His Breather Behind Him Ernie Marches On


Ernie Els is getting close now, ever so close. If he doesnt watch it, he will have the Greg Norman tag of unluckiest golfer on the planet after two or three more of these jobs. Last week he won a big one, but already this year he has had enough heartache to last two lifetimes.
At the Masters, he loses when Phil Mickelson makes a 20-footer on the last hole. He was only two off the pace at the U.S. Open going into the final day, then ran afoul of the USGAs misguided attempt at setting up the course and shot 80. He lost in a playoff at the British Open, having only 10 feet for birdie on the last hole in regulation while Todd Hamilton walked up to his ball 40 yards out in the fairway. And at the PGA Championship, he finished one shot out of a playoff when he three-putted the final hole.
So-o-o ' instead of the possibility of winning all four majors, Els finished the year 0-fer the majors. No wonder he was so fried when he went to the WCG-NEC the following week after the PGA. He shot three 72s and a 77 and finished way, way back, tied for 65th.
After playing golf in five of the six continents this year, after losing the four majors in such a teeth-gnashing manner, Ernie took a step back to look at the big picture. And he decided that what was wrong was what a lot of people decided a long time ago ' that he was tired of golf.
So, he flung the clubs in the garage at his London home and didnt get them out for two weeks. Two weeks! When the worlds busiest golfer got to the tournament last week in Ireland, he had recouped.
Voila ' look what happened. It was just what the swing doctor ordered. And once again, Els is winning.
Obviously, being human and being an athlete, you play to succeed and play to win, Els tried to explain what has happened the past month. And when it didn't happen, I was quite disappointed.
But I'm fine now. As I say, I've had two weeks off and had some time to reflect. I've just got to dedicate myself and get back into the swing of things, and I'm busy doing that.
Els plays golf like a drunk out on the town for a prolonged binge. He careens all over the place - starting out this year in Hawaii, heading to Thailand, swooping down to Australia, then hitting Dubai in the Middle East.
He came back to the U.S. for a couple of months, then headed to England when the season there got into high gear. He played in Germany, in Scotland, in the U.S. again, back across the Atlantic to Switzerland, then finally last week in Ireland.
Are you exhausted just reading about it?
And, to top it all off, he played a very high degree of excellence until the wheels came flying off at the NEC. His performance in the four majors rivals anyone. Were it not for the exceptional manner that Vijay Singh has played the last couple of months, Els would be world No. 1 today.
For a while there, myself and you guys were putting a negative spin on the whole thing, he said after the American Express. Notice he said myself before he said you guys ' politeness has always been his middle name.
If I look at it from a positive way, I came so close to winning four majors this year, and I've never been in that position before. I definitely did do something right. In three of the four, I was there right till the death. I've got to feel encouraged about what happened, more so than really being very negative.
Theres no question about the credentials of Singh to be No. 1. But a sneaking suspicion lurks that it could just as easily be Els if Els would settle down and concentrate his golf on one continent. But he has determined to be a world player. He plays in all four corners, regardless of what the many hours on a jet means to his game.
And for now, hell just continue to play the majors game of almosts. He feels as if he righted the ship again with his Sunday victory. The long, unbroken string of disappointments was becoming unbearable. The feelings came bubbling to the surface with the T65 at the NEC, and at that time, he wouldnt have guessed that he would have been in the winners circle at the AmEx in October.
Back at Firestone, no, admitted Ernie. I was nowhere. I should not have played that week.
I mean, I spoke to you after the Sunday round. I was nowhere. You know, I was very disappointed back then, and even when I got to Europe, the Swiss Open, Swiss Masters, I was still disappointed about my season or the summer.
But as I said to you guys the other day, I really wanted to draw a line and make the switch. I needed to make the switch. I did that the last two weeks.
And draw the line he did. In the meantime, Singh has broken out on top. All hats off the Vijay, says Els. But that line in the sand has been drawn, and Ernie has stopped the slide.
You know, I needed to do it, he said of the two-week vacation, and that's what I had to do. I needed to get that out of my system and start over. Otherwise I'm going to get left behind.
I don't want to do that. I want to go forward in my career, I want to win tournaments, I want to get to my goals, and the only way you can do it is to move forward. You can't keep looking back.

Email your thoughts to George White