Els' love affair with Masters not over yet

By Randall MellApril 6, 2013, 2:00 pm

Ernie Els is tired of feeling like a jilted lover leaving the Masters.

He reveres Augusta National, relishes the championship and its traditions, but it has been unrequited love in the way that matters most to those chasing major titles.

This love story’s ending, though, isn’t written just yet.

After missing the Masters last year for the first time in nearly two decades, Els makes a highly anticipated return next week.

At 43, he returns with last summer’s British Open victory a reminder he shouldn’t be discounted even in a major that has wounded him more than any other.

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Els returns for his 19th appearance in the Masters with a fresh perspective, thanks to a year away that might have been a blessing in disguise.

“I probably needed a year off, to be honest, because it was getting quite frustrating,” Els told GolfChannel.com. “Since '04, I just never really had the right mojo going in there. Even winning at Bay Hill in 2010, and winning in Miami just before that, and going in with a lot of form, something still was kind of missing.

“Not playing last year, and watching it on TV, especially with Louis Oosthuizen being in contention, seeing the guys playing the course, where they were hitting it, the pin placements and all of that, it almost brought me back to memories as a fan. I think it was a good thing I missed it, in how it has given me a kind of new, fresh start.”

Els is going to the Masters in search of his fifth major championship title with a different game plan this time. Mostly, he is going with a different attitude. He’s tired of trying too hard to get Augusta National’s cosmic gate keeper to allow him entry to the champions locker room.

“I’m definitely going to play the course and forget about even winning,” Els said. “I’m just going to go there without any pressure. I’m going to do things a little differently.

“I’ve played it so many times, you can’t trick me with that place anymore, but I definitely have a very different outlook than I used to have. I used to put so much pressure on myself, thinking `Maybe this is the year.’ I don’t want to deal with all that pressure. If it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t I’ve had a great run.”

Ernie Els celebrates winning the 1997 U.S. Open

Els through the years: Click on picture for photo gallery

Els is planning to stop and smell the azaleas this time around. He hasn’t played the Masters Par 3 Contest in six or so years, but he plans to this year. His 14-year-old daughter, Samantha, has never caddied in the contest. She’ll get that chance next week.

While there may be unrequited love in Els’ quest to win, it isn’t that way with the people at Augusta National. Els has formed some strong bonds with members and staff there. He would be an enormously popular champion in the clubhouse and locker room if he breaks through.

Els was welcomed back warmly when he went to play a practice round there with Adam Scott three weeks ago.

“I saw the pro, the staff, the guys in the locker room, guys who have been there years and years,” Els said. “I think they missed me. We’ve become good friends.”

So much so that when Els was gutted watching Phil Mickelson take the green jacket with a birdie at the 72nd hole in 2004, he saw the disappointment in Augusta National staff as he packed up his gear in the locker room.

“They were probably as sad as I was, maybe not quite,” Els said.

Els made such formidable runs at the Masters between 2000 and ’04. He appeared to have one arm in the green jacket more than once. Twice he was runner-up while never finishing worse than T-6 in that span.

With his power, his towering iron shots, his terrific touch for a big man, Els seemed perfectly suited for Augusta National.

“If there was any major he was going to win, it was that one,” said Ricci Roberts, who caddied for Els in those runs. “He won two U.S. Opens, and that’s the major you least expected him to win.”

The ’04 loss to Mickelson, though, appeared to take something out of Els.

Roberts was with his player on the practice putting green when Mickelson’s final birdie that Sunday sealed their fate.

“When you heard the roar, it was like somebody reached into your chest and pulled your heart out,” Roberts said. “Ernie didn’t throw it away. He just got beat.”

In fact, Els played the final 12 holes in 6 under that day.

Since that ’04 loss, Els hasn’t been the same at Augusta National. He finished 47th in the ’05 Masters. He missed consecutive cuts in ’07, ’08 and ’09.

Finally, in 2010, he arrived as a favorite having won at Doral and Bay Hill leading into the Masters. That only set up another letdown. Els was never a factor at Augusta National and tied for 18th. The cumulative weight of the disappointments was evident when he shared his frustration with reporters there that year.

“It’s killing me,” Els said back then. “What can you do? I’m just beating my head against the wall every time.”

The words were disconcerting for folks rooting for Els to win there. There was such resignation in them, but that’s why Els’ failure to qualify for the Masters last year may have been the best thing for him. The year away gave him time to see how trying too hard, how loving that place too much, was hurting him.

There remains, however, some fatalistic perspective in his return, his wonder whether outcomes have never been completely in his hands and whether some cosmic force decides all these things.

“I think ’04 was maybe my time, and it didn’t quite happen,” Els said. “Augusta is that kind of place, where the dream and the story, it’s all almost written for some players. Maybe mine was there, and I didn’t quite take the opportunity. Who knows? If I never win the Masters, it will be disappointing. I’m obviously on the wrong end of it now. It’s a course and a place that has given me a lot of hope of winning it, but it is definitely bittersweet memories.”

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

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A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm