There are plenty of reasons for Ernie Els to be confident about his chances at the US Open in two weeks’ time, but the biggest factor could be a cool head.
“As with any major championship, there will be pins that you realistically can’t go at, so you have to expect stretches of holes where it will be tough giving yourself really good birdie chances. You’ll hear players talking a lot about being patient – trust me, it’s an essential virtue in the U.S. Open and again that’s fine with me,” he said.
The world number 52 will enjoy a third trip to Pinehurst No.2 and knows that scoring there is tough. The last US Open at Pinehurst was won by Michael Campbell (pictured right) in 2005, a year when nobody finished under par for the week.
“Make no mistake this is an extremely tough golf course,” said Els. “I’d say one of the toughest on the U.S. Open rotation. The big challenge is the shots into and around Pinehurst’s famous greens, which are shaped like upturned saucers. If you miss greens the ball often gets swept into deep greenside swales and it’s tough getting down in two from there. You have to use your imagination and play a real variety of shots, which is more of a British Open type quality rather than a typical U.S. Open. But I like that. I like it when a golf course gives you some options.”
Els has been quiet on the PGA Tour this season, but his tie for 19th at the Memorial Tournament last week came at just the right time.
“Overall I was satisfied with my week. It was my first top-20 in a stroke play tournament this year and I rolled the ball nicely on those beautiful, smooth Muirfield Village greens. That’s the best part; every week I play I’m getting more and more comfortable with the short putter, improving my feel, giving more of my putts a chance,” he said.
It has been two years since Els won the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s, where his victory was a methodical march past a faltering Adam Scott. With an eye to perform at Pinehurst and the patience to take what the course throws at him, the Big Easy is a dark horse and has every chance of surprising the world at the US Open.
“This tournament has long been one of the highlights of the year for me. It’s a while since I won my two titles, but I’ve been in the mix a bunch of times since then and, as I said, I always like my chances of having a strong week. Right now I’m just excited about getting to Pinehurst and seeing the course,” he said.