A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with golfer Ernie Els appears in the June 11 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
DP: Let's settle this once and for all. Is it pronounced Else or Elz?
|Ernie Els has won eight times on the PGA Tour and won the U.S. Open in '94 and '97. He's won 24 international tournaments.|
EE: Well, a couple years ago, everybody wanted to say it like the letter "l." Now you all say Else, which is closer, but it's a longer "l" Ellse.
EE: No "z," Dan. It's Elllllllse!
DP: All right -- and why don't you go with Theodore instead of Ernie, since that's your first name?
EE: Well, that's a long story. My grandfather is a Theodore Ernest and everybody called him Ernie. And my cousin is also Theodore Ernest, and he's also called Ernest or Ernie. So I thought I'd also go as Ernie. It kind of goes with Els, don't you think?
DP: Yeah, but be your own man -- you know, break away and say, "Just call me Teddy Els."
EE: No, no, no. I think it would have been a Theo Els, don't you think?
DP: Theo? I don't know if that strikes fear into Mickelson and Tiger, if you come out and you say you're Theo.
EE: I know. Maybe I should change my name.
DP: How about just E? How about double-E?
EE: No, no, that's too American.
DP: Too American?
EE: Yeah, double-E, you know. I don't know. Now, I like Ernest or Ernie or just Els.
DP: When you get off the plane in Augusta, is there a different feel? Do you sense it in the air that it's a different place? I know that Pebble is probably like that and some other courses, but do you get the feeling that you're in a different place to play golf?
EE: Absolutely, Dan ... for one, you land at Bush Airport and there are about 80 private jets standing on the airstrip already.
DP: Hey, I've got that Tailor-Made 300 -- is that too much club for me?
EE: Not at all. You know, it depends on what kind of ball flight you have, Dan. Do you have a high spin right? Do you get it up in the air very easily or do you struggle getting the ball in the air?
DP: No, I hit it high.
EE: Well, if you hit it high, the 300 is a perfect club for your ball flight.
DP: But you play a 320, don't you?
EE: I play a 320, it's kind of in between the two drivers, the 300 and the 360, Dan. With the 320, you can get the ball up in the air easily. I can play that club off the fairways on second shots and par 5. I just feel that I get the maximum kind of a flight out of that driver, and I've been using the 320 ever since it came out. I've tried a 360 here and there, but I love that on links golf courses where you've got a little bit of room.
DP: You'll be able to use that when you're on the senior tour.
EE: Yes ... put a couple of inches on to the shaft, get some flex in the shaft and off you go. You hit it 400 yards.
DP: How many guys will give up a little bit of their game just to endorse a club? Even though they know that club may not be the best one for them?
EE: It's a very, very good question. I've seen quite a few players get a lot of success out of their games and then sign up with lucrative endorsement deals, good contracts, but not necessarily good for their games, you know. I've seen players go off their games just for ... signing for a lot of cash. Now, we're in the business where we kind of have to produce for our cash -- you can't just walk into a deal and everybody is going to throw everything at you. So in our profession, we kind of try and get the most out of the good times and sometimes it works against you. I think you've got to really think about when you want to change equipment.
DP: Do you view playing Augusta as fun or is it just a necessary evil to try to win a Green Jacket?
EE: For the two times I really played well at Augusta, I just went out there and let my game kind of take care of business ... and I think the other times when I didn't play very well, I really pushed myself. So last year when I came here, I didn't play too many practice rounds. I just felt that, you know, you're not playing the real golf course until Thursday. Even our practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesdays, they don't quite have the greens as firm and as fast as we're going to get them on Thursday, so I was really low key coming into this event and I just had a good time. And I almost pulled it off -- I was only two shots behind Vijay.
DP: Two shots or three? I thought he was at 10-under, you were at 7-under.
EE: Excuse me, three shots ... I'm sorry.
DP: Don't try to sneak anything by me, all right?
EE: Yeah, I should know. You're a sportscaster.
DP: You had a 68 final day?
EE: I shot 68 the last day and, you know, it was a pretty nice day and it was a very easy 68 I shot. But I just let my game do the talking and that's probably what I'm going to try to do this year.
DP: But did you enjoy it? As an amateur ... you get to play this course and say, "This is as good as it gets." But you've played there many times. Is it fun, enjoyable?
