2001 US Open - Ernie Els News Conference Transcript

By Golf Channel NewsroomJune 14, 2001, 4:00 pm
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's very important. I think if you look at most of the past champions in this Championship and you look at the stats, I think most of them are up there, either fairways hit or greens in regulation. And the next step that's very important is putting. You've got to really putt well at any U.S. Open site. So those three are the most important. And then this week it's going to be tough hitting greens. These greens are -- some of them are more undulating than Augusta and the speed of them are similar to Augusta. And when you bring in the wind and the dryness of the greens, you know, they've even got more speed. So putting is going to be very, very tough this week. And even hitting greens in regulation, because of the length of some of these holes, it really puts some teeth back into this golf course. 17 used to be a 2-iron and a little flick to the green. Today, I had to hit a 3-wood and a 9-iron. So although a 9-iron is a very short club, the green is designed such that you've got to be very accurate. So I don't see -- I see us in for a difficult week.
Q. How are you playing coming into this Championship?
ERNIE ELS: Well, if you looked at my record the last month or so, it hasn't really been good. I've been having a bit of an up-and-down year. I traveled quite a lot this year. The last five weeks, I've been to England and Germany and back to the States and even back to South Africa for a quick visit down there. So I've done a lot of traveling. But I had a good week last week and really worked hard at my game, and feel a little bit more comfortable with my swing. I've been a little out of sync with a lot of things I've done with my golf swing, and that's caused my problems. So it feels a little better right now, and it's a good time to start turning it around in early June.
Q. Kind of a hometown question for you, but I was looking through the book, and between you and Payne and Lee Janzen, seven of the last ten guys to win the Open have been from Orlando. I'm wondering whether there's a weather factor or anything you can see, or is it just geographic coincidence?
ERNIE ELS: It must be just coincidence. But for a while, a third of the Tour used to live in Orlando. So it was kind of ironic. But it gets really warm there. And I practiced out there a lot. So maybe it's got something to do with it. But, no, just coincidence.
Q. A few of the players, including David Duval were in here a little while ago, talking about in light of how well Tiger plays in these majors, that the other guys have to -- they were using the words 'perfect round,' 'mistake-free rounds.' Do you go into a tournament when Tiger is here, thinking you have to play that way to win?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think that on regular Tour events, yes. It's a little different situation when we're playing on the PGA TOUR, and then come play the four majors, you know. I think the mindset is a little different in the four majors. The golf courses are definitely a lot different. Even Tiger is making mistakes in major championships. I don't see him making a lot of mistakes in the regular Tour events. It's just a little bit different. We've got more room. The greens are different. So the way Tiger plays, he's got to really be off to make big mistakes in the regular Tour events. Saying that, in major championships, he's going to make mistakes, too. Especially this week. It's a week where this golf course is as tough as I've seen, especially on and around the greens. Even Tiger is going to have a missed club every now and again. But what he does better than the rest of us -- at the moment he misses it is on the right side. Where we might go and try to push the round, we -- and try to go at a flag you shouldn't go at and miss it on the wrong side and end up with a double or even worse. So I think that's why Tiger is beating us. He misses it in a spot where he can get up-and-down.
Q. What made you decide to get Ricci back on your bag, and how do you believe that will perhaps help you this week?
ERNIE ELS: Rick got back on the bag two weeks ago, and it was really myself and Nick Price -- he actually approached me and said, 'Listen, I think we were a good team together, and why don't we get together again.' And he's such a great friend of mine and he's helped me throughout my career, he went back with Jimmy Johnson, and I got Ricci back. So we kind of went a full circle in the last three or so years. And Ricci and myself, we've won some good tournaments together. So I feel we can get something going again soon.
Q. No matter how you've played this year, it's a U.S. Open week, and it's hot weather, the conditions you won your two prior Opens in. Do you feel comfortable at this point, no matter how you played this year?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's obviously a very important week, not only for me, but for everybody. I feel that it's June, and it's like in a blink of an eye, the year is almost gone again. So I've got to really start stepping up, if I want to start competing again and have a chance to win. You only feel comfortable when you feel comfortable by the way you're swinging and striking the ball and by the way you're playing. So I'm anxiously awaiting Thursday, because I feel I'm striking it quite nice, and I just kind of want to get going.
