WGC-Cadillac interview: Ernie Els, Donald Trump, Mary Kay Willson

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March 05, 2013

MORE INTERVIEWS: WGC-Cadillac Championship transcripts

LAURA NEAL: We'd like to welcome Ernie Els to the interview room. We are going to have a special Els for Autism announcement, but we'll take care of some business first.

Talk about the World Golf Championships ‑ Cadillac Championship, you've obviously had success here at Doral, maybe just talk about coming into this week and your expectations.

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's great to be back. I didn't play this event last year. I was outside of the Top‑50 and so forth. I've been coming here since 1994, you know, so to miss it out last year was almost like missing out on the Masters like I did last year, too.

So it's great to be back. I've had some great events here. I think I've won twice here through the years, a couple of close finishes here and there. But just a wonderful South Florida venue for us. You know, if you think of Doral, you think of the Blue Monster as they call it. You think of great champions like Greg Norman has won here, Jack Nicklaus, Ray Floyd. The list goes on and on.

So to be on a list like that, to have won here, obviously Tiger; I've got to say Tiger, also. It's just wonderful to have played here for such a long time and good to be back.

Q. Is there anything in particular about this course that really appeals to you and your game?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think this time of the year down in Florida, the wind is quite a factor, and that gives this golf course quite a bit of teeth. I regard myself as not a terrible wind player, so kind of like the conditions when it gets like that. Otherwise the course becomes a bit of a birdie‑fest. There's a lot of holes where the guys can go in with short irons. So when the wind blows, it makes the field a bit more fair. So I like that.

And I just like bermuda, you know. I live down here. I love putting on bermudagreens. I feel that you've got opportunities out there on the par 5s, and some of the par 3s are really demanding, so you play the par 3s well and the 5s well, you can have a good time. It's just a nice venue. The guys, it's nice when a golf tournament has a home, and this is one of those events where you think of Doral, you think of the golf course, the Blue Monster.

Q. What did your last win here mean to you? You had been going through a little bit of a rough patch before.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, 2010, I won here and my next event, I won the next one after that. So that was a pretty good start.

Whenever you win a World Golf Championships event, you've done something good. You've beat the best players in the world, so it's always fun to do that.

It's a limited field. So that's also nice because pace of play is a little better. But to play here in this event and to win a golf tournament like this, is very close to a major.

Q. When you were No. 1 in the world, did you feel sort of additional pressure, and secondly, was there any sort of sense of loneliness when you're in that spot?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I was No. 1 I think back in '98. Listen, you feel, I wouldn't say lonely is the word, but you're exposed. People look at you and you're kind of the leader of the pack. In a way, you have to act accordingly. You have to show that you're No. 1 in your game. You've got to perform.

There's a lot of guys out there that want to be wherever you are. So you have to out‑work them, you have to out‑play them. I think that you've got to be the No. 1 player. With that, you know, there comes a lot of work and with that is a lot of stress put on your shoulders.

So you're a guy walking around with a lot more pressure than the guy that's 50th in the world, I can promise you.

Q. Rory yesterday admitted he did the wrong thing by walking off the course. How much credit do you give him for realizing that?

ERNIE ELS: Well, we'll hear what he says, I guess tomorrow, officially. But I saw him at The Bear's Club over the weekend. He was practicing his tail off. He was there right through the whole day, even yesterday we played at Seminole, he was out there in the afternoon. So he's obviously working hard at his game. We did talk a little bit in private. We'll see what he says, you know.

I played with him Thursday, Friday. So we'll see what he says tomorrow.

Q. Well, he said yesterday to Bamberger, that he admitted that it was not the right thing to do and felt bad as soon as he did it.

ERNIE ELS: Well, listen, I was also 22, 23; I'm 43 now. I look back, I did a lot of silly things and what he's done is nothing compared to what I did; speak to my parents (chuckling).

But when it comes to being where he's at, you've got to maybe think a little bit more than two minutes. You know, in a couple of years' time, he won't even think about this or talk about this. If he wins this week, it will be the last thing we talk about, it will be history and that's what it should be. It's something that's happened and we should move on from that.

He's a great kid, he's a great player and if he admits he's made a mistake, then that's that and let's move on.

Q. An anchoring question. Do you think the USGA and R&A get to where they are now, the proposed ban, if Keegan didn't win the PGA, if Webb didn't win the U.S. Open, and if you didn't win The Open Championship, do they get here if that doesn't happen?

ERNIE ELS: I don't believe so. I think it would not have been a big deal. I don't think they would have considered it. Because if you look at what Mike Davis said just a year or two ago, could be a year ago when that question was asked, he said that he doesn't see any reason why they should bad it because it's not really an issue. And then especially with Webb and myself winning majors last year, then it became obviously something serious.

