and many would have thought, even maybe yourself, that you weren't sure exactly how you would play going forward in Majors. How is your focus and desire different from last year at this time, because obviously you've won and now you're coming here, some place that you know very well?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, thanks. Yeah, things have worked out pretty well, touch wood. I went through a couple of bubbles, I don't know if it was before or after my induction to the Hall of Fame, but I won a Major and won a European Tour tournament. I'd like to get more consistent. I'd like to get my game really firing. Obviously The Open is huge, going all the way through to the PGA, up in Oak Hill, and then the FedEx and so forth. So there's a lot of golf that I want to play and I want to play consistently.
But I'm glad where I'm sitting, defending a Major champion after being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Hopefully that monkey is off people's backs, you know, thinking that your career is basically done after you're in the Hall of Fame. Because as we sit, you know, when I was 41, getting inducted, we feel that there's still a lot of golf to be played. So that's what we're doing. We're trying to play golf now.
Q. Do you expect in your practice rounds to relive a lot of 2002? Do you expect to get in that trap? Do you expect to stop on all the key shots from the playoffs? Expect to do a lot of that?
ERNIE ELS: You know, normally I have a very good memory, but there's a couple of shots that I don't want to think about, like the one on 13, and my pulled 5‑iron on 18 in one of the playoff holes. I think it was the last playoff hole into the left bunker and getting it up and down there.
But, yeah, your memory serves you well. That's why experience, I feel, is a big part in playing these championships is to know the way to miss it, especially at links courses, there are certain places where you just cannot go. And I'm sure I've been to some of those places, as I mentioned.
And another positive note is that I've missed it in places that I know I can get it up and down. So that's where experience plays a big part. Some of these young players come here the first time, they still have to learn that under duress, you know. There's no learning curve like under a lot of pressure. You can play as many practice rounds as you want, but unless you haven't played it under a lot of stress, you don't know exactly how you're going to react. So that's where experience comes in, and that's what I'll probably try to draw from playing this tournament.
Q. You noted earlier your success, your good play at the '92 Open, and you seem to have adapted quick to links golf with some good performances back then. Do you recall how you felt about it when you first started playing these types of courses, was it a tough adjustment? Did you adapt quickly to it? And why do you think so many people struggle to do that?
ERNIE ELS: That's a good question. I started playing links golf back in 1987. We had a little unofficial South African team back in the day. And we used to come over to the amateur championship and then play some other events. And coming from Johannesberg, where, you know, it's beautiful, altitude is almost like Denver, Colorado, where you hit the ball in the air. For me getting onto the links for the first time was just a special feeling. I was so excited to play links, because I had in my mind how guys have played links before, watching on television and all of that. So the first experience was great.
And I think my first experience of it was at Woodhall Spa, which is in the middle of England, here. I had a great feel for it. And ever since that time, every time I step on the links, I try to relive that same feeling I had back in '87.
The sound is different. The divot into the fairways are different. The whole experience is different than anything else around the world. So it's something you're either going to really like or you're not going to like. I was fortunate enough that I really fell in love with it.
Q. Which of your achievements is the greater, winning four Major championships or winning three, having what we could perhaps describe as a fairly tumultuous ten years, and then winning your fourth. Which of those two is greater?
ERNIE ELS: It's taken a while. The first two came within three years, and then I had to wait 20 years for the next two. It's been quite a ride. I'm very proud of the way we've kind of stuck with it. And having it really your way for a good five to ten years, and then really having to work hard for it, it feels very special to have won it the way we did.
Q. To come back better?
ERNIE ELS: I think so, yeah. The one at Lytham felt so special. The hair on my arms wouldn't go down for a good‑‑ walking down from the 18th tee right through to the putt that went in, my hair was just standing up. It was the most amazing feeling I've ever had. And I think that's because of the fourth one coming so‑‑ the way it happened. You know the story.
Q. Curious, Ernie, when it's dry like this, what's the secret to knowing how far the ball goes?
ERNIE ELS: That's why I'm glad I played last week. I only played two rounds. But I mentioned that the 3‑iron that went 280, I think I hit further than that. There's a par‑4, the third hole, and it was just a little breeze, and I hit 3‑iron through the green. It must have gone almost 300 yards. And until you have actually played it in competition, you might not believe that the ball is going to go that far. So there's holes out here, like the 11th hole‑‑ quite a few holes, when the wind changes and gets behind you, the ball doesn't want to stop the way it's running.
Those are the things that guys will have to learn in three days' time. We start on Thursday. They're going to have to adapt to that. Like all the guys did last week, that's a very different links, you get very quirky bounces at Castle Stuart, you get straight bounces, but the ball is going to still react the same way, and you have to adapt to all those things.
Q. The state of Nelson Mandela's health at the moment is a point of real concern. What could an Open victory do for the morale of the South African public?
ERNIE ELS: Well, obviously it would be great. South Africa is a sporting nation, like many, but always take our sport personal down there. And obviously sport has been a key factor in bringing South Africa together into a democratic place and state. And President Mandela played such a big part in that also back in the early '90s, and the World Cup and soccer, African Nations Cup. So really used sports as a binding factor. And it would be obviously great; can't be any negative. It would be wonderful.
Q. After Scott won the Masters and after Justin Rose won the US Open, a week later they spoke of the exhaustion, both mental and physical. I think back to a year ago, you had to make the rush trip to Toronto, and I think you missed the cut. And then threw out the pitch at the Blue Jays' game. Why is it so exhausting now to win a Major?
