Ernie Els set aside his pride and broke out the belly putter, an Odyssey White Hot XG#1, for the first time in competition during the first round of The Heritage. Earlier in the week, he was “seriously considering it,” but he had to cope with his mental angst and see which he preferred in practice.
When I saw he was 3-over on the front, I hoped he’d play better on the back nine since I knew he wouldn’t feel like talking afterward if he had a bad day. He nearly holed out from the fairway on his last hole (No. 9) and tapped in for birdie to get to two-over. Well, at least he ended on a good note, so maybe he’d be in decent spirits. Fingers crossed!
Not so fast. Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell left the scoring trailer, while we (me and Ron Green Jr. from the Charlotte Observer) were still waiting to ambush Ernie. Then G-Mac went back inside. When an official carrying a Decisions of the Rules of Golf book showed up, it was clear there was a ruling situation, but we had no idea what was happening.
Finally, Ernie came out, and much to my surprise, he stopped to talk. Well, kind of. Unfortunately, Ron and I weren’t aware of the penalty, otherwise we would have adjusted our approach.
Asked how he felt with the belly putter today, Els replied, “I shot four-over so draw your own conclusion. No, I don’t really feel comfortable (with it).”
Will Els, who needed 28 putts, stick with the belly for the second round?
“You gotta give me time, I just got a two-shot penalty and you’re asking me about horse sh–,” said Els, gesturing to Ron. “You walked with me, you know what I did.”
And headed for the parking lot via the locker room.
(*Ed. note: Just to clarify, we didn’t take it personally. Ernie just wanted to get the heck out of there after the unfortunate penalty.. It was cool of him to stop in the first place — even for a few seconds. To be honest, I was shocked when he obliged to my request for a moment! Ron and I were confused for a moment, but then laughed about it because it was kinda comical. You gotta love Ernie’s honesty.)
Understandably, Els wanted to leave and was grumpy for making such a mindless rules violation. Turns out he breached Rule 13-4(a) when he walked through the greenside bunker on No. 8 and raked his footsteps before hitting his shot. Honestly. If I were Ernie, I would have been just as irked for making such an amateur mistake.
“It’s a pretty basic one,” said McDowell.
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America)