Ernie Els’ struggles on the greens had gotten so bad that the Big Easy considered giving up competitive golf. Indeed, the South African’s putting was so woeful that David Feherty introduced him at an exhibition in March by saying Els would be “putting with a live rattlesnake.”
The then-three-time major winner was not amused. He called the remark a low blow and accused the Golf Channel resident wit of being a “shock jock.” In the meantime, Els, who drilled what turned out to be the winning birdie putt on the 18th hole at Royal Lytham on Sunday, was taking steps to ensure that his short game would no longer be the butt of jokes (his belly putter -- which he believes should be banned -- notwithstanding).
Els, for whom putting always seemed to come as easily as his fluid golf swing, has flailed about with his flat stick for some time -- most agonizingly when short putts failed to drop at the Zurich Classic in April and a month earlier at the Transitions Championship..
“The Transitions was a bit of a nightmare,” Els told the Golf Channel Sunday night after his dramatic one-stroke win over Adam Scott. “I had a putt on 16 basically to seal the win and then 17, a bogey, and 18, I missed a four-footer. That’s basically nightmare stuff.”
Though Els conceded those tournaments were the stuff of horror, he noted he “was still better off than...last year,” when he was 181st in the PGA Tour’s strokes gained-putting rankings. A primary reason for Els’ turn-around and sunnier outlook in general (“I just had a good vibe this week," he said) has been his work with South African sports vision specialist Sherylle Calder, whom he credited with helping him regain the confidence with his putting.
Calder, a world-renowned sports scientist known as “The Eye Lady,” employs a technique called the EyeGym to improve eye-hand, foot, and body coordination, and has been a member of Els’ team since January. Despite the misfires at the Zurich and Transitions events, Els’ putting stats have rebounded significantly so that he now ranks 68th on tour.
"It comes from retraining your whole outlook on putting. And that's why I started working with Sherylle, just changed the whole thing, mindset, training, everything and I was really going from a totally different angle, which I liked, because I tried everything else,” Els said. “People were laughing at me and making jokes about me and really hitting me low, saying I'm done and I should hang it up. So to come through and make a putt like that and make pressure putts on the back nine, that was the whole goal. That was the whole thing. Going through all the different feelings and process, all the process we were going through. So to sit here with it now is quite satisfying.”