ERNIE ELS: Good question. Well, when you look back to 1994, when we won Oakmont, woke up the next day, I think I did a ‑‑ Matt Lauer, Today, and Katie Couric was there still back in the day. Did a little thing with them. Went back to the 18th green at Oakmont, and that was the only thing. I mean Letterman wanted me. I didn't even own a house in those days. I got back on the plane, myself and Liezl, flew back to London, we rented a cottage from Renton Laidlaw, and we just hid from the world there. And kind of came out of my hibernation and I think my next tournament was the Irish Open. And didn't do much interviews, not much.
And I think the whole instant media thing, you guys are living it. You guys are working it. The whole thing has changed a lot, especially since '94. Maybe even the last five years. And guys, there's so many storylines that people want. So it can get very, very busy. It depends on how you take it.
But just from a physical standpoint after a Major, there's so much concentration, so much that your body, after it wants to release. And you've got to have a way of doing that. And sometimes it's getting away, not going into the spotlight. It takes a while to get back into that real intense state.
Q. Going back to '71 in three weeks in a row, Trevino won U.S. Open, British Open, Canadian Open. Canadian was in the middle.
ERNIE ELS: I think things have changed a little bit media‑wise. I think there's a huge difference in how you guys report it and how we as players go with it. So it's kind of a different deal.
Q. Two things: One, when you win a Major, do you feel different after you win it, moving forward? And secondly, last year, I think it was a South African writer thanked you for winning him money on a wager he'd made. I'm just curious, do players ever put a friendly wager on themselves? And did you do that last year and will you do it this year?
ERNIE ELS: Well, your first point, yes, you do feel‑‑ it just feels special. I don't know if you feel different as a person or whatever, but I do believe that it's just an amazing, special feeling. It's just something you almost can't describe. You know you've done something really special. And you're in a different club, so to speak. A special club of players. For a long time you ride on that kind of wave. And I think it's just‑‑ I can't describe it. It's unbelievable.
Your second, I should have probably put money on it, I thought about it, especially when I was 80 to 1. But I've never, ever put a cent on myself or any other player. I just feel‑‑ I wouldn't feel right to do that. I just don't do that. But some of my friends obviously backed me. I know some of Ricky's friends last year made a lot of money. They got me at 80 to 1. And obviously Ricky told them how good I was playing, under the radar, I was coming in. And the boys hit it quite big, I know. That's that.
But no, I've never really put a bet on, and I don't think I will ever.
Q. Is there any key moment from 2002 you remember above all others? Was there any moment when you suddenly thought, I'm in trouble here? You were talking earlier about being out of position, maybe one of those.
ERNIE ELS: You've just got to go watch the tape, to win by not hitting it in the perfect positions. I had quite a few opportunities that year to pull away from the field a bit. But I didn't take those opportunities. I hit it into the bunker on 13, got it up and down, which is probably the shot of the tournament for me.
Then I think I pulled it into the bunker on 14, the next hole. Made bogey there.
And eventually made the biggest error of them all on 16 when I pulled my tee shot left there, left of the green and made double. And then I had to birdie 17 and par 18 just to get into the playoffs. It shows you how close I was to having a really nice win, and then really screwing it up, in many senses.
But as I say, I was 32 years old. I was trying to get my third win. And there was a lot of emotions going on. So that's when you start making those kind of mistakes. Like I said last year to Scotty, we've all done it. He's not the first one to have done it. We've all done it, messed up Major championships, and you learn from it and sometimes it comes back.
Q. If your daughter were to ask you to explain why women cannot be members of clubs like this one, how would you explain it to her?
ERNIE ELS: She's quite a hotheaded girl, just like my wife (laughter). I would have to choose my words carefully.
You know, it's a hard one. The club's been like this for many years. It's been around for, I would imagine, at least 150 years, and they've never thought about changing their policy. We play The Open Championship at this wonderful golf course, and I'm not going to miss it for the world, whether it's got, unfortunately, the policy it has. It is what it is. But we go to play The Open Championship and I'll go play it in the Sahara Desert if I have to. But it is what it is. You can ask the chairman why that policy is in place. It is what it is. And we play where we play.
Q. Adam Scott recalls playing a practice round with you here in 2002. And you were despairing about your form at the time and played terribly that day. Adam remembers thinking, well, Ernie's got no chance. I'm wondering what you remember about that round. And also Adam Scott has recently joked how he thinks you owe him one from last year. I wonder if you've talked to him about Muirfield, and if you've played a practice round with him yet or if you might do so this week?
ERNIE ELS: As I said, coming in here I was not in great form. And we did a lot, a lot of work. People say if you arrive, if you haven't got your game Monday at the championship, you're not going to find it. But I think I proved that wrong. I was nowhere and we found something. I was with David Leadbetter back in the day, and we worked hours and hours just to find a key that I could use under pressure. And as I say earlier, I did break a couple left, and that was the one I was fighting, before the tournament started. And it kind of came out under pressure. But somehow we found a way of scrambling and staying in it and all of that stuff that you have to do, and I kind of got through it.
But I'd love to play with Scotty. I see‑‑ when I was here‑‑ I left last Monday to go up to the Scottish, and I saw him coming here, so he's obviously played a lot of rounds. And I'd love to play with him this week sometime and see what we can do.
Q. If you were to have a pound on somebody this week, Ernie, who would it be?
ERNIE ELS: I would have to look at the odds, wouldn't I? (Laughter).
Maybe a long shot. I like to go for the long shots.
Q. Who do you think is in pole position this week to lift the Claret Jug?
ERNIE ELS: To name one, I'm going to have to name 20. That's how close it is. I don't know. A guy who likes the layout. I don't know who is the favorite this week. A guy that likes the bounces, who likes the layout, I'm not sure. If I'm just going to answer your question quickly, Phil Mickelson, because he won last week (laughter).
Q. He's also a long shot.
ERNIE ELS: There you go.
MIKE WOODCOCK: Thank you very much for joining us. Good luck this week. Thanks everyone.
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