Ernie not relying on 'magic wand'
Open champion Ernie Els arrived at the Durban Country Club for this week’s Volvo Golf Champions to play in his first event since the announcement in late November by the R&A and USGA that anchored putters would be banned by the beginning of 2016.
Els, who himself has wielded a belly putter for the last two years, has accepted the ruling although he believes the longer putter isn’t the miracle cure it’s made out to be.
“Well, I think ten years ago, I was in a different view than I am now,” the Big Easy said. “For a lot of guys they thought it was a magic wand - you put your hands on it and you're going to make putts. But it's taken me a long time to get used to it.
"I was fortunate to win The Open Championship with the long putter. You know, making those putts on the final nine. I hit a lot of greens that week, but it's not a magic wand. You have to put work into it. You have to get used to it. I've seen guys use it that go away from it, back to the short putter.
“So in all honesty, I'm not for it if they change it. But if so then so be it, I'm not the rules maker. There are people that want to look after the game and the future of the game, and if they feel that they need to ban it, I'll go with it, but I'm definitely not for that.
"But it's not the long putter that's banned - it's the anchored that's banned, but I'm not for it,” Els added.
The four-time major winner turned to the anchored blade in 2011 after some lean putting form began to produce unsatisfactory results.
Greater consistency in his putting ensued, and the win at Royal Lytham last year ended a victory drought in excess of 18 months.
Improved results also earned him a place in the 2012 Tour Championship - a privilege he missed out on in 2011.
But with the ruling set to come into effect in just under three years' time, Els, like many other fellow professionals, will inevitably have to return to the short putter, although he is in no hurry to do so.
“We'll see. I think the long putter has really helped me in certain aspects of putting, but I wouldn't say that when I was on with my putting a couple years ago. I made a lot of 15, 25-foot putts, and, you know, I'm not quite in that yet with the long putter.
"I don't know if it's forthcoming or what, but I'm focusing on making more longer putts. I think I'm better on the short putts now. And then in due course, we'll see when I'm going to switch back to the short putter.
"Actually I went to Johor in the middle of December and I played two rounds with the short putter. It felt quite good, so we'll see,” the burly 43 year-old said.
The Big Easy is one of six South Africans in an elite field of 33 chasing the €350 000 first prize payout. The field comprises 26 players who claimed victory on the European Tour during the 2012 season, while 2011 champion Paul Casey takes his place alongside six other legends of the game who boast 10 or more official victories on the European Tour.
But, despite the presence of names like Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson and Matteo Manassero, Els finds himself as one of the favourites to win this week.
And with two South African Open successes at Durban Country Club already to his credit (1998 and 2010), he has every reason to believe he can go one better than he did in the event last year where he and Retief Goosen lost out in a playoff to Branden Grace.
“I've had a bit of success here in the past, and I’m really glad to be back. We'll check out the golf course and see what it's like, and see what happens. It's a great event, a great field, and it’s nice to play four rounds of golf to start the year off, so we'll see how we go,” Els said.
“I'll take it right now (a playoff). To get into a playoff, you've done something right. You've had a successful event obviously. Everybody wants to win. If I'm in a playoff again, I'll take it right now. Hopefully the outcome is better.”
Last year’s memorable playoff at the Links at Fancourt reflected the level of South African dominance at the event, and with the likes of Els, Goosen, Grace and Louis Oosthuizen in the mix yet again, the omens seem to suggest a strong likelihood of a South African winner this week.
The par-73 layout has staged five European Tour events to date, and all five have produced a native victor. The most recent of these was Els’s success in the 2010 SA Open, and in that instance it was Goosen and Oosthuizen who finished second and third respectively.
And with 27 European Tour titles to his name already, a refreshed Els, who returned to South Africa late last year for his end-of-season holiday, will surely be one of the men to beat when the €2 million event gets under way from 10:00am CAT (SA, GMT+2) on Thursday.
“As I say, I've had a bit of a break. I'm coming in here with a couple of weeks off but I feel good about my game. I played in the Cape and lost a bit of money to my friends but I've been shooting scores and I feel I've been hitting the ball nicely. Like I say, you have to get the rust off like everybody, but I feel good,” Els warned.