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Tour Report: Els gets putting back on track

Interview: Ernie Els

Ernie Els meets with the media and discusses his chances of playing well following his British Open victory.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

AKRON, Ohio — Ernie Els acknowledged he probably "looked like a fool" back in March when he missed that 4-footer for par on the 72nd hole and missed out on a playoff at the Transitions Championship. Ditto for that 6-footer he couldn’t get to drop on the first extra hole at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans the following month.

"People were laughing at me and making jokes about me and really hitting me low, saying I’m done and I should hang it up," Els recalled recently.

So that’s why making those four birdies on the back nine Sunday at Royal Lytham on the way to his second British Open title was so satisfying. It was proof the World Golf Hall of Famer’s work with visualization coach Sherylle Calder finally was paying off.

Els, who plays in his 37th World Golf Championships event this week at the Bridgestone Invitational, has known Calder for more than a decade. She was working with South Africa’s national team, the Springboks, and Els was one of the team’s biggest supporters. Every winter the team would head to England and Els would go to the games and join in the celebrations. Calder eventually suggested the two work together.

"But back then I think I was No. 2 or 3 in the world and pretty bulletproof," Els said. "I didn’t really think I needed anybody’s help. It’s funny how times change."

Fast forward 10 years or so. Els’ good friend Johann Rupert, a prominent South African businessman, suggested he look Calder up. The man they call the "Big Easy" hadn’t won in more than two years and his putting stats were abysmal. He ranked 181st in strokes gained putting last year and 180th in total putting.

So Els and Calder met in January at Fancourt, a golf resort in George, South Africa, not far from where he has a home.

"As everybody saw last year and the start of this year, I was pretty desperate on the greens and thought I’ll give it a go and see what it’s really all about, and we started working," Els said. "I lost in a playoff at my first event, still being quite awkward on the greens.
"And I felt … just little patch-up stuff for that week was things that she took me right back into my heyday on the greens in the late ’90s with exactly the things that I would do without even thinking about. It just shows you how far I went off the beaten track. She really brought me back, and then we started working on things that she’s really experienced at."

Els said Calder is with him this week at Firestone Country Club and will remain in the United States for next week’s PGA Championship. When she’s not on site, the two speak on a daily basis. Together, they’ve gone back to basics and worked hard on his putting routine. He feels he’s putting more like he did in the 1990s now.

"I was just a lot more quiet, my eyes, my head was quiet, my hands were softer, just a lot of confidence," Els saiid. "And I think going through the TOUR and through the mill a little bit, through a lot of battles, you get a little battle scarred and you don’t quite trust yourself that much anymore. You get a little tight on putts. So just going back to basics."

Even when the crucial putts refused to fall earlier in the year, Els never lost faith in Calder’s approach.

"I don’t think I ever doubted her, and thank goodness she didn’t doubt me," Els said. "We were right on track from the first time we actually spent time together. And with all the wobbles that I had in March and through the year not winning, it obviously hurt, but I really felt this time it was something I could really stick to. I felt if I stuck with it, things would only get better, and that’s the way it turned out, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do. 

"I feel like I want to get back into the short putter through the FedEx and so forth. So there’s still plenty of work to do."

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