Yeah, I think major championships is what history of the game is all about, and obviously they don't want anymore belly putter players winning major championships, I don't believe. I think that's the real issue.

Q. I know you said you wanted to move on from Rory, but can I tie up one little loose end that came out on TV over the weekend. Johnny Miller suggested in commentary that you guys might have tried to talk to Rory earlier on, tried to talk him from walking off the course; did that happen? Was that the case?

ERNIE ELS: No, we didn't quite talk to him. But I must say, when I shook his hand on 18, I wanted to say something to him, but I didn't, and I kind of regret that. But you know, it was definitely ‑‑ obviously a heat of the moment thing. He is who he is. You've got to respect what the individual at that moment is like, and he wanted to get off.

And we obviously heard that he had his wisdom tooth was bothering him, and if that was the reason, that was that. I would have been out of my depth at that stage to say something to him if something was bothering him. So I didn't, but I thought I should have.

Q. Well, you were preoccupied at the time, anyway.

ERNIE ELS: Exactly. (Laughter) I guess you were there.

Q. That's interesting, would you have thought about saying something to someone else if they were 30 or 35, a guy that had a lot of experience out here, versus Rory who is 23 and maybe you think that there are still things he's still learning out here?

ERNIE ELS: That's the reason. That's why I thought I needed to say something. But immediately after the fact, I was glad I didn't, because I didn't know he had a toothache, you understand.

So it's hard to say to the guy, hey, why don't you stay out here, just think about it a little bit when the guy is actually struggling with something.

So at first, I thought that's what I should have said, and then we heard that it was a toothache, and then I was kind of happy I didn't. But I probably should have said something.

Q. One other question. If that had been you in your home on Friday morning and you definitely had a toothache and you weren't really sure if you could go or not ‑‑ (laughter) ‑‑ just trying to figure out if you would have made the decision not to go at all. Would you have gone?

ERNIE ELS: I don't know. I think I would have taken a load of Advil. (Laughter) I don't know, that's a hard one. If it's a cold morning, it would have hurt more. I don't know, you've had toothache, haven't you.

Q. I just don't know if he should have withdrawn or not in the middle of the tournament?

ERNIE ELS: Listen, I've said enough on this thing. You guys, you ask the questions tomorrow. You'll hear the statement tomorrow. All I'm doing is telling what I saw and what I should have said and I think that's enough on that for me.

Q. Something else not on this. Are you disappointed with the R&A, the USGA and the PGA TOUR, and maybe even us, about the fact that we are where we are now on anchoring?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, years and years ago, talking about silly things I've done, back then, like I said to you a couple of weeks ago in jest, I said, the belly putter, it's a bunch of BS, so on and so on, and 12 years later, I'm using it and winning major with it. Shows you where I was.

Obviously winning a major with a belly putter, you're going to have to support that cause. When it's been allowed for such a long time, I just feel, why ban it. You had the chance to do that. And it's kind of attrained (ph) a little bit. They allow certain things and then they want to pull back on it. There was a square groove rule, the golf ball, the big and the small golf ball, there's the driver and the sand iron from a 56 to a 60, and we can talk about hybrid clubs. All these changes have come through in the game. Belly putters have been around as long or longer and now you want to pull back on that.

If a guy can't drive the ball really well, there's a driver that he can get made, you understand. We're not playing wooden clubs. If we were playing wooden clubs, the guy would still be a bad driver. If you can't hit an iron up in the air, you're going to get a hybrid made up for you. That's legal. So then you get the ball up in the air. And if that was illegal, the guy would still be hitting it 20 feet off the ground. If you're not a good chipper, you can go to 64, 62, 60, whatever degree. There used to be a rule where 56‑degrees was the limit, so they changed that. So a guy can get the ball out of the bunker.

So the game's evolved that way. Now, a guy that has problems with putts, whether it's a 4‑footer or a 50‑footer or he's got a backache and he can't bend, you've got a belly putter or an anchored method to help him putt. All those other things are legal, and I don't want to take away this way of playing the game. So that's one problem.

Q. With the Masters right around the corner, what can Arnold Palmer's event do for not only you, but players getting ready for that tournament?

ERNIE ELS: Arnold Palmer's tournament, it's a great event. You talk about water; there's a lot of water around that place. Almost a lot of the par 4s you play, you know, you could have a two‑stroke penalty every hole. If you hit in the water, you have to reload off the tee. It can be quite a special golf course if you're not on your game. But the tournament itself is one of the best.

Q. I saw you wearing one of these blue things this morning, just talk about what that is.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we got these made up, and if you get the pamphlet with it, you know, it gives you really kind of a play‑by‑play of how autistic kids, how you can detect how they have autism, kind of things to help you along until they are about two years old. Just shows you what an autistic child, his behavior is, what he looks like, what most of these kids do.