EE: No, it's work. But it's definitely the place that you want to play your golf at. This is where you want to do your trade, right here at Augusta ... anybody's dream is just to come and play here. As professionals, we've got a job to do, but on the other hand, we've got to enjoy ourselves. ... On the other hand, you've got to do your homework as well as you can. You've got to try and have every aspect of your game right and then you've got to try and go out there and let it all happen. So when you're playing well and you're feeling good about your game, I think you can have some fun out here and just go out and play ... [when] you feel you're playing well, you're going to have a good chance to win, so then you can have more fun.
DP: In 1999, I think your final round you had an 80.
DP: Are you embarrassed by that or is that just part of the game?
EE: Yeah, I have to say that, you shoot a score like that any time -- I mean, I had another one of those ugly rounds at the Bell South. You feel a little embarrassed about it, to be honest, but all the players out there, everybody knows how tough it can be when it goes against you. But yeah, you don't look back at those rounds with fond memories.
DP: Favorite course?
EE: That's a very good question. I would say, to be honest with you, I like two courses. I like St. Andrews and I love Pebble Beach. Obviously, St. Andrews is the oldest golf course, the home of golf. The first time I played it, I didn't think much of it, like a lot of players have. But playing it more and more often with different kinds of winds, playing every shot in the bag and knowing you're playing at the home of golf is quite a thrill. I think Pebble Beach is the most scenic golf course in the whole world. I think it's a great layout. There's not one bad hole on the golf course, and when you get there you feel like you want to play golf. You know, it's just a great atmosphere, great place.
DP: Where do you rank the majors? What's No. 1? I'm sure having won two U.S. Opens, that may rank a bit higher than the other ones. But being a foreigner, does the British Open mean more to you? What's your order?
EE: Right now, at this stage of my career, I'll take any of the four, obviously. Growing up as a kid, the Masters is the first one I ever watched live ... I think the first time I watched the Masters was in 1977 when Gary Player won with a nice putt downhill. But the whole mystique and the whole order of the whole place at Augusta has always been [special].
DP: What was the time difference watching in South Africa?
EE: It's always been six or seven hours. Six hours now with this little time change you have here. So me and my dad, we used to watch it. If you wanted to watch it live, you started watching it at 10 or 11 in the evening and go right through to about 3 in the morning. So that used to be the highlight in our house every April.
DP: Give me some good celebrity golfers.
EE: I haven't played with too many celebs, but I've played with Sly Stallone, actually at St. Andrews.
DP: How was Sly's game?
EE: He's got a pretty good game. He's a little bit shorter than I thought he was, and that's good for golf. You know, you don't want to be too tall -- I'm 6-3, unfortunately.
DP: Stallone's about the size of Ian Woosnam, isn't he?
EE: No, he's a little taller than Ian Woosnam. There aren't too many people shorter than Ian Woosnam.
DP: But Sly's got a decent game?
EE: He's very strong physically. You know, he's got those hard biceps and he's got good strong shoulders, so he tried to muscle the ball a bit the time I played with him, but ... if he plays to his strength he can play off a single figure handicap.
DP: Anybody else that I'd be impressed by? And did Sly do any movie lines? Did you want to say, "Hey, can you do that movie line from 'Rocky'?"
EE: No, I was too embarrassed. I think I was too shy to ask him. But we did talk about life in the business there, and he told me a couple of nice, good stories. But I'll keep that to myself ... we had a good day.
DP: Who else did you play?
EE: I've played with Michael Douglas. He plays with, I think, a 15-handicap. He says he just doesn't get enough time to practice and play ... and now he's gotten married to Catherine Zeta-Jones, so I guess his time of playing golf is kind of limited at the moment.
DP: I don't blame him. I wouldn't play either -- I'd stay at home.
EE: Exactly. I don't blame him, I would do exactly the same. I'll stay at home in front of the fireplace and that's that.
DP: Do you give people like Sly Stallone or Michael Douglas a golf tip? Do they expect you to give them a tip?
EE: Dan, normally, even when I play pro-ams, I just really want the people to ease into a round ... [and only] after quite a few holes, I can start seeing what they're doing wrong or where I can help them. So, yeah, I give tips whenever I play, but I don't want to get in their way and I know how unsettling it can be playing in front of crowds and stuff like that. I mean, I couldn't go sit and read the sport like you guys do in the evening. So when you come out and do what we do for a living, it's obviously a little uncomfortable for the amateur players. So I try and let them ease into it and then I'll give them help.
