Ernies Time

By Rich LernerJanuary 14, 2003, 5:00 pm
Cuzzie, how are you, hell often say, the loopy smile sweeping across his handsome face.
Other times, hell amble by, bigger than youd imagined on television, and maybe reach out to you in another equally affectionate manner. Hello China, comes the cry, followed by a pat on the side of the shoulder.
Both greetings are common among the mostly open and friendly South Africans, their way of saying, Hey bro, whats up?
Ernie Els genuinely wants to know. Hes golfs least pretentious and least affected star.
But then, they dont dish out green jackets to Mr. Congeniality, do they? So, just how does a nice guy like Ernie pry the coat off the back of the games raging, runaway bull, er Tiger?
Quit trying so hard. Relax. And based on Ernies 31-under in paradise, he looks very much at ease.
The process appears to have begun with the wrenching victory he salvaged at Muirfield. There, Ernie stepped out of the harrowing shadow cast by Woods. Prior to the British, Els hadnt won a major since 1997, roughly the entire span of Tigers dominant, ongoing run.
Through it all, through the three runner-up finishes at majors in 2000, Ernie always, always graciously answered questions about Woods greatness to a justifiably fawning press corps.
But Ernie had to be thinking that his destiny in golf surely wasnt that of simply some literary caddie or hyperbole machine to perhaps the best player of all time, was it? At times, Ernie did seem beaten, often throwing up his hands and saying, What can you do?
Persevere, thats what. And when Tiger finally caught the wrong end of a critical draw, in that howling Round 3 at Muirfield, and when Ernie had stared down his own demons in the playoff, the burden had been lifted from the South Africans broad shoulders. Finally. A major in what really is stage two of his career. The stage on which hell have to be damn good to grab the spotlight from Tiger.
Later in the year, Ernies down-to-earth wife, Leizl, gave birth to their second child, a boy named Ben. At 33, Ernie is over the transition from carefree bachelorhood to marriage. Hes settled, and that helps on the golf course.
By the way, the youngest Els got a nice boost to the trust fund when Dad grabbed the $2 million first prize before the deliriously happy home fans at the Nedbank Challenge.
So, with the Hawaiian record-setter in the books, and the windfall he enjoyed on and off the course in the second half of 2002, Ernie certainly does look primed for a huge year. Hes tightened his famously fluid swing in hopes of improving his greens-in-regulation proficiency. And his soft hands continue to produce brilliant stretches of short-game magic on and around the greens.
Looking ahead, hes got probably 10 solid years of high-level golf remaining. Could he win five majors in that time span? Its not a preposterous thought. If he does, then hed finish with eight majors, enough to be regarded as one of the all-time best. Of course, hell have to deal with Tiger every step of the way.
Interestingly, Ernie, unlike Tiger, isnt thought of as a guy with a clear vision of his place in history. But dont be fooled by the easy demeanor. The hunch here is that lately Ernies given the subject a bit of consideration.
Someday, he might well pull up to Woods, say, at the Hall of Fame, and ask, Cuzzie, how are you?
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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.