Ernie Els tells us in his own words the story of an historic US Open 25 years ago which concluded in a dramatic play-off
Ernie Els on… the play-off
For some reason I felt really down going into the play-off, after looking like I was going to win in regulation even though I made the putt to get in to the Monday.
I was disappointed by the way I finished and I think that’s why I started so poorly.
I pulled a lot of tee shots with my woods on Sunday so I tried to work on it in the morning. Every time I got quick at the ball, it went left. But then on the 1st tee I hit it way left again and that kind of got me angry. I didn’t hit my driver well those last two days.
I thought maybe it was hopeless after the 2nd hole to be honest. I thought, ‘Man, what are you doing out there?’ I just wanted to go back and start again.
I hit a 4-iron off the tee to get it into play. I missed it a little bit, and was in the semi-rough. I had about 130 yards to the hole so I needed a solid wedge to get it there and the ball just took off. It just flew over the green and bounced into a bush. I was dead. I was actually lucky there was a marshal standing there, so he saw the ball go in and we found it.
I took a drop then hit it way too hard and after I hit the chip from the 3rd tee right across the green, as I was walking down I said to Ricci, “Why in the hell did I make that putt at 18 yesterday to get into this thing?” I just wanted to get out of there.
I didn’t hit a good shot on that hole and after two holes I was 4-over.
I tried to compose myself and hit a couple of good shots on the 3rd and holed a long putt for birdie that got me back into it a little bit, especially after Loren made a double on 5 to leave us both on +3. I was back in the game. We both bogeyed 8 and birdied 9 so after nine holes we were right there.
If Loren had holed his birdie putt on 11 that might have changed things. Maybe I would have tried to make mine. He hit an unbelievable putt; I was standing to the left of him and when the ball got up there I thought, ‘Whoa, this might go in.’ It hit the hole, and changed in my favour. But if it had gone in, maybe I would have made mine, you never know.
The 13th was a big putt, I think that was the biggest putt of the round, after a bogey on 12. I was a little down on myself and I hit terrible tee shot there and after I made that par putt, I kept us in there [one back]. It must have been 18 feet.
Then I made one on 15 about 10 feet. I knocked the first putt way past – coming down the stretch, we were all kind of tense out there – and I just knew I had to make those pars.
I was one shot behind on the 16th tee – I didn’t have to look at the leaderboard all day! – but knew I could birdie the 17th so I was calm. But that was a big swing there, Loren missing and me making mine. I had made a couple of big putts leading up to 16, so even if my swing wasn’t in the right rhythm, my putting stroke was. I was pretty confident with my putts.
From my first practice round I always hit driver on 17. I think one practice round I hit an iron off the tee to see where it went. But, no, I was always going for the green because I thought I could reach it. The pin was back left again, which made it easy for me because if I missed the green left, I could always chip it up close to the hole and make the putt. We both birdied to get to +3.
After a pretty good drive on 17, I was always going with the driver on 18. I could take the bunker out of play left and I was just going to smash it as hard as I could down 18. That was when I used to hit it the best! Then when I walked up and saw my ball was right outside a divot I thought, ‘Well, this must be my day.’
On the 11th, the second hole of sudden-death, Loren was set to make bogey. I tried to leave the first putt short! I don’t know how it went past the hole. I suppose I must have hit it too hard – I was pretty nervous at that stage. The one coming back, I didn’t take too much time over. I planned to just get up there and knock it in the hole to get it over and done with. That is exactly what I did.
This thing was never-ending! Ninety holes couldn’t separate us, before I eventually won on the 92nd.
The play-off was crazy with the 7 on the 2nd. So I was 4-over after 2 so to shoot 1-under from there was a good effort! I got off to a horrific start, never really felt comfortable, but just got very deep and brought it out.
Whenever I had a putt to make I made that putt. I chipped and putted really well. I knew nobody was going to make a lot of birdies – it was a tough day for all three of us.
I’ve never been a really big stat man, but I believe I was the top putter in the field that week. I had a ball on the greens. I just loved the greens. I had a big putter, and I just went on feel.
Ernie Els on… The aftermath
I think it is my most special win as it was the first one. When you look back you have to start somewhere and it was a good start to my major career.
I started contending in a lot of majors after ’94, so it really established me as one of the top players. I always thought a US Open would be the last one of the majors I would win, but it was the first. I never thought my game suited it.
So after winning that US Open, I felt like I wanted to get the career Grand Slam. Those things were always childhood dreams of mine.
I gave it a pretty good shot. You need some breaks to go your way and my dream of completing the Grand Slam didn’t quite materialise, but I really gave it a very good shot.