Ernies secret weapon.

The games that Ernie played on his laptop paid of at the Open. This is why.

Ernie Els has his laptop to thank for winning another major. Not his caddie or his equipment. Not his fitness work ethic or his coach (especially since he barely has one). They might all play a part, but the real secret to success have been the hundreds of hours since January that he has spent staring into the screen of his computer playing games like a teenager.

Now what you expected to hear? These, of course, aren’t ordinary games, they’re scientific ones designed to speed up reaction times and clear out the deadwood that gives you the hand-eye co-ordination of a party goes on a night out. What were you thinking — Tomb Raider?

Not your usual games and, as we meet up to talk things over with Els, not a usual interview either. Rather than waiting to be asked questions, the ‘Big Easy’ is all too eager to talk. Indeed, his words are still rattling around my head on exiting the main gate of his Wentworth estate house.

«Frightened Pd never gets back… thought it was all over… I said please help me.» Then there’d been: «It’s all different… I can still win majors… I like myself again.»

Els’ big grin and crippling handshake were normal enough, but as we stood in his front drive it wasn’t long before he turned and headed down a garden path away from the house.

«This way,» he said over his shoulder. Following the paving stones through an archway of wisteria, the trail led to a large wooden summer house where a man, later to be introduced as his new manager, stood to attention like an armed guard. He opened the door and Els disappeared into the cabin. Inside wars every man’s dream hideaway. Plush leather settees, a huge plasma television and a desk big enough for a game of table tennis. Els beckoned to one sofa as he descended into the other. He’s a big guy, dwarfing the 4×4 in the drive that had in turn dwarfed my Fiat 500. «Have you heard of Dr Sherylle Calder?»

«Should I have done?»

«She’s worked with all the rugby teams. She worked with England.»

«Are we talking mental?»

«We’re talking eyes,» says Els. «There are five different exercises I do on the laptop and I have a number of drills that I do on the putting green. Getting my reaction time better. Getting me set in a routine that I haven’t been in.»

In the preparation for this interview I’d been advised, by a close confidante of Els’, not to talk about his putting. After years of fielding questions on what has clearly been his Achilles heel, he gets fed up talking about it.

So for the four-time major winner to dive headlong into this most delicate of subjects, I find myself temporarily Wong-footed and scrunching my notes. «It’s made me realize just how much I’ve been all over the place for two years,» says Els.

«Week to week I would change things. One week I’d be getting my hands higher only to change it back the following one. You become desperate and the next thing you’re gone. I was very depressed and in fear that I might never get it back. I didn’t win a tournament for the first time in a year and that was a reality check. I wasn’t even in contention to win one. I started seeing Sherylle in January and the first week back I almost won at Fancourt. I missed millions of putts. Branden Grace won and all credit to him, but I feel I should have done much better.»

It’s the speed of this extraordinary- change in Els’ on-course state of mind that has got him excited.

Last Christmas he sat at home contemplating a career that had stagnated to a point where he felt he wars rotting in the gutter with nowhere to go. A few weeks later, it was a newt year and a new Els. With the ferocity of a tropical storm, the demons appear to have been washed away leaving a man, alert, alive and with an appetite to win big once again. It’s as if he’d been on death row, contemplating the green mile, when his fairy godmother (dressed as a doctor), pardons him and delivers him back on the first tee of a new career.

His manner exudes a certain boyish enthusiasm. He sits forward in his chair, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands busily adding shapes and gesticulations to the words he’s saying. «I’d been setting up with the putter head closed,» he explains, chopping the edge of one hand onto the palm of the other.

The way Els describes it makes him sound like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. His putter was closed, his feet weren’t lined up right, the ball was too far back in his stance for a player who’s left eye dominant and he was viewing the whole thing too much from the inside.

«Do you know what Sherylle said when she looked at me roll a few putts?» he says, «I was the worst she’d ever seen.»

«Worst at what?» I ask.

«Your brain, man,» Els splutters. «I couldn’t make it from a foot! I wasn’t yipping, but my mind was so cluttered with stuff that I couldn’t think. I don’t think there was anything wrong with my stroke, but my set-up was all gone, my eyes were moving and I wasn’t calm and collected — it wasn’t the Ernie Els that I know.

«You hear horror stories in golf about people breaking down and not being able to do simple tasks. I was over 20-foot putts worrying about the two-footer that I’m going to have to make if I miss it and you can’t play golf like that. It was crazy. You can ask Liezl. It really affected me badly. I love the game so much and not to play the way I know I can was so distressing. Knowing I might need help was a frightening thing. I would never have looked for the answer in the place that I’ve found it.»

Dr Calder is sitting in her office at the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town. We’re lucky to have caught her because such is the interest in 4Eve Gym’ that time at her home base is limited. She’s been working with downhill skiers in Canada, with hockey players, rugby stars and Formula One drivers. «We are so thrilled to be working with Ernie,» she says. «He has really thrown himself into this and is very committed. He’s been amazing.»

Dr Calder has statistical proof connecting her methods to improved performance. There is an example on her website ( where various balls appear on the screen and you have to press the space bar ever)7 time you see a particular one. It’s a simple test to gauge your reflexes. You’ll find quite quickly that you get better with practice. «Sherylle says I need to do this 13 000 times to get the brain fully trained. But I can feel it’s made a difference already and I’ve done it less than 2 000 times.»

Before every round, Els is spending 20 minutes in his hotel room staring into the depths of his screen with a hypnotic expression. He’s still using his belly putter, but the short one has been dusted down and could shortly be adding to the two appearances it’s made already this season.

«Right now I feel like a guy coming back again. I can win even more majors. Physically I’m fine and now the confidence is coming back. I know I blew some opportunities earlier this year, but as Sherylle feels, that could have been too early. She’s telling me that the progress I’m making already is way ahead of schedule.»

Els was nowhere in the majors last year, a fact that hit him hard. As he says himself, that is how a player is defined. Newt his expectations are similar to those he had in the early 1990s.

«I’m a lot more the old Ernie now, not the impatient Ernie. I didn’t like who I was. I was pushing too hard and everything was piling up. My business stuff was getting too intense and there was a bit of a mad rush in there for a while. I feel more patient newt. I feel like some great years could be just round the corner.»

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