Thursday, July 17, 2008

I hated to see Ernie Els post an 80 on Thursday because I
think a British Open in tough conditions without Tiger gives Ernie a good chance
to bring home his fourth major.
Ernie and I have been friends for many years. From 1997 to
2000 I was his coach, and based on the conditions at Royal Birkdale, I think
Ernie’s got a chance to win because he’s experienced and because he’s very
much a feel player. For the next few years, he’ll always be considered a
contender at majors, but sometimes fans and commentators misunderstand Ernie’s
game.

Els_200 Everybody thinks Ernie has the greatest swing, but that’s
not the case. He has the greatest rhythm and he’s a great player, but he’s
inconsistent. If you look Ernie’s stats in driving accuracy (161st) and
greens-in-regulation (155th), they tell the real story.
That’s why Ernie continues to work with his new coach Butch
Harmon on reducing the amount of rollover of his hands. Will it work? It’s too
soon to tell. He won the Honda Classic in March right before he started with
Butch, but you can only tell if changes work over time. The end-of-the-year
statistics will tell the story and they are unerring.

So how does Ernie score despite his struggles with his
swing? The answer is his extraordinary short game: pitching, chipping, sand
play and putting. With his rhythm he hits amazing chips and putts. If he misses
a drive he can get out of hit with a great recovery shot, a chip and a putt. With
his rhythm he hits amazing chips and putts. You saw that when he won the Open
Championship at Muirfield in 2002. His length combined with that amazing short
game is why he’s an elite player.

Another reason Els could win this week is his flexibility.
He’s willing to try something new. While Tiger Woods comes to a major knowing
his exact game plan, Ernie can adopt a quick fix for what he needs, get hot and
ride a swing-du-jour to a win.

Plus, he’s no stranger to links golf; no South African
player is. The Cape is very windy and amateurs are exposed to golf in all conditions. The best young players play in
British Amateur and get their start as pros on the European Tour, like Els and
Retief Goosen did.

All that said, it’s just so hard to predict an Open
Championship. When Tiger Woods announced he wasn’t playing, lots of guys
crawled out from under rocks with their eyes quite wide. It should be fun to
watch.
(Photo: Bob Martin/SI)

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