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Els 'Numb' after Victory


It's been 10 years since Ernie Els' last major title. That came in the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield, when the South African beat two Aussies - Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington - and Frenchman Thomas Levet in a playoff for his third Grand Slam victory.

Though it took a decade, the popular player known as the "Big Easy" finally acquired his fourth major, edging Adam Scott by a stroke to win his second Claret Jug to accompany his pair of U.S. Open triumphs.

The 42-year-old didn't quite know what to make of his windfall Sunday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, when Scott bogeyed the final four holes to lose a four-stroke lead he enjoyed before then to finish a stroke out of a playoff. Thanks to a difference-making birdie on the 18th, Els finished at 8-under 272, while Scott ended up at 273.

After accepting the considerable accolades and benefits - Claret Jug and Gold Medal, $1,405,890 and 600 FedEx Cup points - that go to the "Champion Golfer of the Year," a still-stunned Els met with reporters and discussed his day, his thoughts about his good friend Scott, his autistic son, and what this latest major means. Here's what he told the media.

MODERATOR: We have the 2012 Open Champion, Ernie Els (applause). And congratulations, fantastic achievement. How does it feel?

ERNIE ELS: Amazing. I'm still numb. It still hasn't set in. It will probably take quite a few days because I haven't been in this position for 10 years, obviously, so it's just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here. I felt good after yesterday. I didn't play myself out of it yesterday. But still, you know, to make up all those shots, I just felt good. I don't know. It's hard to explain. For some reason I felt something good was going to come out of this. Even if I didn't win I was going to feel good about it because of all the work we've put in. My game is back to where I feel I can compete. If it wasn't this year, I feel I can compete in it next year. But I really feel for my Buddy, Scottie, I really do. I've been there before. I've blown majors before and golf tournaments before, and I just hope he doesn't take it as hard as I did. So that's that.

Q. Congratulations. Did you know you were 25/1 going into today? I just took a peek. Not bad.

ERNIE ELS: No, I didn't know. I'm not sure what the rules are, but I know I was about 80/1 at some point this year. That would have been a good bet.

Q. I want to know, the way you won, it can be such a cruel game and you've been on both sides of it. How do you deal with it from your end, the enjoyment, and just knowing, again, that your buddy Adam had to deal with it the way he did?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I've got to figure it out still. Obviously I'm so happy that I've won. But I've been on the other end more times than I've actually been on the winning end, so to speak. And it's not a good feeling. Especially, I'm speaking for myself, I think Adam is a little bit different than I am. I did see him afterwards in the scorer's hut and he seemed okay. I really said to him, I'm sorry how things turned out. I told him that I've been there many times and you've just got to bounce back quickly. Don't let this thing linger. So yeah, I feel for him. But thankfully he's young enough. He's 32 years old. He's got the next 10 years that he can win more than I've won. I've won four now; I think he can win more than that.

Q. We've seen you in the gym working really, really hard with Josh Salzmann. How important has that been for a tough week like this?

ERNIE ELS: Well, Josh, we've been working on and off together also for six or seven years now. And as I said, I've got a great team around me. I've got great people around me. And whether it's guys trying to get me into the gym or get me on the range and so forth, I've got great guys around me, and also my family, also. They all play their part. I've got the talent; I've got to still go out there and hit the golf shots. But I've got people that's driving me, which is great.

Q. Many congratulations. After this amazing week do you think you'll still stick with easyJet when you go to Canada (laughter)?

ERNIE ELS: Yes, as I sit here they look pretty good. 125, yeah, beats $8,000 an hour on a private jet.

Q. You can probably buy a few jets now, can't you?

ERNIE ELS: I'll see. I think they're a lucky charm. I might go to Scotland with them again next year.

Q. It's a little bit of a helpless feeling I'm guessing when you're on that putting green waiting. Did you think back to Augusta? You were in that same spot -

ERNIE ELS: Yeah.

Q. with nothing you can do. You've done all you can do at that point.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. Exactly. That's why the R&A asked me what I wanted to do, did I want to watch or what. I said, no, I'll go to the putting green like I've done so many times. And I just thought I'll probably be disappointed again because so many times waiting on a playoff. I mean, it even happened this year at New Orleans. You're not really hoping the guy is going to make a mistake, but you're hoping you don't have to go to a playoff, you can win outright. This one was different because I feel for Adam. I really didn't mind going to a playoff. I think he probably didn't feel that. But I at best was hoping for a playoff on the putting green.

Q. You said last night that you had a very good feeling about today. What was that good feeling and has that good feeling now come to fruition?

