SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda – Three-time major winner Ernie Els, who turned 41 on Oct. 17, says he’s finally going to focus on the PGA Tour in 2011 and do far less globe-trotting. He hopes the change in strategy results in more energy and better finishes, particularly in the major championships.
“I’m going to have a lot more time to be on my game and be fresh,” Els said here at the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. “I feel it’s time. I’ve done it so long. I’ll still play internationally but not as intensely as I used to.”
Newly named as a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, Els, a South African, sounded excited about spending more time at his West Palm Beach, Fla., home.
“I’ve got such a wonderful family life now,” he said. “It’s really comfortable. I can practice at home right through the year now. That feels very, very comfortable.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t want to accomplish more. To the contrary, he thinks the shift will help him achieve more into his 40s.
“The desire is very much still there,” Els said. “I still feel like I can win majors. I’d like to prove everybody else wrong, basically.”
Els won twice in Florida early in 2010 but didn’t have the major season he had hoped for. He contended at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, finishing two strokes behind winner Graeme McDowell. Els putted poorly in a closing 73 that included an incoming 40.
But he’s looking ahead, not behind.
“I still feel like I’ve got a lot left,” Els said.
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The slogan in Bermuda is, “Feel the love.” If I’m not mistaken, the slogan on my last trip, to Wales, was, “Feel the raindrops.”
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The most popular drink of locals here appears to be a Dark and Stormy (rum and ginger beer). In Wales in October, that merely describes the weather.
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The locals here say the legend of the Bermuda Triangle – you know, planes and ships inexpicably disappearing around here – is pure myth. Like Santa Claus, one cabbie told me.
But I’m not so sure. Masters champion Phil Mickelson and first alternate Tiger Woods somehow could not make their way here for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
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OK, OK, their absence isn’t all that mysterious. Understandably, Mickelson wanted to spend family time at home, given that his wife has cancer and he has an arthritic condition. And Woods, despite all the checks he has written this year, hardly needs the money.
And when British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen pulled out of the made-for-television Grand Slam because of an ankle injury, Woods wasn’t the only alternate to take a pass on Bermuda. Retief Goosen and Zach Johnson also said no before David Toms said yes.
In the 1990s, Payne Stewart often said golfers were underpaid compared with athletes in other sports. That hardly appears to be the case now. PGA Tour total prize money has increased about four times during the Woods Era. Jim Furyk made $11.35 million on a recent Sunday. And guys are turning down a two-day PGA Grand Slam cash grab that pays $600,000, $300,000, $250,000 and $200,000 to the four spots.
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PGA of America president Jim Remy told me that his association is constantly re-evaluating the Grand Slam in an effort to get the best possible field. It is negotiating a one-year extension to return to Bermuda in 2011, but then would consider other sites and dates, including January or a return to Thanksgiving week.
“We’re really open-minded to find what’s best for the players and Grand Slam,” Remy said. “We might have to look at new ideas and opportunities, but we plan to keep going.”