DP: The strangest thing that's ever happened in a pro-am that you've been a part of?
EE: Wow, let me think. Well, I once played with a guy who actually hit the ball behind him.
DP: Do you try not to laugh?
EE: Yeah, it was hard to do that time. We actually all kind of laughed, the whole group had to break out laughing. He actually hit the ball, was hitting a 3-wood. He was struggling with his driver and he actually hit the ball right off the side of the club, off the bow of the club. The ball just kind of trickled off to the right. He took a tee marker -- we had round tee markers -- and the ball actually went behind us. So he had to play the second shot from behind where he started from.
DP: Now, do you have to drop your pants if you don't make it past the women's tees?
EE: Well, I think in a social game, yeah, but I don't know about that in a pro-am.
DP: Has that ever happened to you? You didn't get it past the ladies' tees?
EE: Oh, definitely.
DP: And did you have to drop?
EE: No, that was in the days when we didn't have to do it. I think I was 8 to 9 years old in those days. But I haven't done it recently, let's put it that way.
DP: The strangest thing that's happened to you during a regular round of golf?
|Ernie Els was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Oct. 17, 1969. He turned pro in 1989.|
EE: Oh, man...
DP: A streaker or -- well, Tiger gets the streakers. You don't get them.
EE: Tiger could really have a tale to tell. But actually, talking about streakers ... I was sitting with Tiger in the locker room at the '96 British Open before he turned pro and we were just talking. And I was having a beer and he was having his Diet Coke. And we were looking through the locker-room windows at what was happening with Tom Lehman. And the streaker actually ran across the green, so we had a pretty good look at her. It wasn't very pretty, to be honest.
DP: Best golf book you've ever read.
EE: I would say "The Rules of Golf"...
DP: That's not an exciting book.
EE: No, but it's pretty useful when you play tournament golf nowadays. I mean, there are so many frigging rules.
DP: Are there any good pictures in that book?
EE: No, unfortunately, there are no pictures. Normally, those are the only books I read, the ones with pictures inside.
DP: What book are you reading right now?
EE: Right now, I'm not reading anything. I'm trying to work on my game, and I'm actually working on the mental side of the game, so I'm reading Tony Robbins at the moment. Can you believe it?
DP: You're reading Tony Robbins? You're desperate.
EE: I believe there's something in there that's helpful this week.
DP: You're really desperate, aren't you?
EE: Oh well, I'm searching...
DP: If you played an 18-hole par-3 match against Annika Sorenstam, would you win every time?
EE: Depending on how long the par 3s are.
DP: Let's say 150 yards and in.
EE: Well, 150 yards in, Annika's got a very good chance of beating me. If you make it a little bit longer, I think my chances get better. I can hit a 5-iron 194 yards. But from 150 I think she's got every chance of beating me. ... A man's chances obviously get better when the holes get longer.
DP: What's the strangest thing you've thought of when you're over a putt during a tournament?
EE: It depends. I mean, there's a hundred things going through my mind over a putt.
DP: But something that might surprise me. You know, like last night's dinner, going home to the family, you know, that woman in the gallery...
EE: I just kind of think nice things. I think of Samantha ... I think of my little girl. You've got to think about happy things over a little 4-footer, don't you? Like some light -- you've got to give some light on the picture so you think of something nice, Dan. Think of a floodlight on or something.
DP: Do I think of a sunset or Pamela Anderson, something like that?
EE: Whatever makes you happy, whatever makes you happy, Dan.
DP: What's your favorite golf expression?
EE: You really want to know? The four-letter one or...
DP: You wouldn't use language like that, would you? You're saying F-O-R-E.
DP: No, do you have a favorite expression: Never up, never in. You drive for show, putt for dough. Do you have any of those?
EE: Keep it simple.
DP: That's it?
EE: Yeah, that's it.
DP: Best golf movie?
EE: Oh, I don't watch golf movies -- but best one? Or the only one? I never saw this Bagger Vance movie. The last one I saw was the Costner one, which I thought wasn't too good. Before that, I would say "Caddyshack" is the best one I've ever seen.
DP: Why didn't you like "Tin Cup"?
EE: I don't know. It just wasn't real. It wasn't like on the Tour. It's kind of, they tried too hard there, I think. A little too Hollywoody.
DP: Yeah, I didn't like the ending.
