Notes Els Swings Over to Harmon

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Ernie Els hated making the phone call. Still, he felt a coaching change was the only way to make some needed improvements in his game.
 
After working with David Leadbetter since 1990, the Big Easy said Tuesday he switched to Butch Harmon as his swing coach because he wanted to get a different feel, get different words coming toward me.
 
The timing of the move was somewhat curious, because Els won the Honda Classic just over a month ago. But he decided Harmon could help smooth out some of the rough spots in his swing heading into the first major of the year, the Masters.
 
Hes obviously had a lot of success with a lot of players, and I love the way he changes peoples games, Els said after a practice round at Augusta National. Ive seen it with Stewart Cink and Ive seen it with Justin Leonard and a lot of other players. I like the way they swing.
 
But to sign on with Harmon, Els had to make the difficult step of breaking up with Leadbetter, who helped craft a swing that won two U.S. Opens and a British Open. The news was delivered in an emotional phone call.
 
David Leadbetter is a very good friend of mine. Hes been a friend of mine for a very long time, Els said. Obviously its tough breaking up with a guy like Lead, but hell be a friend of mine forever.
 
Asked what he was looking to change, Els pointed to improving his posture, shortening his backswing and getting the upper and lower parts of his body more in rhythm.
 
My hips were really turning too much and my shoulder, everything was kind of collapsing at the top, he said. Im quite a flexible guy, but swinging that long, I get out of sync with my lower body and upper, so I needed to stabilize that and shorten my backswing a little bit, and really get the club out in front of me.
 
Els is already starting to notice some improvement, though he concedes its too early in the process to know how much impact it will have at Augusta.
 
Hey, it could go either way, he said. Hopefully I can be right on Thursday and really trust the swing and trust my different moves. Its not stuff thats totally foreign to me. Its going to look like my normal swing. Its just in a little different position.
 
Els had been contemplating a change since late last season. Even after winning the Honda Classic, he stuck with his plan to switch to Harmon, who has worked with everyone from Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson.
 
Although I won, I still felt I wasnt totally under control of the golf ball, and thats not a great feeling to have, Els said. So I felt, hey, lets start fresh and maybe get a different look and go from there.
 
A TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER:
Phil Mickelson loves to play the Par 3 Contest, feeling the raucous event is a great way to relieve stress on the eve of the real tournament.
 
Tiger Woods? Not such a fan.
 
Its changed over the years, he said. It used to be, I thought it was a lot of fun to play. But now it is a little bit distracting to get ready and be ready for the tournament.
 
The Par 3 Contest, which began in 1960, is one of the Masters quaint traditions, a fun little competition on Wednesday afternoon that allows players to show off their lighter sides. The younger players bring their kids' nothings cuter than seeing a 6-year-old in those white coveralls the caddies wear'and fans love to see the best in the world trying to ace every hole.
 
The kids part is what makes it so appealing to Mickelson, who loves having his three young children tag along.
 
Its a great way to relieve some of the stress or pressure you feel heading into a major, Mickelson said. Guys really have fun on those nine holes and someone like myself, who has little children who caddie, we as parents look back on those pictures and those memories and sharing that time together.
 
Padraig Harrington feels the lighthearted romp actually helps his game heading into the years first major.
 
Even though there is a lot going on, you have to get into your focus over each shot, and it gives you a little bit of practice on your wedge play and the pace of the greens and holing out your 4-footers, he said. I wouldnt want to miss it.
 
Of course, some believe theres a dark side to the fun. Since the Par 3 began in 1960, no ones ever won it and the Masters in the same year, and Vijay Singh is still the only player to get his green jacket after winning the Par 3, in 1994'he took the Masters in 2000.
 
No, Ben Crenshaw doesnt count. His win in the 1987 Par 3 was eight years before the 1995 Masters, but his 1984 Masters title trumps all.
 
Harrington is as superstitious as the next guy, though he does have a little different take.
 
Ill be playing the Par 3 competition and trying to win it again, hoping that three times might be the charm, Harrington, who won the contest in 2003 and 2004. I believe if you win it twice, youre bound to win the actual event.
 
Mickelson doesnt buy the Par 3 jinx.
 
Id love to be the first to win them both, but I have just never had a chance to win the Par 3, he said. My caddie (daughter Sophia Isabel) gave me some terrible reads last year. Of course, she was only 5. But still.
 
TRAFFIC JAM:
Retief Goosen has only one thing on his mind before he tees off at the Masters: Get to the course on time.
 
Goosen rents a house near Augusta National, but he still gets stuck in traffic that overwhelms this rather sleepy Southern city during Masters week.
 
Im about a mile away, he said, and it takes you 45 minutes to get here.
 
ELS/AUTISM:
Ernie Els revealed last month that his 5-year-old son suffers from autism. Since then, the response has been overwhelming.
 
Im not sure what the number of e-mails weve been getting, but its a book, Els said. Its thousands of e-mails.
 
Els and his wife coped privately with their son Bens diagnosis until the Big Easy showed up at a tournament last month with Autism Speaks on his golf bag.
 
A lot of people keep it very private and dont want to talk about it, but if it doesnt get out, nobody really gets aware of this big problem, Els said. Its a serious problem. And its going to affect a lot of people down the line, a lot of young parents, and obviously young kids.
 
Autism is a disorder that impairs a persons ability to communicate and relate to others. Researchers have yet to determine the cause or a cure.
 
Els is glad he spoke out and showed others that no one, no matter how rich or famous, is immune to the problem.
 
We need to get moving forward and working on a cure, he said. Basically, we need to get people to talk about it a little bit more.
 
DIVOTS:
During a lunchtime ceremony at the club, Ping presented Angel Cabrera with an 18-karat gold putter, a replica of the one he used to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year. Its worth about $15,000. There are 49 foreign-born players in the tournament, making up more than half the 94-player field. For the second year in a row, Arnold Palmer will hit a ceremonial tee shot Thursday morning to start the tournament. Jose Maria Olazabal looks a little strange in a sport that relies heavily on sponsors to pay the bills. Coming back from an injury, the two-time Masters champion practiced Tuesday with a blank cap and a bag that was devoid of sponsorship logos.
 
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