So when you get one of these pins, it's really an awareness pin. You're buying this pin, putting it on yourself, and really supporting the awareness that we are putting out for autism. And this pamphlet, if you read this, this is exactly what every parent are going to go through when they find out their kid is autistic. This is what every parent has gone through. We have taken all these notes from experience, so that's what an autistic child is like when he's born, or she's born.

LAURA NEAL: I think that's a good transition. I know you have a special announcement today on Els for Autism. At this point I would like to bring up Mary Kay Willson with Els for Autism, as well as Chairman and President of the Trump Organization and new proud owner of Doral, Mr. Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: Recently, I was honored at a dinner and Ernie was there and I said, I've always tried to copy Ernie's swing. But it never worked. And he got up, because he was being honored as a great golfer. He said, I've always tried to copy Trump's swing, and that didn't work, either (laughter) which was sort of pretty good.

Nice to be here.

ERNIE ELS: So wonderful to have you here, Mr. Trump.

And you know, he's buying up a lot of golf courses, I don't know if you've noticed, but he's really one of the bigger players in the world of golf.

With our Golf Challenge that we have run the last couple of years, we've approached the Trump Organization and especially Donald Trump, to see if he can lend us a hand. Because a lot of our tournaments that we play around these great golf courses, we spend a lot of money by basically renting or taking over the golf course for a day, and that eats into kind of our budget.

And Donald Trump has come and he's said that he's got quite a few courses around the country. He's got seven in all, and we are going to play six of our autism Golf Challenge events at Trump golf courses around the country. We are going to play our last one in Jupiter, Florida, and one of the first ones at the Trump International.

So I want to thank Mr. Trump very much for your support. We have spoken in the past about this. You have always said that you're going to help us out and you're a man of your word, thank you very much.

DONALD TRUMP: You are doing a fantastic job, and your wife, Liezl, is an amazing woman, and I know Ben is doing well with his autism.

So many of my friends have this challenge that was just put in front of them unexpectedly. I know I've seen you talk on it, just totally expectedly how it happens.

We bought Doral; we signed a contract about a year ago, and this is actually the first time ‑‑ I had a signed contract at last year's tournament, and they are saying that the course is in the best shape its been in in 25 years. It's a little ironic, because we blow it up on Monday.

Right after the tournament, it gets blown up, and we are building a brand new incredible course designed by Gil Hanse, and it's amazing. We've worked very hard with the PGA TOUR and it's going to be a very big, magnificent course. There's no piece of land like this.

On April 29, we are going to be having something very special here with Ernie. Because we are doing the Blue Monster, but we'll still have the other courses available. They get redone after the Blue Monster is finished.

I look forward to April 29 and you are also going to be at my course in Los Angeles, which is beautiful, right along the ocean. And in Jupiter, I think you're having your big finale, some of the winners are coming in to play Jupiter, and you're a member of Jupiter and you life here; then Hudson valley and Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, so that will be terrific. And whatever I can do for autism and whatever I can do for you and Liezl, it's my honor.

ERNIE ELS: Thank you. That's great news.

We have got 22 events on our Golf Challenge list this year. We are going all around the country. We are playing great golf course, including the Trump golf courses, we have Royal Montreal. We have two tournaments in Canada where we play Royal Montreal. We have got Baltusrol here, we have got TPC of Boston. You just have to look down the list, we have some of the really great golf courses around the country.

We've raised over $4 million the last two years and I think with Mr. Trump's help now, I think we are going to make a lot more money through that.

At the end of the day, we want to build this great center for these kids. I think we can start at the end of the year. We got the land secured in Jupiter. We want to build a 30,000 square foot facility for these kids, which is going to be something that's never been done. These are special kids and they need some really special help, and that's what this thing is all about. With help from Donald Trump and from our people playing in these events; and if you don't play in the event, we can raise money online and you know, we can do some special stuff.

With the help of everybody, this thing's going to be done.

Q. Ernie, you didn't specify this, but is Mr. Trump giving you a break on the rent rate?

ERNIE ELS: Exactly.

DONALD TRUMP: Exactly.

ERNIE ELS: That is exactly what he's doing. He's giving us one hell of a break on land. And you talk about over a million dollars to rent one of these golf courses per day, you're talking about a lot of money. You put a lot of people through that golf course, a lot to eat and so forth, so it's one hell of a boost.

This is going to really help us. And we have made, as I said, $4 million the last two years, and with his help, we could be sitting the next year with seven million, that's how big this is.

Q. Where in Jupiter have you secured this land?

ERNIE ELS: Mary? Where is the exact address?

MARY KAY WILLSON: It's very close to Limestone Creek in Jupiter, Florida just north of Indiantown Road.

ERNIE ELS: How many acres?

MARY KAY WILLSON: It's a 27‑acre parcel. The school itself is going to have multiple levels, as well as a sports complex that will be available to the local community to use, as well, so it's also giving back to the people throughout Jupiter.

