Ernie Els British Open Press Conference Transcript


STEWART McDOUGAL: Thank you for coming in. I had a brief talk with you Monday, you had played the course and you said the course was in wonderful condition and a great layout. Is the condition getting any faster at all.
ERNIE ELS: The course has changed a little bit. The greens have changed a little bit, I would say. They're firmer and getting a little bit more speed in them, the fairways are in great shape, as you can see the golf course is very green, but this starting -- you're starting to see a little bit of run on the fairways and especially on the greens. If that happens, if it gets any firmer, it's going to be tougher to keep it on the fairways. The rough is very, very thick. If you hit any kind of a loose shot, you're going to be penalized at least one shot. You have to get very lucky to get a lie and advance to the green. But it's not overly long, so you've got opportunity to use 3 woods or 2 irons to keep it in the fairways, and you're going to come in with longer clubs, but it's a very fair golf course.
Q. If it gets any faster, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it will make scoring a little bit more difficult. But the true links will come out then. The running shots, you know, the low punch shots, stuff like that, the real links golf will come out if it gets faster and firmer, but I think it will take at least another week of this kind of weather to really make it brown. I think we'll see fairways that are pretty generous this week.
Q. Do you like brown golf or green golf?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think the way it's set up, I don't mind it brown then, there's not so much rough yet, when it is brown, yet it can be difficult, so I prefer it a little more green.
Q. You've done well here in the past. Do you enjoy links golf in general. Does that suit your game?
ERNIE ELS: I don't know if it suits my game. I enjoy playing that kind of golf. I enjoy playing The Open Championship, and I've had a pretty good time the last 10 years playing in this tournament. I haven't won it, but I've had good times playing this tournament. We don't get an opportunity to play links courses that often anymore, so when we do, I like to grab it and play. It's decent stuff. It's different from the golf we normally play in the states or even I know the European Tour now, it's target golf all the time, so you go back to your roots here kind of.
Q. What do you have to do to win, you personally?
ERNIE ELS: I have to play a lot better. I haven't played that good the past couple of weeks. I've worked on it a little bit playing out there today, but shots aren't coming out the way I'm visualizing at the moment, so it's a little difficult, but obviously if I get my game together, I've got to keep it there. It's a strong field, a lot of players are coming here with great form, especially Tiger and Phil Mickelson. It's a four-day event, you have to try to hang tough. I would like to see my game a little bit better by Thursday.
Q. You mentioned him first, so I will now. Specifically the news after the U.S. Open was criticism of specifically you and Phil and Duval, from the older generation saying you haven't provided enough of a challenge, I saw you reacts to it once, but now time has past and on the verge of another major, does that burn inside of you when you get ready to tee it up on Thursday?
ERNIE ELS: Let me put it this way. When I feel I play well, when I'm playing well, I feel I have a chance to win. Obviously, that hasn't happened. When I've played well, Tiger still has beaten me. What do you do? You have to play better. I felt my game was really on the first quarter of the year, the first four or five months, I really played well, and I did win a couple of times. I actually won when Tiger was in the field, so that counts even more in my book.
Since The Masters, I haven't really gotten back to my best form so it has been difficult for myself to challenge any kind of a field for quite a few weeks now, so when those comments were made, I think it was made just after the U.S. Open, and I reacted to it, because I felt it was unfairly -- you know, how can I say, unfairly towards myself and some other players. I still stand by it. I work hard at my game. I work hard at everything in my game. When I've had it going, I still got beat. Maybe I'm not good enough then, who knows. I think it's unfair the way other people from the outside just criticize you because you don't beat the guy.
Q. Have you talked to Gary since then? I know you guys are fairly close.
ERNIE ELS: No, I haven't spoken to Gary or anybody really.
Q. Why do you think there is this fascination with comparing different generations not just in golf --
ERNIE ELS: Any support is like that, isn't it? If you look at the NBA you're going to compare Bryant with Jordan; Shaq with some other great players. Baseball is the same, soccer is the same, Rugby is the same. Any sport.
Q. Cricket.
ERNIE ELS: When you're done playing, you become a commentator and it's easy to criticize people. I just reacted to that. I think I might be the same. Who knows when I retire. When I played, I was this good, and this guy is not good because he's not doing some things right. It's easy to say that, I guess.
Q. Ernie, do you think that Trevino could have won six majors today or Watson?
ERNIE ELS: They were great players, Lee Trevino had a great golf swing, best hands in the business. Tom Watson, just one of the best ball-strikers, great desire to play the game, same with Gary Player, but we play a different game out there nowadays. I mean, you've seen it. You guys have been around here long enough. You've seen how the game has changed. Equipment has changed, but also the players. You don't see guys with fat bellies out there anymore. Guys are fit and strong and it's a different game. I mean, those great players probably would have been as good today, but would they have beaten Tiger? There is a big question mark there.
Q. Do you think the setup of this course widens the number of potential winners as opposed to Bethpage?
ERNIE ELS: Yes, I think this is a lot wider open than Bethpage. Bethpage, I thought, was a great golf course, it was one of the best I've ever seen. The setup was a little difficult, but again, if you were on your game, I think you could have had a good week there, Phil Mickelson showed that. He played with great heart and it seemed like he hit the ball very well, and he was right in there, and some other players, too. This golf course is a lot shorter, but into the wind, some of the holes are very difficult.
