PINEHURST, N.C. – Louis Oosthuizen stepped to the first tee Wednesday afternoon with an iron in his hand.
It was the beginning of his practice round and as he stood over the ball and readied to hit it, he stepped back and looked up at fellow South Africans Ernie Els and Charl Schwartzel.
Throwing up his hands and speaking in Afrikaans, Oosthuizen was clearly asking the other two what the bet was, which Els then confirmed in English.
With the bet settled, Oosthuizen hit his tee shot followed by Els and Schwartzel.
To the casual observer it seemed more like a relaxing afternoon with three friends on the golf course and not the final chance to see Pinehurst No. 2 before the 114th U.S. Open commences Thursday.
For Els, it will be his 22nd U.S. Open. Nineteen times, he has left this national championship disappointed. But after a playoff win over Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts at Oakmont Country Club in 1994 and after a weekend of consecutive 69s at Congressional Country Club in 1997, Els left with the trophy.
Since then Els has won two more majors in the United Kingdom, but has come up empty in the U.S.
Now at 44, Els has decided to make a life change as he pursues his third U.S. Open Championship.
“I’m actually a lot more in the gym,” Els said walking down the first fairway. “I’m working a lot more than I used to. So it’s a much more intense program that I’m on. So my body feels really good, because I want to really play; I’ve decided that I love the game so much that I want to try and get as much out of it as I can.”
The revelation came late last year and Els decided that he needed to make some serious changes, so in January the modifications started.
Some of the changes comprise a cornerstone of the modifications – which include working out, giving up alcohol and working with Dr. Sherylle Calder, a sight specialist who works with athletes.
It was these same changes that Els used in winning the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham over a then-stunned Adam Scott.
“I’ve taken my physical side quite serious,” Els said. “The technical golf side hasn’t really kicked in yet, but I think that’s coming. I think Sherylle and myself can really work really efficiently now. Me being in better shape physically and mentally.”
One of the last changes that Els has incorporated is dropping the long putter for the short one. But the transition has been difficult at times.
Els is comfortable over the 20-25 footers, but when the 5-footer misses, he mentally struggles over whether he would have made it with a long putter.
Yet, Els remains committed to the short putter.
“I’m still hitting it with these young boys,” Els said looking at Oosthuizen and Schwartzel. “And these are the longer guys in the world. And I feel that with my ball striking and everything, if I can put that whole package together again, I think I could win majors again. So that’s kind of the plan.”