Q. There's only two par-5s on this course. Are you sad about that, and where are the birdie opportunities here?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm quite sad about two par-5s, especially -- you can reach No. 13. That's a real birdie opportunity. 5 is also a birdie opportunity, because if you hit two good shots, you set yourself up with a little sand iron into the green, there. And with those kind of clubs, you know, the guys are pretty good. So that's a birdie opportunity. There's a couple other ones, but not too many. There's a couple of par-4s that are doglegs, and you can get up with a 3-wood and give yourself a wedge or 9-iron into the green. So there are quite a few opportunities, but, man, it's like I mentioned earlier. 9 and 18, before you even start your round, you start thinking about that, because those greens are very difficult. If you're on your game and you catch the weather right, without any breeze, you can play the golf course.
Q. I think four, five, six weeks ago, you made some swing changes, and I wonder what they were and why you made them and if you've stuck with them and are comfortable now?
ERNIE ELS: I think you're probably referring to before the Masters, I made some swing changes. And we go through it sometimes; and that doesn't quite work, and I'm kind of working on something else right now. My swing isn't any different. It's just a different swing thought. So for a while it worked good, but I don't think it was the right thing to do, and I've gone back to something else now. But it's really just a swing thought to get the club down through the ball the way I want to. So I think I'm feeling a bit more comfortable with that now.
Q. You had the pleasure of playing out there -- you were out there at high noon today and got a taste of the Tulsa heat. There are many that are of the opinion that the heat could play to the advantage of players who are on the American TOUR. Those that come over from Europe, Phillip Price was in a full parka playing last week. Do you think these conditions and the Bermudagrass could favor the American players?
ERNIE ELS: I think the heat will be a factor for anybody. I think this week, I think guys that are teeing off early are definitely at an advantage. They might play before the wind starts blowing, they're playing in calm conditions, cool conditions. So I think if you have a really good draw, you should be feeling good about it right now. Saying that, I think most of the guys, even the European guys are in good shape. When you get into the heat of the battle, you don't even think about the heat. So if you drink enough water or whatever, I think you should be fine. It's going to be 90-plus degrees, and that's kind of normal for this time of the year. But I think most of the guys will be able to handle it.
Q. In reference to Tiger, again, a little bit, though I know you're not paired with him here, but the dynamic of being paired and playing with Tiger in an event, do you personally enjoy that? Does it lift you? Is it distracting, can you talk a little bit about that?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I like playing with Tiger, because you definitely can learn something. I think he lifts you in ways. And obviously when you're swinging well and you're feeling good about your own game, you can really have a good time playing with him, because he can kind of pull you along a little bit. But if you're going the other way, you can have a very long day. Because there are a lot more people watching and it's just a little bit more crazy than you're normally used to probably. But I really enjoy playing with him. I like watching him swing, and you can learn something from him.
Q. How long ago did you start working with David Leadbetter again? I remember it was Robert Baker, wasn't it, before?
ERNIE ELS: I've been with David the last two years, and before that I was with Robert Baker for a while.
Q. So you don't see Robert Baker anymore?
ERNIE ELS: That's just what I said.
Q. Ernie, the odds-makers are talking about Tiger, lots of talk about him winning, and the rest of you guys don't need to show up. Does that make you mad, does it inspire you, does it motivate you, does it put a fire in your belly to hear that?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it does. But you've got to hand it to him. He's won the last four majors. It's no wonder you guys ask these questions, because it's just the way it is. But I definitely can't help that the guy is that good. That's just a fact of the matter. Saying that, I've got to believe that I've got a good chance of playing well and winning this week, and that's what I've got to believe in. But we're competing against a guy that's dominating a sport, unlike anybody else. I don't even think heavyweight boxers dominate their sport like that. Those guys go for four, five fights and then they lose. This guy has been going at us for a little bit longer.
Q. Ernie, I know you played a practice round today with Gary Nicklaus. Can you compare him to his father, not as a player, but how he -- as a person how they compare?
ERNIE ELS: Gary is a good friend of mine. I've known Gary close to ten years now. We played in Europe together for a while. He's just a fine, fine guy. He's a good friend of mine, and we play together quite a lot. And he's just -- he's a good player. He's proved himself. He's almost won a tournament before and he's kept his card out here. And I think he just wants to get on with his own life. I can't speak for him, but I think he's doing a fine job with his own golf game. It must be hard to be the son of the best player ever. So he's doing well.
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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.