DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- He said it himself: “From 18-inches I was dodgy.”
Which wasn’t news to anyone who had watched some of the putts Ernie Els has missed over the last few months. More than once, images of the former Open and U.S. Open champion yipping putts wide of the mark from short range have gone viral on the Internet.
But things change in golf, sometimes remarkably quickly. And Els’ previously lamentable putting stroke seems to be one of those things. Halfway through the Dubai Desert Classic, the big South African is nine under par and a shot off the lead held by Spain’s Rafa Caberera-Bello. Even more surprising is the fact that Els has achieved that feat while appearing more and more confident on the greens.
“To be where I am now is really gratifying,” said Els, who has switched to a cross-handed grip. “I’ve been in some holes in the past, but this was a really deep, dark one. Everyone has seen some of the tiny putts I’ve missed. You can’t do that at this level. That is career-ending stuff, so to come back and play like this is great.
“I’m actually looking forward to getting on the greens now. That’s an exact turnaround from a couple of weeks ago. I was dreading putting then. But now I have a lot more confidence in my stroke.”
He will need it, of course. Despite a history of success over the Majlis course at the Emirates club – he is the only three-time winner of the event – Els has much in the way of company on the leader board. As many as 34 others are within six shots of the leader, including the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, US Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau and, in what is fast becoming a growing trend on the European Tour, ten Englishmen.
Although way too experienced to take anything for granted, Els – whose last victory came at the BMW International in June 2013 and who failed to record a top-20 finish in 18 PGA Tour starts last year - still felt able to talk of what, for some, is a taboo subject. Like “shank,” the word “yips” falls under the heading, “unmentionable.”
“I used the ‘anchored’ putting method all last year and had some good weeks,” he explained. “But I had others where I couldn’t hole anything. My right hand gets a little lively. My father had been telling me to try left-below-right for a while. It felt a bit awkward and stiff at first. But what it does do is take my right hand out of the stroke. And if I do feel it, I just grip a little tighter with my right hand. That allows the left hand to lead the stroke. I’m basically putting left-handed.”