2001 US Open - Ernie Els News Conference Transcript
Q. How are you playing coming into this Championship?
ERNIE ELS: Well, if you looked at my record the last month or so, it hasn't really been good. I've been having a bit of an up-and-down year. I traveled quite a lot this year. The last five weeks, I've been to England and Germany and back to the States and even back to South Africa for a quick visit down there. So I've done a lot of traveling. But I had a good week last week and really worked hard at my game, and feel a little bit more comfortable with my swing. I've been a little out of sync with a lot of things I've done with my golf swing, and that's caused my problems. So it feels a little better right now, and it's a good time to start turning it around in early June.
Q. Kind of a hometown question for you, but I was looking through the book, and between you and Payne and Lee Janzen, seven of the last ten guys to win the Open have been from Orlando. I'm wondering whether there's a weather factor or anything you can see, or is it just geographic coincidence?
ERNIE ELS: It must be just coincidence. But for a while, a third of the Tour used to live in Orlando. So it was kind of ironic. But it gets really warm there. And I practiced out there a lot. So maybe it's got something to do with it. But, no, just coincidence.
Q. A few of the players, including David Duval were in here a little while ago, talking about in light of how well Tiger plays in these majors, that the other guys have to -- they were using the words 'perfect round,' 'mistake-free rounds.' Do you go into a tournament when Tiger is here, thinking you have to play that way to win?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think that on regular Tour events, yes. It's a little different situation when we're playing on the PGA TOUR, and then come play the four majors, you know. I think the mindset is a little different in the four majors. The golf courses are definitely a lot different. Even Tiger is making mistakes in major championships. I don't see him making a lot of mistakes in the regular Tour events. It's just a little bit different. We've got more room. The greens are different. So the way Tiger plays, he's got to really be off to make big mistakes in the regular Tour events. Saying that, in major championships, he's going to make mistakes, too. Especially this week. It's a week where this golf course is as tough as I've seen, especially on and around the greens. Even Tiger is going to have a missed club every now and again. But what he does better than the rest of us -- at the moment he misses it is on the right side. Where we might go and try to push the round, we -- and try to go at a flag you shouldn't go at and miss it on the wrong side and end up with a double or even worse. So I think that's why Tiger is beating us. He misses it in a spot where he can get up-and-down.
Q. What made you decide to get Ricci back on your bag, and how do you believe that will perhaps help you this week?
ERNIE ELS: Rick got back on the bag two weeks ago, and it was really myself and Nick Price -- he actually approached me and said, 'Listen, I think we were a good team together, and why don't we get together again.' And he's such a great friend of mine and he's helped me throughout my career, he went back with Jimmy Johnson, and I got Ricci back. So we kind of went a full circle in the last three or so years. And Ricci and myself, we've won some good tournaments together. So I feel we can get something going again soon.
Q. No matter how you've played this year, it's a U.S. Open week, and it's hot weather, the conditions you won your two prior Opens in. Do you feel comfortable at this point, no matter how you played this year?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's obviously a very important week, not only for me, but for everybody. I feel that it's June, and it's like in a blink of an eye, the year is almost gone again. So I've got to really start stepping up, if I want to start competing again and have a chance to win. You only feel comfortable when you feel comfortable by the way you're swinging and striking the ball and by the way you're playing. So I'm anxiously awaiting Thursday, because I feel I'm striking it quite nice, and I just kind of want to get going.
Q. There's only two par-5s on this course. Are you sad about that, and where are the birdie opportunities here?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm quite sad about two par-5s, especially -- you can reach No. 13. That's a real birdie opportunity. 5 is also a birdie opportunity, because if you hit two good shots, you set yourself up with a little sand iron into the green, there. And with those kind of clubs, you know, the guys are pretty good. So that's a birdie opportunity. There's a couple other ones, but not too many. There's a couple of par-4s that are doglegs, and you can get up with a 3-wood and give yourself a wedge or 9-iron into the green. So there are quite a few opportunities, but, man, it's like I mentioned earlier. 9 and 18, before you even start your round, you start thinking about that, because those greens are very difficult. If you're on your game and you catch the weather right, without any breeze, you can play the golf course.