Q. Is Bedminster on that list? Are you playing Bedminster?

ERNIE ELS: I think we are.

Q. When Gil gets done with this, is it going to be dramatically different than what we see right now, the Blue Monster?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, we started as a renovation. As you know, Wilson was the architect in the 60s and a very respected architect.

We started as a renovation, and as we got more and more into it, Gil and I started to say, wow, we are really making it a much bigger and I think much more magnificent course.

Doral is considered a very good tournament course now and now it's in really good shape anyway, because to get it in good shape, doesn't take that much to get the greens a little better, didn't take that much, even though, again on Monday they all come down.

But we are really doing massive changes. The first hole is a hundred yards longer and it's got a lake on the right of the green.

ERNIE ELS: Uh‑oh. (Laughter).

DONALD TRUMP: Ernie may not be here, I don't know.

I never heard that you are not a good wind player, you just won the British Open.

ERNIE ELS: I said I am a good wind player.

DONALD TRUMP: Oh, you said you are. This weekend we're not going to have too much wind. We're going to have actually beautiful weather.

But many of the holes are quite a bit bigger, different. And the 15th hole becomes a water hole, a tremendous water hole. It's right now a very plain par 3, and it's going to be an island green essentially, a beautiful island green.

And 18 we're obviously leaving that, other than it's all new grass and everything will be new. 18 is a very classic, great hole.

I think the biggest change is going to be what happens on No. 9 and 10. No. 9 the green is being moved all the way over to the right along the water, and the tee is going to be right at the 8th hole on the island, the primary tee; the TOUR tee I call it.

And then they are going to come, and the 8th the green basically sits where it is mother than it's going to be a little bit to the left. You'll have tremendous room back there, and it going to be an incredible hole, and what it does is it creates an incredible amphitheater for No. 18, No. 9, and even the tee shot on the 10th hole which is now over the water. And so now you're going directly over the water on the tee shot, which is going to be tremendous for fans and viewing.

Gil and I have really worked hard on that, because one of the other benefits we get, No. 1, the course will actually become much better and much more dramatic. But at the same time we are making the driving range more than two times bigger. The driving range becomes a much bigger, tremendous driving range. Really, it goes from an inferior driving range to something that is going to be tremendous. Everything gets moved over even past where the 10th tee is now.

The 10th tee will be actually sitting where the green is right now on No. 9 and that 9th green will be moved all the way over, if you're playing the hole over ‑‑ ‑

ERNIE ELS: Where will the fairway be? It's just water. (Laughter).

DONALD TRUMP: There's actually a lot of fairway beyond the water. There is tremendous amounts of fairway. The longer hitters like Ernie can decide to go further left or ...

ERNIE ELS: Play safe.

DONALD TRUMP: Play safe. It's going to be a lot of fun. We've decided it's going to be brand new. We discussed it with the TOUR; the changes are so massive.

And we will have a lot of mounding for spectators. Right now Doral is very flat. And if Ernie is playing it, and there's 10,000 people following Ernie, unless you're very, very tall, you can't see what's going on.

We are creating tremendous mounding because we are taking six inches of dirt out of every fairway in order to put pure, good soil, which is something a little unusual. We are using that to create mounding so when people come, it will go to a really great tournament course. Because one thing I have heard is that by being flat, it's a little bit hard for the spectators to see you guys play golf.

So we are creating these tremendous slopes and mounds and the rough, and I think it will be really good for the players; it will look beautiful but it will also be very good from a practical standpoint. People will be able to stand up on these hills and see what's going on in the fairway. That's a big change also.

I think it's going to be a really great tribute to golf and we are going to basically be building a brand new course, yes.

Q. Will you be joining Ernie for any of the Golf Challenge tournaments, playing with him?

DONALD TRUMP: Sure, if I'm around and I can be ‑‑ I just bought the Ritz‑Carlton Jupiter and I know Ernie is there a lot, he plays there.

And we are doing something with Jack. Jack really loves the course and he called me as soon as I bought it and we are going to do something over the summer to make it even better. It's really a terrific course but we'll make it even better, and that's where Ernie is going to have his event in probably September or so.

So we are going to do a lot of work on that one over the course of the summer but I'll be involved, yeah, and I'll be there.

Q. Are there other TOUR players joining the efforts?

ERNIE ELS: At the grand finale, after all these tournaments are said and done, we are doing a grand finale in Vegas, and normally we get four or five TOUR players come and join us there. We do clinics for the guys, play a couple of holes with them and kind of hang out with them.

So that's why we get the TOUR players involved. And then on another subject, we are doing on Monday, with a good friend of mine, Marvin Shanken from Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, we are doing a golf event with him at PGA National on Monday. So we have a lot going on, it's all good. 

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