The PGA Championship

Interview with Ernie Els:

August 12, 2003

JULIUS MASON: Ernie Els, playing in his 12th PGA Championship.

Welcome to Rochester, Ernie. Some opening thoughts and we'll go to Q&A.

Ernie Els:: I'm just happy to be here. I haven't played the golf course yet, so don't ask me anything about the golf course, please. I'm playing this afternoon and I'm going to play tomorrow.

I've watched the Ryder Cup here in '95 and I can't really remember much about Curtis Strange in '89, but I know it's a U.S. Open type golf course. It's a major-type golf course. I know the PGA of America, they set it up a little differently than the USGA, so we might have a little bit more fun, but I know they have had a lot of rain here, so the rough is probably going to be up. We are in here for a tough week.

Q: Can you be Player of the Year without winning a major?

Ernie Els:: Yeah, if you win six or seven times, I think so.

A major definitely helps your cause. You know, I think if you win one major in the year and you have a bunch of Top 10's, I think that might even give you Player of the Year, but not winning a major, you have to win quite a few regular events.

Q: Where do you feel your game is at coming into this tournament right now? Where do you feel your game is at? Are you comfortable and what urgency is there for you to score high and finish big in a fourth major?

Ernie Els:: Well, I haven't really played very well at the PGA Championships. My best finish is a third back in '95. I'm not quite sure why the reason is, but I'm looking forward to this week. I've been playing well most of the year. I haven't had great starts in the first couple of rounds in the majors this year and that's really hurt my chances.

As I said, I've been playing pretty consistently throughout the year, and I had a pretty nice finish last week. Things that I've been working on kind of came through on Sunday last week.

If you strike the ball well, you are probably going to have a good week at a major, you know, especially on this type of golf course. I think a ball-striker that's on his game will have a good week. So I'm just hoping for good things.

Q: To follow up on the Player of the Year question, Tiger has four wins this is year, as does Davis Love. Do you think other golfers might be more apt to vote for Davis Love to win the award because Tiger has four wins but he's not having the year that people are expecting him to have?

Ernie Els:: Well, I think Tiger has set such a standard, not only for himself but for the rest of the Tour. I think a good question was asked earlier, can you win the Player of the Year without a major, and I think, as I said, you have to win quite a few events. A major helps so much. I think Tiger, he's got a normal season going again for him. He's won four times. I think if you look at his whole career, he's won at least two or three times in a year. So that's maybe normal for his standards, but that's quite exceptional for other players.

It's interesting. It's an interesting point. I think after this championship, we'll know a lot more.

Q: So perhaps other golfers might be looking for an excuse to give someone else a shot at the Player of the Year award, if he's as good as everyone else but not standing out this year?

Ernie Els:: I think this year is different than other years, obviously. I think other years, Tiger definitely stood out by far from any other player around the world, or on TOUR. I think this year, other players like Mike Weir, Davis, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry -- I can go on and on -- there are maybe five, six, seven players who are basically having great years and Tiger is included in that group.

So we've got quite a bit of golf left still until the end of the year but it's quite a nice topic to talk about. It just shows you the level of the other players that really come through this year.

Q: To follow on that, do you think that the gap is closing from where Tiger was two to three years ago, where he seemed to be up here, to now it seems like everybody is a little more mashed?

Ernie Els:: The records show that this year, definitely. I think as I mentioned, those players like Davis and Mike Weir and these guys, to win four times in a season or three times in a season is exceptional. Tiger has been doing that for the last seven years, so that's normal for him, as I said.

But I think other players have really stepped up this year. I think some of the players I mentioned are really in the prime of their careers at the moment. A guy like Davis and Mike Weir, and on paper, definitely, yeah. I guess that the gap has really narrowed a lot. But Tiger is still the man to beat every week.

Q: Why do you think that this tournament, along those same lines, has produced a lot of guys that maybe some guys have not heard of, if you go back to David Toms, Rich Beem, and Bob May went into the extra holes, why does this tournament seem to do that?

Ernie Els:: I think the way they set the golf course up and the type of venues we play sometimes, like Valhalla, that golf course is a lot like a normal Tour event golf course. Maybe the rough is a little higher, but you have soft conditions. I think at this time of the year, you get quite a bit of rain and it softens golf courses up and gives a lot more players a chance to play aggressively.

I think that's a good way of really testing the whole field instead of just a straight driver off of the golf ball or a guy that's really a great putter. I think the PGA Championship really gets the best player of the field and tests his whole game. And you can make birdies at PGA Championships.

Q: How close are you to the form that you showed at the start of the season?

Ernie Els:: Well, I think the start of the season was quite exceptional for me. I won the first two events in Hawaii and then I went around the world and won a couple more. You know, it's always going to be difficult to keep that level up, but I feel I've been quite consistent through the year. Maybe not the fireworks I'd like to have at the moment, but I feel I'm pretty close to that again. I think for awhile, my putter held me back in the season.

Overall, I think I'm pretty consistent. I just need to get everything together a little bit more.

Q: After winning the Open Championship last year, I think one of your next goals would be, it would be nice to win a career Grand Slam, so then the PGA takes on added significance for you?

Ernie Els:: Absolutely. That's my goal at the moment is to try and complete a Grand Slam. That's a lot of work and a lot of breaks that you have to get going your way, but I am really looking forward to this week because of the golf course. I think this is a traditional golf course, old, traditional-like golf course, and I love that type of golf. Obviously, the Masters is still there, but I would just like to have a chance on Sunday afternoon and see what happens.

Q: Is it just a bit more of an edge, do you feel yourself lifting yourself a wee bit more because you have not had a PGA?

