Ernie Els hopes that rekindling some magical US Open memories will help him forget some painful ones and recapture the golfing form that has made him a three-time major champion.
The 41-year-old South African returns to Congressional Country Club, site of his 1997 US Open victory, for this week’s 111th US Open and will try to set aside a disheartening third-place US Open finish last year at Pebble Beach.
“I felt like I let one slip away there,” Els said. “I don’t know exactly how the brain works, but that really was quite a big disappointment. I did play the golf that I wanted to play, that I envisioned, and I didn’t quite get the result that I wanted.”
Els managed a victory at the European Tour’s South African Open, but otherwise has seen his game sink into the doldrums.
“Since that US Open, other than that South African Open win, I haven’t done anything,” Els said. “When I look back at Pebble Beach, I played such wonderful golf from tee to green. I really found my swing that week, and I wasn’t even that bad on the greens.
“That back nine, it seems like I just kept missing inside eight feet almost on every hole and I was really, really very disappointed after that. I had to be in Munich the next week. I was just as flat as I’ve ever been in my life.”
Els, who starts off the first tee on Thursday morning alongside US veterans Davis Love and Jim Furyk, has struggled this season. He had not shot a round below 69 since January in a US PGA event and has yet to crack the top 10.
‘I’m a little different’
Els said he can even feel himself trying to hard to get back to normal.
“My sense of urgency is very much there,” Els said. “It’s almost too much. I’ve almost got to dial it down a bit because my form so far this year has been atrocious. I want to change it as soon as possible.
“My patience level — they say when you get older, it gets better, but I don’t know. I think I’m a little different. That has been part of my problem is trying to change things around and getting back to normalcy. It has been a very weird, weird year this year so far.
“I’m putting a lot of work into my game. I need to basically find a way of letting it happen. I’m waiting for that week to happen. So maybe this week.”
Els won his first major title at the 1994 US Open at Oakmont in a playoff over Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts and collected his second three years later at the US Open at Congressional, edging Scotsman Montgomerie by a stroke.
“It’s a long time ago but just playing the course, every time I play it it brings back great memories,” said Els, who designed a course nearby. “I feel a little bit more at home than I did back in 1997.”
Now a member at Congressional and Oakmont, Els also won the 2002 British Open and in all has 64 titles worldwide, 18 on the US PGA Tour, the most recent in last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Of course, Els was off his game when he arrived at Congressional in 1994 as well, and that turned out well for him.
“Came into the week with not a lot of form and to win was a great big surprise, set me up for a great year,” Els said.
“Through the practice days, I really found my swing and putting stroke. From having no confidence that week going into Thursday, I had a little bit of hope. I didn’t screw up too bad here the first round. And then it started happening for me.
“Winning that gave me all the belief in the world. It just shows you what a major championship can do.”
Now on the down side of that impact, Els cites self confidence as critical to winning a major.
“You have got to have that picture in your mind, a clear picture of you lifting the trophy,” he said. “It’s a long, long journey. There’s a lot of ups and downs. You’ve just got to keep believing that it’s your week.” — AFP