MELBOURNE — Ernie Els, golfer, is a man well familiar with the pressures inherent in the professional game. But for Ernie Els, captain, this Presidents Cup is a new experience. And now, two days and 10 matches into the 13th playing of the biennial contest, we're going to find out just how good the big South African is in his new role.
For Els, the second session of matches surely represented a whole range of emotions. Up in all five matches at one point, the prospect of a 9-1 lead beckoned. But it was not to be. Late rallies by three of the American pairs led to a share of the Friday foursome spoils. Good, but could have been better, although the obvious consolation is that, with one-third of the competition complete, the Internationals continue to lead by three points, 6½-3½.
So prospects remain good for a young International team following what might be termed "the Els Plan.” Clearly sticking to a pre-determined strategy, the captain of the International team has taken the lead of Thomas Bjorn, Europe’s winning skipper at last year’s Ryder Cup, and resisted any temptation to shift gears. Five new partnerships replaced the 4-1 winners from Day 1.
Which makes sense, if only because Bjorn followed a similar pattern in France last year, when the Old World smashed the New to the tune of 17½-10½. Then, Bjorn’s side lost the opening session, 3-1. But the big Dane stuck to his plan and instilled calm in those around him. It was a critical moment, one that tested the months of preparation, forethought, organization and research that had gone into the make-up of the side.
For Els, that moment surely arrived in the wake of a U.S. comeback that will have given renewed hope to U.S. captain Tiger Woods and his men. But the signs are good. On Day 3, only two of the four morning partnerships have been seen before. The plan is still being followed. There has been no panic. And the Australian spectators are increasingly with and behind Ernie’s boys.
“I can understand how my friends and family have felt for so many years,” Els said with a smile. “When you're rooting for somebody, you really pull for them. That's what I'm doing here. I’m like a parent this week. The crowd were brilliant today. I got on them a little bit yesterday. Today, we didn't have to do anything. They were really supportive, and I think they were very fair to the U.S. team.
“Although we have nine different nationalities representing our team, this is our home game. So we want the fan support. I have some really young players in my team, and they are learning as they go along.”
As is Els. Who is, so far at least, one of golf’s better students.