This time last year the South African’s career was seemingly sinking. He was at 71 in the world rankings, had no invite to the US Masters, his time at the top over.
Six months later he found himself lifting the Claret Jug for the second time after a memorable win at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s and the ‘Big Easy’ was back. And that Open victory has given him the confidence to claim he could well be the man to beat this year.
“[The win] revitalised my career,” Els told 7DAYS. “2011 was a tough year and my confidence took a knock, but I’m enjoying my golf again and the reason for that is I genuinely believe I can win any time I tee it up. I’d lost that for a while.”
Els is as nice a sportsman as you’re likely to find and his Open victory was hugely popular with the galleries, not least because of the fact he’d been all but written off as a world-class golfer just a few months before.
However the signs of recovery were present in early summer, as a top 10 finish at the US Open illustrates. And the rapid improvement made the win at Royal Lytham all the more satisfying.
“Even if none of that had ever happened it would still have been a satisfying win, but yeah, I guess that made it extra special,” Els revealed. “It’s not so much proving other people wrong. It’s about proving it to yourself. That’s the most satisfying part.”
Now back in the top 50 of the rankings Els has his sights set on continuing to drive his doubters’ criticisms into the long rough. His fourth Major title came 18 years after his first and 10 years after his third. And his second life as a top golfer is going to be all about landing another of the big four titles.
The 43-year-old has long been thought of as a US Masters-winner-in-waiting – six top ten finishes at Augusta proves he’s got the game, when on song, to get his hands on a Green Jacket.
“Winning more majors is what still drives me,” the world No.24 added. “We’re organising my playing schedule to give myself the best chance to play my best golf on those weeks.” One thing that may well prevent him from fulfilling his aim of winning more Majors is the rule change banning the long putter from 2016. A lot of Els’ problems stemmed from his weakness with the short stick and using the belly putter helped him overcome trouble on the greens. However, he’s revealed he’s been using the normal putter in practise and feels ok.
“I have discussed [the rule change] with [Royal and Ancient chief executive] Peter Dawson and while I am not altogether in favour of the proposed ruling, I fully respect the R&A’s decision.
“We’ve been practising and playing with the conventional putter for a few months already and, to be honest, it feels pretty good. It could be tougher on some of the other guys.” What putter he shows up with at the National Course next Thursday when he takes on a tough field that includes Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy is anyone’s guess.
“I haven’t decided what putter I’ll play with this season. We’ll see how it goes.”
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