DUBAI // Ernie Els watched another putt slide by from 18 inches and finally gave in to those he trusted most.
The four-time major winner had missed a short one for par during the first round at last month’s South African Open, much like the high-profile aberration at October’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and so he promptly accepted the need for change.
Els’s troubles with the short-stick blighted him throughout 2015, when he missed the cut in a third of his events spread across the game’s two main tours.
In all, he recorded two top-15 finishes in 24 appearances, and thus began his slip outside the world’s top 200.
He returned to Emirates Golf Club Tuesday for this week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic and declared his putting is well and truly on the mend.
Subsequently, the event’s only three-time winner is eying a fourth Coffee Pot trophy.
“I had a really tough one last year,” Els said. “I’ve had some bad ones, but last year was probably the worst. It was all on the greens and it was getting into my head everywhere.
“I mean, you cannot play the game if you can’t putt. You might as well find another job.”
He simply found another solution. Els altered his putting grip for the second round in South Africa and immediately felt more comfortable despite eventually missing the cut.
After a couple of modest results in between, he finished tied-29th at last week’s Qatar Masters, where he reckons he made everything inside five feet.
A chat in South Africa had provided the light-bulb moment.
Stubborn streak eroded, the confidence is steadily building.
“As sportsmen, we’re quite hard-headed people,” he said. “A lot of my friends and my father told me to make a change, to try left-hand-low and all this, and I was like ‘no, no, no’.
“But I thought I’d give it a go and went with it for that second round and started feeling a lot more stable. Now it’s starting to feel normal. Hopefully that’s the change I needed to make.”
Els hopes to prove that much this week. He said he feels at home on the Majlis, winning there in 1994, a year in which he shot a course-record 61 that still stands, and then again in 2002 and 2005.
In truth, it sort of legitimised a somewhat strange desert bounty. The year before his first Classic triumph, Els won a nine-hole exhibition at Dubai Creek.
His wizardry was aptly rewarded.
“I shot 33 and won a magic carpet,” he said, before adding, “it’s not magic. It doesn’t fly.”
Twenty-three years on, and now age 46, Els’s ambitions continue to soar. He might not be part of the young generation currently lighting up the game, but that is not holding him back. Putter slowly warming, there is much life in the old dog yet.
“We want to play until we die,” Els said. “In our minds we’re not done, and I’m not done yet.
“That’s why I really try to get over the problems that I had last year on the greens. I was determined to.
“There were days when I thought I will never get rid of it, but kept going. I still feel I’ve got some golf left in me.
“I’ll probably sound like a broken record like any other elderly golfer, but I still feel like I can offer something.
“I’ll see if I can do that.”
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