EE: No, absolutely. That ending was very unlike any golf tour you'll ever see. So it was just -- it was a Hollywood movie, I guess.
DP: What did you think of Costner's swing?
EE: Not bad. He actually gets it in a pretty good position at the top. I know I've spoken to Gary McCord -- he worked hard on Kevin Costner's swing and, you know, he's got a nice golf swing. I think he could play a pretty good anchor.
DP: Is there a part of you that wishes you played a different sport? And, if so, what sport would that be?
EE: I am very happy with what I chose to do for a living ... I've had a pretty nice career ... but I love my tennis, and we've got a game in South Africa called cricket.
DP: Yeah, I don't get that.
EE: It's very hard to explain. It would take me all day. But I really enjoy that game. I was a bowler and a batsman.
DP: Give me a tennis player who you live vicariously through. Were you a Bjorn Borg fan?
EE: Kind of a Richard Krajicek fan -- are you talking about the legends...?
DP: You can be Richard Krajicek if you want to.
EE: I like his game. He's struggling with some injuries right now, but when he's on he's very hard to beat. And he's tall.
DP: Did Tiger make you better?
EE: I would say yes and no. Yes, in working a little harder at my game and setting my goals a little higher. But sometimes, you know, trying too hard myself.
DP: What's the best tip I could get? Aside from "keep it simple." If we played, what would be the one thing that you would tell me that I would have in my memory bank?
EE: Well, Dan, the whole game starts with your grip, so...
DP: Wait a minute, I'll give you an idea. I shot 83-81 at Augusta recently.
EE: That is very, very impressive.
DP: I reached 13 and 15 in two and missed an eagle putt on 13 that I probably should have made. I birdied 12 the first day and bogeyed 12 the second. So I'm real good and then I'm real bad.
EE: Man, so you played Amen Corner well ... it sounds like you can play, Dan. You can sign off from the office and you can come join us. Or I'll join you on the Senior Tour one day.
DP: I'm not just a pretty face, Ernie. I mean, I'm an athlete. ... I was challenged by that course, but as you know, if you hit it straight you can do some damage to it.
EE: Yeah, absolutely. You know, last year, on Sunday, it was just beautiful conditions. I think I hit 16 out of 18 greens and shot a 68, which felt pretty easy. But then you get a day like we had last year on a Saturday. I mean, it [was windy] and it was cold, and then you're shooting even par and you're happy with that.
DP: You shot a 74 that day, didn't you?
EE: I shot 74 that day and I didn't really move backwards at all.
DP: You were probably pleased with the 74, considering what you went through.
EE: Absolutely. I mean, it was a rough day. I think that day Vijay won the golf tournament right there. I think he shot 2-under or something.
DP: He shot a 70.
EE: Yeah, which was equivalent to probably a 64, to be honest.
DP: Is there anything interesting in your golf bag that I might want to pull out?
EE: No, I'm pretty boring when it comes to that. I've definitely just got the normal stuff in there.
DP: Oh, there's no surprises?
EE: No, not really. You won't find anything out of the ordinary in my bag. And I'm married now, Dan.
DP: Oh, when you weren't married, there would be something different in there?
EE: Well, I've known my wife for the best part of nine years, so you've got to go even before that. Then I was too young to know anything else. So, you know, nothing really.
DP: What constitutes a clutch player to you?
EE: Oh, a guy who does it year in and year out, he's just on top year in, year out. He's consistent, plays well in the big events. A clutch player is a guy who performs when it's needed. There are only a few out there.
DP: Final question for you: What's the one TV show that you never miss?
EE: Depends on where I am in the world, but in the United States, well, I like your channel a little bit. You know, I watch SportsCenter, but only the first version of it. I don't like watching it over and over again.
DP: Yeah, but you know, go different. I don't want you to suck up to me.
EE: I like the "Survivor" thing on CBS.
DP: I just can't envision you sitting in front of the TV set saying, "You know what, I want her voted off." Do you do that?
EE: Me and my wife, we have a couple of arguments every time we watch it.
DP: What are you arguing about? Who should get voted off?
EE: Yeah, she always takes the woman's side of it. ... You've got to try and get food and stuff, and she says no, it's the male that should be doing all the work. But you know, we've got to do it on the mainland when we get here so, you know, it's kind of a team thing down there. So we have arguments.
DP: Yeah, but you've got to have women to look at on the island. We just can't ask them to go kill a pig.