Ernie Els is hoping a radical change of coaches can propel him to Masters glory after 14 years of heartbreak.
The 37-year-old South African has won two US Opens and one British Open, but has yet to strike gold at Augusta National, despite six top-10 finishes and twice being runner-up.
He last came close in 2004 when he had to settle for second-best to Phil Mickelson in a memorable final-round showdown between the two men. Since then he has placed 47th and tied for 27th, and last year he missed the cut for the first time in 12 years.
Els knew in his bones he needed a coaching fix, and despite winning at the Honda Classic in March, he decided to make the plunge, jettisoning coaching guru David Leadbetter after two decades together and hiring the services of Tiger Woods’s former mentor Butch Harmon.
”I just wanted to get a different feel, get different words coming towards me and just find a bit more about how Butch is teaching,” he said. ”He has obviously had a lot of success with a lot of players, and I love the way he changes people’s games.
”I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it with Stewart Cink and I’ve seen it with Justin Leonard and a lot of other players. I like the way they swing.
”I spoke to David about it on the telephone and obviously it’s tough breaking up with a guy like Lead, but he’ll be a friend of mine forever. That’s the direction that I wanted to take, just make a difference in my golf swing.”
Els was quick, though, to point out that to the casual observer his swing would not look much different — just a minor alteration to his posture, a shorter action, better position at the top of the swing and ”really get the club out in front of me”.
What it will all mean to his chances of finally donning a Green Jacket here this week is in the lap of the gods, however, Els is honest enough to admit.
”It could go either way,” he said. ”When I do those moves and I get it in the right slot, I’m hitting really wonderful golf shots. But to do that around Augusta, with all of the hazards and trouble around this place, that’s another story.
”If I can slide in a couple of good ones, I can take the momentum and move forward from there.”
The swing change is not the only modification Els is currently involved in as he approaches his 40th year.
A long-time resident of Wentworth near London, he and his wife have decided to decamp to Florida for the winter season to benefit from the sunshine and the schooling there, which he said would be beneficial for his children — especially his son Ben, who is autistic.
If Els is looking for a new impetus from his swing changes, fellow South African Retief Goosen is hankering back to how things used to be in an effort to get back to winning ways.
Joint runner-up to Zach Johnson last year, the two-time US Open winner then went off the boil and asked his coach to take a close look at what had gone wrong with his swing.
”We tried a little bit of something at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, but it didn’t quite really work out, so that’s when we decided to go back to where I was,” he said. — Sapa-AFP