June 11, 2019
MIKE TROSTEL: Good afternoon, everyone. It's my pleasure to welcome two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els into the media center. Ernie is the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Open champion, playing in his 27th consecutive U.S. Open. In your two U.S. Opens played at Pebble Beach, tied for second in 2000 and third place in 2010, obviously had a lot of success here in the U.S. Open, what do you have to do to play well here during the national championship?
ERNIE ELS: Just, as you say, you've got to play well. It's a great golf course. It tests everything of your ability, and that's the way U.S. Opens should be like. If you just look at these par-3s, you've got everything from a 2- or 3-iron to a lob wedge on the par-3s. So it really covers every par-3 you've ever seen in your life. You've got great par-4s, long ones. You've got doglegs. You've got elevation changes, and you've got small greens with heavy rough.
If you're ever going to have a blueprint on a U.S. Open, this is the one. It's just been fantastic to have played here in the past. I played in 2000 and 2010. And it's very similar. It's a little bit greener at the moment. The rough is really, really up. So as I say, it's just a golf course that tests every ability you have as a golfer.
MIKE TROSTEL: And your nephew, Jovan Rebula, in the field this week. You've had a chance to play a practice round or two with him. What's that experience been like for the two of you?
ERNIE ELS: He's starting to hit it past me, finally. So that's good. He's really playing well. He's been working on a lot of things on his swing, and it's looking fantastic with his coach in Auburn. And I've got my eye on him, also.
He's doing really good. He's played in some professional events now. He had a really good second round at the Memorial a couple of weeks ago. That has given him a bit of confidence out here.
But to put it in context, I would never in my wildest dreams have thought that I'd still be playing; and, two, he'd be playing with me at a U.S. Open. It's fantastic. I wish my sister and family could have been here to see it. But I'm glad to be keeping him company.
Q. You seemed to indicate that the way the setup is this week is similar to what a normal U.S. Open had been like in the past. Can you talk about what it was like your first time here and then in 2010? Are the setups similar, or are they a little different at all?
ERNIE ELS: No, I think they're pretty similar. In 2000 -- that was a long time ago -- the greens were funky, especially over the weekend.
2010 was very similar, really got tough on the greens, you know. When they dry out, these type of greens, poa annua greens, it doesn't dry out evenly. You've got that coastal grass, which has a bit of moisture in them, and if there's any kind of similarity to bent, the bent dies away. So then you have a minefield, basically, to putt on.
They've got it different this year. I've seen even the texture of the grass is a little bit different. So they've done a lot of good work on the greens here. And if they keep it like this, it's absolutely perfect. There's bounce in the greens and they've got speed and they're green. And they're pretty smooth.
So that's the difference from the last two Opens, is the putting surface so far is fantastic. And they can obviously get it a little bit firmer, as long as they don't lose it like the last two times.
And then the setup is very similar. We got some room on the long par-4s, No. 9, 10, No. 2. Those are the long 4's. They've given us a bit more room. But the rough is very, very juicy. You go in there, it's a half a penalty. And that's the way I remember the great U.S. Open setups. The Northeast golf courses like Oakmont and Oak Hill and Oakland Hills, those are the kind of courses that it reminds me of kind of setup-wise.
So it's a classic setup. There's no runoffs at the greens. If you miss a green, you're into the thick stuff. And that's what we remember as a U.S. Open.
Q. I know you said it was 19 years ago, but what was the vibe like, at that event, with what Tiger did, and it's so much different than any other major. Do you recall sort of the emotion, the feel of that weekend with him so far ahead?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, actually, I was lucky enough I watched a little bit of it on the Golf Channel the other night. It was kind of nice to see that.
I had a bit of a tough day that day. Coming in, I don't know how many shots I was behind, but it was kind of over. But I did feel maybe if I got off to a very hot start and he does something very silly, maybe there's something there for me.
But it didn't quite turn out that way. In fact, I think we were even par through nine holes, and then he kind of really got it going on the back nine. On the back nine it was like a victory walk for him.
But remember Tiger back in those days, he was very intense. He was really playing every shot a hundred percent to his ability, and he was not backing off one inch. I remember he made a putt on 16 for par and he was fist pumping, and I was like, The tournament is over. But obviously he didn't want to make a bogey or something. It was an amazing walk. It was tough for me because I was like a sideshow and people knew they were watching history being made, the first guy to go double digits under par and so forth. That time it was looking like winning a Grand Slam in a calendar year.
