You know how it is when a person can’t stop smiling? When the ghastly phrase “high on life” actually applies, and doesn’t sound absurd? Meet Ernie Els, at his post-victory press conference.
“Everything’s groovy at the moment,” he smiled, his right hand reaching constantly to touch the Claret Jug again and again. “Amazing. I’m still numb.”
Ah, groovy. A word used by few these days, but made instantly fashionable again by the sheer pleasure with which Els said it. He was drinking deep from the cup of victory, and it was the greatest taste of his life.
Ten long years had passed since he has last known the feeling, and it is clear that the passing of that decade has only improved triumph’s vintage. Maybe you need to be 42, and be acquainted with life’s slings and arrows, to understand.
And no doubt that was why his first thoughts were for “my buddy Scottie”, and the awfulness of his predicament. It was only the mention of Scott’s name which could remove Els’s smile, and instead a cloud crossed his face. There are times when you don’t need to be a brilliantly trained observer to know someone is speaking from the heart. You just need to be one human being, listening to another. This was one of those times.
“I feel for him, I really do,” said Els. “I’ve been there before. I’ve blown Majors before and golf tournaments before, and I just hope he doesn’t take it as hard as I did. I’ve been on the other end more times than I’ve actually been on the winning end. And it’s not a good feeling.
“I did see Adam in the scorer’s hut afterwards and he seemed okay. I told him I was sorry how things turned out. I told him I’ve been there many times and you’ve just got to bounce back quickly. Don’t let this thing linger. So I feel for him. But he’s young enough. He’s 32 years old. He’s got the next ten years and can win more than I’ve won. I’ve won four now. I think he can win more than that.
“This is a tough game we play. It’s a physical game and a mental game. You’ve got to have your wits about you. So to play the game as long as I have, 23 years as a professional, most things happen to you. In March people were laughing at me and making jokes about me and really hitting me low, saying I’m done and I should hang up. To come back, and to make a putt like that [on 18]… to sit here now is quite satisfying.”
Above all, comparing Royal Lytham 2012 to Muirfield 2002, he said he felt merely “relief”. And it seemed very much that while Els was addressing 200 journalists in the interview room, he was actually talking to Adam Scott. The victor was telling the vanquished that there is a road back. And every time Els brushed the Claret Jug with his right hand, he could literally touch victory, and know it was not a dream, but wonderful reality. And nothing is groovier than that.