ERNIE ELS: Well, obviously it has, yeah. It's amazing this game, you know. You have a positive feel, you give yourself positive vibes, sometimes positive things happen. And I think I've been in such a negative mode for a while, and now that I'm starting to feel more positive, obviously things happen, especially on the back nine where I haven't really done the job. Especially at the U.S. Open, I had an outside chance and didn't quite capitalize. To have hit the shots that I did on that back nine, I don't think I missed a shot, to be honest. I mean, the 16th, I went for the green, I pushed that, but the chip shot was good. I really hit the shots that I needed to hit. And obviously, Lytham, I feel comfortable here. When you feel comfortable on the course, you can hit the shots, also. And I had a lot of help from the crowd.

Q. It's quite something to launch immediately into a tribute to Nelson Mandela after you win the Open. Most golfers thank their caddie.

ERNIE ELS: They're important.

Q. Can I ask what sort of compelled you to do that, and had you been thinking about it for a while? And more importantly, will you take the jug to him and will the pair of you share a drink out of that jug?

ERNIE ELS: I'd love to. My man in front here from Super Sports South Africa, we've been doing some little bytes for the Olympics. And a lot of the Olympic theme this year has got President Mandela in it. So he's been very much in my thoughts. And believe it or not, this morning I was lying watching cricket and I was just kind of daydreaming, and that thought came through me in a split second. If I win, I told myself, I'd better thank President Mandela because I grew up in the era of the apartheid era, and then changing into the democratic era, and President Mandela was right there. And right after the change, I was the first one to win a major.

And so there's a lot of significance there in my life, from the change from that and then President Mandela becoming president and me winning a golf tournament. And then him getting on the telephone with me talking to me when I was in Pittsburgh, Oakmont. So in a way we intertwined together in a crazy way. And I just felt he's been so important for us being where we are today as a nation and as sports people.

Q. (Inaudible.)

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. And especially when you've met him personally. It's an unbelievable feeling, and he's a great man.

Q. Will you have a drink with him out of that?

ERNIE ELS: I don't know. I'd love to. As I said, I've got a schedule to run, and hopefully I can shoot back maybe for a day or two after the Olympics. I don't know if he's coming over. I'll go wherever he is. I'd love to see him again.

Q. You mentioned the role of the crowd. That was quite a roar you got there at 18th. I was a way away, and it almost knocked my sunglasses off my head. But I was just wondering was there any point during your round where they really kicked in and just gave you that drive for the last?

ERNIE ELS: They were behind me the whole week. And as I said to them, I think they were behind me just as a past champion, maybe, just encouraging me and maybe just happy to see me around. I felt a little bit different. I felt I had a chance this week. And I think as I kind of progressed over the back nine especially, they got louder and louder and the crowd grew. Obviously there was a lot of people with Tiger behind us, but the last four holes we had a magnificent crowd, and they were really rooting for me and really inspired me.

Q. When you made the turn you were six back. Did you still have a good feeling then? Nobody was putting pressure on Adam. Did you have a plan on the back that you thought might work and get you there?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I still felt - I bogeyed 9, I was really angry with myself at 9 and that almost set me in a different mindset. It really got me aggressive. I hit a lot of drivers on the back nine and I was just trying to make birdies. I felt good. I didn't feel like - I wasn't ahead, I wasn't behind, I was right in the moment, for once. I was really just playing the shot in the moment. Yeah, when you've been around as long as I have, you've seen a lot of things happen. And I just felt that the golf course is such if you just doubt it a little bit, it was going to bite you. There's too many bunkers, too much trouble, and there was a bit of a breeze. So I felt I was going to hit the shots and I felt - I still felt I had a chance.

Q. You've had so much going on in your family life and in your charity life. Has that inspired your golf, or do you sort of have to maybe separate that out so you can focus on your golf?

ERNIE ELS: I think we've got to a point now where I can definitely separate the two. Coming out publicly quite a few years now ago with Ben and the autism, it took a lot of work to get the foundation set up, the right people, and our mission statement. And we're clear on that. People know where we're going with that. Even the foundation itself knows where we're going with that; we've got a clear goal. And with my golf life, also. The two are running parallel but yet separate. And it's a lot simpler than it has been. It took quite a bit of time to set it up. And I think emotionally or mentally I'm also in a better place than I have been in the last couple of years with the whole situation.

Q. Do you feel like you're playing for a cause, or do you not feel that way?

ERNIE ELS: I made a lot of putts today with Ben in mind today, because I know Ben's watching. He loves when I hit golf balls. He's always there. He comes with me. He loves the flight of the ball and the sound. I know he was watching today, and I was trying to keep him - because he gets really excited. I wanted to keep him excited today, so I made a lot of putts for him today.

