HONOLULU – Ernie Els has reached a point in his career where he will not be traveling as far, and making decisions based as much on his business ventures as the golf itself.
One of the first tournaments to go is the Scottish Open, which he has won twice and played the last nine years.
Els signed an endorsement deal with the Royal Bank of Canada, the title sponsor of the Canadian Open. The third-oldest national championship in golf falls at an awkward time in the PGA Tour schedule – one week after the British Open, two weeks before the start of a grueling stretch that includes a World Golf Championship, the PGA Championship and four FedEx Cup playoff events.
The Big Easy said he would be there.
“Yes, but I’m changing it up,” he said. “I’m not going to play the Scottish Open.”
Els said he wants to focus more on America, where he now spends most of his time, and where his children are in school. He also is trying to raise money for an autism center in Florida.
“I’m going to play less in Europe, play a bit more in Asia,” he said. “That’s good for the personal brand and stuff we do out there.”
On the list of tournaments he likely will play is the Asia-Pacific Classic in Malaysia, where he is designing golf courses. He said his wine label is doing well in South Korea, so he will be at the Ballantines Championship at the end of April.
“Then you look at China,” he said. “China is quite a big market in just about everything. You’ve got to show your face there every now and then. I’d like to do that at the end of the year.”
Els is taking a four-week break from golf after the Sony Open this week. He said he hasn’t done that, except for injury, since before he had children when Els and his wife would go home to South Africa. That means missing the Middle East swing on the European Tour. Els said his next event when be the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.
Keeping an eye on business would seem to indicate a shift in his priorities, although Els said this has been going on for a few years.
“I’m just trying to position myself,” he said. “Obviously the world has changed the last few years. We used to have quite a bit of business in the U.S. That’s a little bit out the window now. You’ve got to look for work where it is. Asia is where it is.
“I’m definitely not thinking of retirement,” he said. “But I’m definitely positioning myself for when that day comes.”
ON AIR: It looks like Golf Channel’s plans to put a microphone on a player will get its first test at the Sony Open. Defending champion Ryan Palmer said he has agreed to be heard and seen during the first or second round at Waialae.
“I think it’s good,” he said with a slight hesitation.
Golf Channel does not plan to air the comments live, but package them in features as part of its spotlight on a player. The concern from some players has been private talk that can be heard by someone, even if it doesn’t make the broadcast.
“I think it’s good they can hear the talk between our shots and the green. Obviously, the only one listening is the guy in the truck, but who’s to say. But I’ve talked to them all. I’m confident they have to protect us and themselves.”
Television officials couldn’t find a volunteer among players they asked at Kapalua, and when Jonathan Byrd agreed, there were technical problems Friday. On the weekend, Byrd declined.
Palmer said he has never worn a microphone except when conducting a clinic.
FOOTBALL INTEREST: Matt Kuchar is the latest American to dip his toes in the Middle East. He said he will be playing the Qatar Masters the first week of February, which already has attracted Steve Stricker.
“I’ve never been to the Middle East,” Kuchar said. “You get an opportunity, and what the heck? It’s a place in the world I want to see.”
But there could be one problem.
Kuchar, who went to Georgia Tech and only recently moved from Atlanta, thinks the Atlanta Falcons have a good chance to get to the Super Bowl, which is Sunday of the final round at Qatar.
“That’s the one thing,” he said. “I think the Atlanta Falcons have a shot at the Super Bowl. I’ll be bummed if I’m in Qatar and I can’t see the Super Bowl.”
BIG BROTHER WATCHING: The disqualification of Camilo Villegas at Kapalua renewed outrage in some quarters that television viewers are able to report violations. But they don’t have to be watching from home, as Ryan Palmer learned.
In the opening round, Villegas hit a chip up the slope to the 15th hole and flicked away a few loose pieces of grass near his divot when he saw it rolling back. That violates Rules 23-1, and he was disqualified before the second round for an incorrect scorecard.
The day after Villegas was knocked out of the tournament, Palmer had a delicate chip up the hill to the 14th green. He hit it fat, and tamped down his divot as the ball was rolling back down the hill. It rolled about 6 feet away, nowhere near his previous shot. But given the Villegas incident, Palmer thought for a second that he might have broken the same rule.
A spectator thought the same thing and told PGA Tour rules official John Mutch, who met Palmer in the scoring trailer.
“The guy didn’t know what he was talking about,” Palmer said. “He saw me hit a shot and tamp down my divot. It rolled 6 feet away, not even close to my lie. I knew I hit it fat, and I knew it was coming down.”
Mutch asked him what happened, Palmer told him, and that was that.
MAHAN’S BIG WEEK: Hunter Mahan shot a 67 in his last PGA Tour round as a single man.
He tied for 25th in the Tournament of Champions, not bad considering it was a week before his matrimony. He is to wed Kandi Harris on Saturday in Dallas. The couple will go to Aspen, Colo., for their honeymoon, a popular place to ski.
This is where it gets interesting, because Mahan doesn’t ski.
“I’m going to take lessons,” Mahan said. “I wouldn’t say I have a desire to ski, but I’ve never done it and I’m looking forward to experience it.”
He plans to return at Torrey Pines, assuming he doesn’t get hurt on the slopes.
DIVOTS: Ten players who were at Kapalua to start the year have decided not to play the Sony Open. Among them is Bubba Watson, who plays a heavy West Coast schedule but added two events this year by winning – Maui and the Match Play. Three of the European players on Kapalua are going to Abu Dhabi next week. Bill Lunde is playing every other tournament on the West Coast. … The LPGA Tour said the Safeway Classic on Aug. 19-21 will be the final qualifying event for the Solheim Cup, to be held Sept. 23-25 in Ireland. … Joseph Bramlett, the first PGA Tour player of black heritage since Tiger Woods, has signed an endorsement deal with Nike.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Jonathan Byrd was the first PGA Tour player to win consecutive starts in a playoff since Tiger Woods, who won the 1999 American Express Championship and 2000 Mercedes Championship.
FINAL WORD: “You walk around on that range, you feel like you’re on a different tour.” – Ernie Els on the number of rookies making their first PGA Tour start at the Sony Open.