Q&A with Ernie Els

Ernie Els talks to the press after a second consecutive 6-under 65 at the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head.

STEWART MOORE: We’d like to welcome Ernie Els here to the interview room after the second round of the Verizon Heritage. Great round today, second consecutive 65. Low round of day two so far, has 12-under for two rounds. You want to go through some highlights of the round for us?
ERNIE ELS: We started on 10 this morning, and there was no par 5s the first couple of holes, so actually a couple of difficult fours. I was happy to get off to a good start with a couple of pars, decent pars, and I wanted to just work myself into my round.
I made a birdie on No. 16, my first birdie of the day. I missed quite a few putts on the front nine, but I was comfortable making the turn at 1-under. Actually made a good save on 18 for par out of the bunker.
And then I felt there were a couple of birdies to be made on the front nine, and that’s what I did. I hit some quality shots and made some good putts, and just basically was an enjoyable round. Just basically the opposite of last week.
STEWART MOORE: Looking at your card through two rounds, you’re 9-under on the front nine and 3-under on the back nine. Do you feel there were more birdie opportunities on the front versus the back?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I feel those two par 5s are very reachable. Yesterday I made eagle on 2; today I made birdie on 2. I birdied No. 5 both days, and a couple of the par 4s you can come in with short irons. The flags were accessible. I felt the front nine was the one to strike on today.
I felt comfortable with my swing. I felt like I could hit it to the numbers, and I gave myself some putts at birdies.
Q. Is this as comfortable as you’ve felt on the golf course in a while; and if so, has there been a specific change?
ERNIE ELS: I mean, working so hard on my swing and my whole game, really, and I don’t think I’ve let myself enjoy it. You know, I’ve been a little hard on myself. I don’t know if it’s tournaments leading up to the Masters and The Masters itself, I wanted it too badly, and a lot of times I think I pushed a little too hard here and there and got in my own way.
So this week I’ve just tried to play the way I can play, and if I’m going to make a mistake, then I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world kind of thing. I think my mindset is a little different this week.
Q. To follow up on that, does the equipment change play into that in February?
ERNIE ELS: I’ve felt comfortable with the Callaway equipment ever since I put it in the bag. Obviously, yes, you have to get used to certain shots, shots around the greens I’ve had to get used to. I’ve got a putter now that Callaway has made, the Odyssey guys have made, and I’m happy with the way it looks, the way it feels. But I’ve been happy with the irons and the driver ever since I put them in the bag.
Ball flight feels good, you know, and I don’t know if it’s my swing or the equipment, but they blend in nice.
Q. Do you think this is maybe the work that you put into Augusta paying off one week later than you had hoped it would?
ERNIE ELS: (Smiling) well, last week after 36 holes I had 58 putts, and now I’ve got 130 shots. I guess it came a bit late, but it’s okay.
Q. What’s going through your mind between leaving Augusta and coming here with this tournament? What are you telling yourself?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I had such a difficult week last week, I was just happy to get out of there basically. Playing the way I did, I wasn’t a happy camper and didn’t enjoy my time there. I’ve got nothing against the course or the tournament itself, it’s just the way I played. So I was happy to get out of that place and come here.
Ever since I’ve come here, I’ve started working on myself, getting myself really in a better frame of mind basically, and that’s basically what I’ve done.
Q. Did you get out of town, so to speak, on Friday? Did you leave right away?
ERNIE ELS: No, I did not. I spent Saturday up there and then we drove down – flew down actually Sunday, flew down to Savannah and drove down here Sunday afternoon.
Q. Where did you watch the final round?
ERNIE ELS: I was here at the house, glued to the television (laughing).
Q. Who’s your swing coach and when have you last seen him? Is all the work been on your own or are you working with someone else?
ERNIE ELS: No, I’ve been with Lead, but he gave me a bit of lead poisoning.
Q. Have you been with him a lot?
ERNIE ELS: I’ve been with him 17 years.
Q. I mean recently, have you spent a lot of time with him recently?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, yeah. We always get together down on the Florida Swing and work on a lot of stuff with the game. We just did the same as we’ve done every year, maybe even more this year.
I probably won’t need to see him for a while. I’ve seen enough of him (laughing).
Q. The way you’ve played already, do you now start to think that you can keep it going another couple of rounds on this course where you have played well, and maybe this course owes you a little something after some of the finishes the last couple years?
ERNIE ELS: No. You know, sure, I’ve had my chances here in the past, and I’ve had the lead going into the final round I think in 2000, and even last year I had a chance and didn’t quite come through. As I said before, you know, that’s past history. I want to just try and control the present. It’s going to be difficult to shoot four 65s, let me tell you. Let’s not even think about that. If it happens, it happens. I just need to play how I can play, put the ball where it needs to be and get to the green and try and make a putt, try and play golf. If I make mistakes early on, so be it. You know, I’ve got to play golf, and I’ve just got to try and find a way to win basically.
Q. You’ve talked about a swing coach a little bit. Do you have a mental coach that you’ve been working with, and have you worked with that person recently?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I’ve been with Jos Vanstiphout for a long time. I speak to Bob Rotella every now and then. It’s basically the same stuff. They really can’t teach you anything new, just to reiterate all the stuff.
Yeah, I speak to a couple of guys.
Q. In your mind when was the last time your game was at this level, whatever the numbers, but to shoot two 65s on a tough golf course?
ERNIE ELS: I think the British Open last year I played pretty well the first two rounds. You know, last year at the South African Open I shot four really good low rounds. I haven’t been quite consistent at this level, but there’s been glimpses of good play. It’s nice to be there again.