Q. I wonder if you could just confirm your plans for next week. I think there were a few RBC executives that may have had a bit of a heart attack when they heard your victory speech.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, still they want me to - there's a golf day for Mike Weir tomorrow in Toronto. But I'll speak to Gordon Simpson, maybe they'll let me off on that one and I'll be there Monday evening. I'd love to see the family this evening and maybe try and fly out tomorrow morning. If they want there, I'll go tonight still. But I'd love to maybe just be there Monday night.

Q. We know you're a massive fan of the 'Boks, but it's been a good day for the Proteas today, as well, and just generally a good day for South African sports as a whole.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I was watching a bit. I watched a bit last night and then obviously this morning a little bit. Yeah, it seems like the guys are fresh and ready to play and hopefully they'll have a good series. I'm not sure what happened today, but they were getting the upper hand a little bit, touch wood.

Q. (Inaudible.)

ERNIE ELS: Well, there's still a long way to go, two more test matches, so there's a good start.

Q. Also in your victory speech, Ernie, you mentioned to the crowd, did they really believe you were going to win. Did you really believe there was another major in you, after such a gap of winning?

ERNIE ELS: For a long - I won't say a long time - I think last year, no, I thought I had no chance. Last year was really pretty big hole. But since the start of the year and especially the last month or two, I started seeing some better signs and started believing in that.

Q. Because the last two occasions, as well, you've always seemed to play - this seems to bring out the best in your golf?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I've always enjoyed this course and I've always enjoyed the Open Championship, the challenge. I just for some reason felt good. We found something in my swing earlier this week with Claude and the putting with Ricci, and the whole thing came together and I was in a good frame of mind. So for once it all came together.

Q. A personal thank you from a man that had you at 50/1.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, man. If only you had the balls to put more than 100 on it.

Q. Just to touch on the fact you said that emotionally you had struggled for a while, do you think the secret to getting the success back in your game has been going back to being the Big Easy and being more laid back again?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, well, that's easier said than done, isn't it? This game is a tough game we play. It's a physical game. It's a mental game. You've got to have your wits with you, otherwise you have a missing link and it doesn't quite all come together. So to play the game as long as I have, for 23 years now as a professional, you're bound to go through every emotion out there and most of the things happen to you. As I said before, I've done what Adam has done before. Just about everything that can happen in the game of golf, I've gone through. So to come through all that and sit here and speak to you guys with the Claret Jug is crazy. And it comes from a good attitude, yeah, being a bit more relaxed and believing in yourself.

Q. Nice to go back to Muirfield as champion next year?

ERNIE ELS: Absolutely, can't wait to get there. The next four are great. We've got great venues, and Muirfield has always been my favorite. So everything is groovy at the moment again (laughter).

Q. When you do see Ben, what will you tell him what his old man did today?

ERNIE ELS: I don't think I'll need to say anything. I think Ben will - he's got his sayings that he says, and he'll be happy. And obviously Samantha will be there right next to him and Liezl. It's going to be a great time to see them. Ben, he's coming through now nicely. I mean, you guys should see him. He's a wonderful boy now, and he's a bright boy. So we're going to have a lot of fun.

Q. I know you've done so much work on your putting from trying to retrain your eyes and just out on the practice green constantly. Can you take us through that last putt, because that really began to change everything once that thing went in. And it went in on a great line with great speed.

ERNIE ELS: That's the thing; when you've been where I was, you have no confidence in putting, you don't want to have that one coming back. You guys have heard that so many times, but that's the situation I was in. I was coasting everything up to the hole and wasn't giving the hole a scare. It comes from retraining your whole outlook on putting. And that's why I started working with Sheryl, just changed the whole thing, mindset, training, everything. And I was really going from a totally different angle, which I liked, because I tried everything else.

And then slowly, surely, obviously in March I looked like an absolute fool. People were laughing at me and making jokes about me and really hitting me low, saying I'm done and I should hang it up. So to come through and make a putt like that and make pressure putts on the back nine, that was the whole goal. That was the whole thing. Going through all the different feelings and process, all the process we were going through. So to sit here with it now is quite satisfying.

Q. Just looking back on 10 years ago, how does the feeling now differ from the feeling on Sunday night in 2002?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think in both I remember I was very relieved at Muirfield, because I almost did what Scottie did at Muirfield. I was lucky enough to make birdie on 17 and make par on 18 to get in the playoff. I had the lead most of the time also there. And then in the playoff, just to survive the playoff, everybody was just throwing up their guts. It was a difficult four hole playoff. And then to get through. It was relief then, too. This one, truly I was just hoping for a playoff this time. Adam still had holes to play, and if he played the correct shots, especially on 18, he had a birdieable hole there, so I was a little bit worried. But as it turned out, obviously good for me. But I think in both instances, relief.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much. And again, congratulations.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.