So he had a lot going for him. His swing was unbelievable. He was hitting it a long way past most of us and in total control of every aspect of his game. I'm sure he had a good time.
Q. Charl has an injured wrist and out for the season. I wonder if you've spoken to him, and if you can see any instance where he could still fight his way back for a pick by December for your team?
ERNIE ELS: I saw a Charl a week or so ago, his injury is pretty severe. And I don't think he's going to be seen until the end of the year. I think he's going to have to take a couple of months off. He's got tendonitis. His wrist is all banged up. So I think he's doing the right thing to take time off.
And I know he's very disappointed that he's not going to be able to play in the Presidents Cup or not be available. And I understand that. These things happen. But we've got an exciting team building. There's a lot of youngsters, guys -- a lot of us we haven't even heard of, guys coming through and showing the hand. There's a lot of interest from these young guys that want to make the team. We'll miss Charl, but we'll move on.
Q. (No microphone.)
ERNIE ELS: Absolutely. I mean, the whole team is shaping up so differently than anything we've had in the past. It seems like in the past there were Australians, South Africans as the bulk, and then some of the Asian guys around it. Now it seems like we could have the bulk of our team could be Asian players, and the rest of the world, so to speak, is going to be getting in the team.
But I'm really excited of what's going on. This is kind of a new step for us, for the Presidents Cup, to move in a different direction going forward. And I see the guys buying into it, which I'm really excited about. It will be a very new, diverse team that some of the writers, you guys, haven't even heard of, but it's going to be a very competitive team.
Q. Wondering, you had a good chance here 2010 and wondering what you think is a fair expectation for your chances of winning this week, having some good experience here. And also what's a fair expectation for what your nephew can do here this week?
ERNIE ELS: Listen, I'm working on my game. I've been here since Saturday. I love the place. There's a certain way to play the course, I feel, and I'm finding my way to play certain holes the same way I have.
And my swing is coming around. My back feels better. My expectations are pretty low, but the hope is there. I want to have a good week, obviously. I'm coming to the end of my U.S. Open reign as a player. It's been 27 great years. I would like to say I enjoyed it most of the time, but it's tough to enjoy some U.S. Open golf courses. But I've had a great time. I've had some great performances out here. I just want to have a great week in my own way.
And my nephew, if he can make the cut, it will be great, give him a lot of confidence. Eventually he wants to become a professional golfer. And this is a great learning ground, a great place for him to learn and see what it's all about. It's a good family bonding at a U.S. Open.
Q. You just touched on it a little bit, but how are you dealing with this stage of your career, trying to remain competitive, 50 is coming up. How do you approach it? Are you able to put in the time, or is it just not as easy to do as it once was?
ERNIE ELS: It's definitely not as easy as it once was. We have a lot of interests outside of golf now, from charity work to the business to other stuff. But I'm still -- when I'm around golf, I still want to be competitive, which I haven't been for the last five or six weeks. Before that I showed some good signs of playing good golf. I had a couple of injuries here and there that sidetracked me.
But I'm looking forward to October, to turn 50. I've had a great time out here. It's been quite a long time out here. And I'll still play some of the events that I'm the past champion of, but I think I'm going to transition well onto the other side and play some golf on the Champions Tour and go see some of my old friends.
And I can be competitive again. That's why I play the game. I love to compete. When your time is up, your time is up, and you can move on. But it doesn't say that I won't be able to compete in certain events which I'm looking forward to.
Q. The exemption into this field is certainly well deserved. But what was your initial reaction when you formally got the word that you're going to be teeing it up at Pebble?
ERNIE ELS: I was surprised. The USGA gave me a special exemption last year and this year again. That's much appreciated. I guess I did something right, you know, for the USGA to give me an exemption twice.
As I say, I'm very grateful for that, especially coming to Pebble Beach, which could be my last one. There's no more special place than Pebble Beach, period. Every day is different out here, but it's very similar, if you know what I mean. It's just an amazing place and to play a U.S. Open here with my nephew in the field. It's just unbelievably special. And as time goes on, we will keep looking back to this week, if it's my last one. It's just wonderful that they've given me that opportunity to play, and I'm going to make the most of it.
MIKE TROSTEL: Ernie Els, 7:51 at the first tee on Thursday. Best of luck this week.
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