Ernie Els:: Absolutely. Not only winning, but I'd like to just start getting a nice record in that championship. I haven't had the best of records in this tournament, so I'd like to start playing better in this championship. It's a great championship. Just to play better would be fine by me.

Q: Can you give us a sense of the anticipation the fans in South Africa have for the Presidents Cup?

Ernie Els:: It's great. Everybody is looking forward to it, the Presidents Cup. I think you are going to have a lot of crowd support there for both teams.

The people down there, they would just love to see the best players in the world play down there, especially Tiger and David Toms, Phil Mickelson, these type of players. And outside, obviously we have a lot of support, guys like myself and Nick Price and Retief Goosen, so people are really looking forward to it. Everything is planned. Everything is pretty much set already. They are just waiting for the tournament to happen now.

Q: You probably field the most Tiger Woods questions of anybody except Tiger Woods.

Ernie Els:: You're right. (Laughing).

Q: Over the last few years, and as other people have won, and as that mania may have died down a little bit, is it nice for you and some of the other guys to talk about your own games for a change?

Ernie Els:: (Laughing) Well, as you brought it up, we are talking about Tiger again, but it's quite an interesting topic when Tiger's name comes up. So it's kind of par for the course for me nowadays. I've got my own goals that I want to chase and hopefully succeed in getting them. You know, there's a guy out there that is chasing Jack Nicklaus' record. It's just par for the course for us, myself and other players who are in contention week in, week out. There's nothing much we can do about it but answer your questions.

Q: Unfortunately I have a Tiger-related question.

Ernie Els:: There you go. (Laugh being).

Q: What's the feeling like when you hold a major championship and the end of the year is up and somebody else wins and do you think Tiger is missing that feeling?

Ernie Els:: I think I'll have to come back to what I said earlier. I think when you set the standard like he did for himself, and then this not winning a major for maybe a year or two, he might feel a little bit disappointed. You know, he might as well join the queue. We would all like to go in there and win major championships but it's not always going to work out for you. It's amazing what he's done in his short career so far, to win majors every year.

Some people, some great players go through their whole career maybe not winning one. It's just amazing the way he's been doing it. I guess he does miss it a little bit, like all of us. You know, the fields are strong. You've got to have your whole game with you and you've got to have a bit of luck going for you, also. There's so much going that's involved trying to win one of these things.

Q: Considering the hot start that you got off to, are you surprised to be sitting here today and not maybe being in consideration for the players MVP award?

Ernie Els:: No, I don't think I played quite enough tournaments and I played all around the world.

But saying that, I've had a pretty good season. It's just other players have had better seasons so far. You know, to win twice in a year on this tour is pretty nice. You know, guys have really stepped up this year, more than any other year, I think.

So I haven't played, as I said, to the same standard that I set at the start of the year, and, you know, we are where we are. As I said earlier, I'm looking forward to this championship. There's still a lot of golf to be played this year. It's not like anything is set in stone yet. A lot of things can still happen.

Q: Do you remember who you voted for when O'Meara won two majors, I think Duval won more tournaments and won more money. Explain why you voted that way. This may be an unfair question: If you had to vote right now this year, after what Davis did in Colorado, which way do you think you would be leaning?

Ernie Els:: Well, I look at guys who have won majors, just because there's so much more involved, there's so much more homework that you have to do and there's so much more pressure. So I always lean towards majors, guys who have won majors and some other tournaments.

I think it would be unfair for me to answer your first question, but I think I answered it anyways. I just think that the major championships, really, there's so much more weight on those.

Q: One of the strengths of your game is your ability to hit the ball out of deep rough and put it onto the greens. I know you have not played Oak Hill yet but they are talking about rough five inches, eight inches in some spots; are you worried that will take away from one of your strengths?

Ernie Els:: I spoke to some of the guys on the putting green there and they seem to say exactly the same; that if you hit it in the rough this week, you're going to really be penalized. Guys who have been driving the ball really well throughout the season, I think you kind of look at guys like that.

Myself, you know, I don't hit as many fairways as I'd like to but maybe I'll play a bit more conservatively then. Maybe making sure the ball is in the fairway, maybe going with a longer club into the greens and take my chances from there.

I think you're right. You really have to try to get the ball in the fairway this week and see where it goes. With the conditions this soft, you can afford to come in with a longer club into the greens. I think the greens will hold. So we'll check it out.

Q: Getting back to the multiple winners -- you, Furyk, Weir, Perry, Love -- you've said guys who have stepped up and are in the prime of their career. Are there any other reasons, do you think? Last year it certainly wasn't the case and all of those players were still talented. Is course setup a factor or are there any other things that you can think of?

Ernie Els:: It's very hard to explain. Equipment might have a bit of an effect on it. Guys are really driving the ball very long, very straight right now. I think that the golf ball I play is probably the longest out there and that's probably got some kind of an influence on it. Coming in with a bit of a shorter iron to some of the greens.

It's hard to say. We've all got our sports psychologists out here, we've got our back guys, trainers and everything. I think everything is just kind of starting to fall into place for some players.

Q: Just to follow up on the comment you made before about how you would really like to do better here; why hasn't this tournament been a good tournament for you in the past?

Ernie Els:: I'm not sure. I think by the time August comes around and you've played -- this is the third major almost in three months, so that's quite a schedule. Maybe in previous years I wasn't quite fresh enough and other times, I just haven't played good enough. I'm not totally sure about it.

But they have played great golf courses, Winged Foot, Riviera, this golf course and some other ones. Not sure but I'm going to try and change it this week.

JULIUS MASON: Thanks very much for coming in.

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