May 9 2011
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Ernie Els won't be the first pro to tee off in THE PLAYERS Championship as a Hall of Famer. But he will be the latest.
Els will be inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday night, and then on Thursday he'll make his 18th start in THE PLAYERS. He becomes the 16th player to appear in THE PLAYERS with “Hall of Fame” attached to his name.
Els said Monday during a pre-induction news conference that hitting his opening tee shot this week will be a bit more special than usual.
"It'll be a very special feeling to step on the first tee knowing you've made the Hall of Fame," Els said. "I'm still trying to win golf tournaments, still trying to win major championships, so I think it's a huge bonus for anybody's career."
Els won twice on the PGA TOUR last year, but he has struggled this season, having yet to post a top-10 finish in his first nine starts. A year ago at this time, he was ranked first in FedExCup points, a position he held through the remainder of the regular season. This year, he’s 98th in points.
He blames his woes on his putter; he currently ranks 187th on TOUR in Strokes Gained-Putting.
"I need a kick start, really," Els said. "I mean, I need to get going. I think I've got too involved with my putting, I think. I've always been a good putter, and for some reason there's been so many gremlins in my head this year with putting. I don't know if it's a midlife crisis or what it is on the golf course, but it kind of felt like that a little bit."
The South African said he's not too far away from getting his game back to what we're accustomed to seeing from the man who has 62 wins worldwide in his professional career. But his track record at TPC Sawgrass is not great -- he has just four top-10s in those 18 starts, and he missed the cut last year for just the third time in his PLAYERS career.
"My record is not great here, but so be it; I'll play as good as I can this week," Els said. "Then we've got great tournaments coming up. We've got the PGA in England, we've got Memorial, which is a great tournament, then we've got the U.S. Open at Congressional like '97, and then we go into the run-up for the Open Championship. So there's some great golf left.
"Very slow start to my season, but I feel like I've got a lot of ground to make up. But by the end of the summer, I'd like to be right in the mix again. That's my goal."
One goal, of course, he no longer has to worry about is making the Hall of Fame.