No. 1 is going to be one of the most difficult holes. It's a 450 into-the-wind-hole, and 14 comes to mind, 15 comes to mind. And then No. 9 is going to be a very tough Par 5. And No. 10 is a good Par 4.
There's a bunch of holes that are difficult in the morning, but you've got a lot of very short par four's downwind where I feel you have a lot more opportunities for birdies than you ever had at Bethpage. At Bethpage there were almost no birdie holes, it seemed like. I think this will be -- saying again, it's Monday, Thursday the tournament starts, I feel there will be a lot more players in this one come Sunday.
Q. Do you think the shorter the course, the more it opens it up to the rest of the field?
ERNIE ELS: Definitely. Especially the way they set up major championship golf courses, they're all very narrow, the rough is up that you can't believe at some places. The shorter the course, more people can be in it. A long golf course like Bethpage, you have to be a long hitter to do anything.
Nick Price probably played as good as Tiger did, but he didn't have the game obviously as Tiger. He's 270, 275 driver, and he really had no chance of winning the tournament, but he played great to finish fifth.
Q. Do you think the U.S. Majors will ever figure that out and start going back to courses that are obsolete because they're too short?
ERNIE ELS: I spoke to a guy last night who is a member at Oakmont, and he said they changed Oakmont unbelievably a lot. They say you can't really see the changes, but the changes are there. It's probably about 7,200 now, and it's a big change from 1994, so I think a lot of courses are changing.
Q. It sounds like you don't need to if you want to open up the competition....
ERNIE ELS: This is different. You have the weather here to help you. If there's a dead calm, 24 in the pocket (sic) wouldn't you, (inaudible) because you don't need a driver, ever, if it's dead calm. You play in the states, you play a short course, shorter than 7,000 yards, with no wind, I mean, you can shoot anything there. You don't need a driver ever on the golf course like that, so the weather plays a big part on links golf courses.
Q. He talked about the state of your game right now and you started the season very well. What has happened in the last month or so?
ERNIE ELS: I don't know if I'm a little tired of it or what it is, I'm just not -- I just can't get it together at the moment. I had two weeks off after the Hartford tournament and I came to London and spent some nice time with the family and practiced and -- but it's not just quite there. My swing is not tight enough, I feel. The ball position is out a little here and there, a couple of things, and it compounds to quite a problem at times.
ERNIE ELS: I tried to get it together last week and it didn't quite work, but hopefully by Thursday I'll get something going.
Q. After you won Congressional, the second major, did you have a number in mind like I can win, six, eight, ten, and has that number changed over the last five years?
ERNIE ELS: Yes. After Congressionally I felt very comfortable I would win the Grand Slam and win all four at least once, and it's still a goal of mine, but it's changed a little bit now. I think before '97, it was looking pretty good because Tiger wasn't around then and he just came on the scene, really. It seems now when you play a major tournament, you really play the golf course, and you play Tiger. It seems like he's there every time and he just knows -- he's such a veteran now playing major championships that even if he's not playing very well, he's still going to be there, and if he's only 5 behind, there's always the feeling he can get something going on the Sunday.
Yeah, it's definitely changed. I feel that -- I'm 32, 33 in October, so I've still got a good seven years ahead of me, but it's going to be a lot more difficult than I thought at first.
Q. How do you play Tiger? What does that mean?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's just, you know, you can beat the field, but it doesn't mean you're going to beat Tiger. He stands -- you know, you can agree with me, he's going for the Grand Slam, you know he's going to be in contention this week, so you can beat the field by a couple of shots, but you might not beat Tiger at the end of the day.
Q. Does that change the way you actually play?
ERNIE ELS: It doesn't really change anything you do. I'm just saying, you know, that you might beat the field and he's shown that. He won the Open by eight shots and the U.S. Open, he won by 12 shots so I could have beaten the field that week, but I still wouldn't have won the tournament.
Q. (Inaudible) ?
ERNIE ELS: In a way, yes. Look at Duval this year. He had an eight-shot lead going into the final round, and although I didn't play very well the last day, I won by two, I think, over Tiger and I think by six the rest of the field. That's the kind of thing that can happen in a golf tournament.
Q. Having said that, do you think there is a lack of appreciation then for the level of play you're on and Mickelson and Garcia and others?
ERNIE ELS: Yes. That was my point when I reacted a couple of weeks ago. You know, if it wasn't for one guy, I think Mickelson would have had two or three by now, and I think David would have probably won The Masters a couple of times, and who knows maybe I could have won four or five, so there you go. I think this guy is just a totally different talent than the world has ever seen. In a way, I'm kind of glad I'm playing this year and in another way I'm unhappy I'm playing this year.
Q. So maybe, quote, the older generation ought to be glad they were born when they were?
ERNIE ELS: I think so.
Q. Nick Faldo was in here hoping maybe a woman might get into Tiger's way. Do you want to introduce to him to somebody?
ERNIE ELS: You might want to speak to Jesper about that one. He's probably got to settle down and get married and have some kids (laughs).
Q. Do you want to loan him some of your kids in the meantime?
ERNIE ELS: No. That's the best thing that's ever happened to me.
STEWART McDOUGAL: Ernie, thank you very much.