Q. I think four, five, six weeks ago, you made some swing changes, and I wonder what they were and why you made them and if you've stuck with them and are comfortable now?
ERNIE ELS: I think you're probably referring to before the Masters, I made some swing changes. And we go through it sometimes; and that doesn't quite work, and I'm kind of working on something else right now. My swing isn't any different. It's just a different swing thought. So for a while it worked good, but I don't think it was the right thing to do, and I've gone back to something else now. But it's really just a swing thought to get the club down through the ball the way I want to. So I think I'm feeling a bit more comfortable with that now.
Q. You had the pleasure of playing out there -- you were out there at high noon today and got a taste of the Tulsa heat. There are many that are of the opinion that the heat could play to the advantage of players who are on the American TOUR. Those that come over from Europe, Phillip Price was in a full parka playing last week. Do you think these conditions and the Bermudagrass could favor the American players?
ERNIE ELS: I think the heat will be a factor for anybody. I think this week, I think guys that are teeing off early are definitely at an advantage. They might play before the wind starts blowing, they're playing in calm conditions, cool conditions. So I think if you have a really good draw, you should be feeling good about it right now. Saying that, I think most of the guys, even the European guys are in good shape. When you get into the heat of the battle, you don't even think about the heat. So if you drink enough water or whatever, I think you should be fine. It's going to be 90-plus degrees, and that's kind of normal for this time of the year. But I think most of the guys will be able to handle it.
Q. In reference to Tiger, again, a little bit, though I know you're not paired with him here, but the dynamic of being paired and playing with Tiger in an event, do you personally enjoy that? Does it lift you? Is it distracting, can you talk a little bit about that?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I like playing with Tiger, because you definitely can learn something. I think he lifts you in ways. And obviously when you're swinging well and you're feeling good about your own game, you can really have a good time playing with him, because he can kind of pull you along a little bit. But if you're going the other way, you can have a very long day. Because there are a lot more people watching and it's just a little bit more crazy than you're normally used to probably. But I really enjoy playing with him. I like watching him swing, and you can learn something from him.
Q. How long ago did you start working with David Leadbetter again? I remember it was Robert Baker, wasn't it, before?
ERNIE ELS: I've been with David the last two years, and before that I was with Robert Baker for a while.
Q. So you don't see Robert Baker anymore?
ERNIE ELS: That's just what I said.
Q. Ernie, the odds-makers are talking about Tiger, lots of talk about him winning, and the rest of you guys don't need to show up. Does that make you mad, does it inspire you, does it motivate you, does it put a fire in your belly to hear that?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it does. But you've got to hand it to him. He's won the last four majors. It's no wonder you guys ask these questions, because it's just the way it is. But I definitely can't help that the guy is that good. That's just a fact of the matter. Saying that, I've got to believe that I've got a good chance of playing well and winning this week, and that's what I've got to believe in. But we're competing against a guy that's dominating a sport, unlike anybody else. I don't even think heavyweight boxers dominate their sport like that. Those guys go for four, five fights and then they lose. This guy has been going at us for a little bit longer.
Q. Ernie, I know you played a practice round today with Gary Nicklaus. Can you compare him to his father, not as a player, but how he -- as a person how they compare?
ERNIE ELS: Gary is a good friend of mine. I've known Gary close to ten years now. We played in Europe together for a while. He's just a fine, fine guy. He's a good friend of mine, and we play together quite a lot. And he's just -- he's a good player. He's proved himself. He's almost won a tournament before and he's kept his card out here. And I think he just wants to get on with his own life. I can't speak for him, but I think he's doing a fine job with his own golf game. It must be hard to be the son of the best player ever. So he's doing well.
Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC
If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.
Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.
Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.
There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.
There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.
Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.
John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.
Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.
Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.
Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.
“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”
Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.
“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”
But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.
“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”
Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.
Hoylake in 2006.
That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.
So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?
“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”
With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?
“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”
How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.
Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.
Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.
Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.
But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.
Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.
Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.
“A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”
The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.
“Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.
It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.
As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.
“This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”
Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.
Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.
The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.
“You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.
But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.
The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.
In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.
“There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”
The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.
On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.
“It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”
Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.