In this exclusive Ernie Els swing secrets feature, the Big Easy explains the keys to his golf game. From rhythm to the address, he breaks his own game down to offer a rare insight into how one of the greatest players of all time thinks.
“Golf is all about how you get your ball from where you are to your target, some people like to do that quickly, others are a little slower. I guess I do it a little slower than most and if there is one question that I always get asked, it is, ‘how do you get your rhythm?’ But I don’t think I have ever done anything for rhythm. It’s in your make-up. Visually my swing has changed a little bit over the years, it’s definitely more compact now than it was, but my rhythm has always stayed the same.
Although I could already play the game, I started to really learn about the technique in my early teens first with my father and then with Phil Simmons, the pro at Germiston Golf Club. Phil was a left-hander, he had a great technique, his swing was beautiful and he hit it miles. He taught me a lot but he never really changed my swing. Instead, he showed me what a good trajectory was. I was quite a skinny kid and I had to grip the club quite strong to hit it a long way, so I used to hit this big looping draw. That would cause a snap hook every now and again and I still battle with that today. For me, to try and change my grip to get it more neutral was a big change. It was weird. It feels like you are going to break your wrist and it took me a while. But those were the sorts of things I changed, my swing – never really.
Over the years I have learned a lot about the golf swing but most of it comes from the basics, things like the grip, ball position and alignment. The problem is that I don’t think people take them seriously enough.
In around 1991 I started working with David Leadbetter. He taught me some stuff, I didn’t agree with all of it but he became my teacher for a good 10 or 15 years. Unlike a lot of David’s other pupils we didn’t go with the overall, it was about trying to get myself into better positions. With my big strong grip I used to go inside on the way back and then I would re-root it a little bit. I got laid off at the top and then a little too underneath it on the way down. So to start swinging more on plane was a big battle for us.
Players like myself, natural players, if you have a flaw, you have to work on that flaw. Nobody has a perfect swing and you should only work on that one flaw. You can’t keep adding to that technical aspect and that’s where players go wrong. I saw it with Rory. He was taking it back on the outside and then re-rooting it on the way down. I played with him at the PGA at Wentworth in May and he was nowhere. I was worried for him. I spoke to JP his caddie and I mean, Rory’s no dummy, he knew what he needed to work on. He went out and two or three months later, he’s the world number one. That’s the talent of the guy. He knew where the flaw was, he went out there and fixed that and the rest of the game fell into line. Other guys would fix that and then go on to something else. I mean, can you imagine if he tried to get his hips going slower? He has the most unbelievable hip action, that’s where all that power is. If somebody told him, ‘your hips are going too fast’ well he’d be gone. And I have seen that in other people. I see it all the time and I tinker too but my swing as a whole is not going to change. I’ll tinker on ball position, grip, a backswing thought. Even at the top of the swing, sometimes I’ll try and pause it because I like to feel that the club gets to the ball in time. But as a swing, to keep tinkering on the big stuff like hip action, those are things that need time and we don’t have time. In professional golf you might have a two or three week span to make changes.
If my set up is not comfortable, I can’t hit the golf ball properly. It’s amazing. Even today when I work with Claude Harmon and before with Butch and with David, I say first of all, ‘am I aiming right? Where I am supposed to be aiming?’ Is my ball position right?’ My ball position needs to be always inside my left heel with my driver. That forces me to finish my backswing and that’s where I get my power. If your ball position is too far up, you don’t finish your backswing and you always feel like you are rushing to get to the golf ball. You always want to feel like you have time and that wind up is where you get your time. That’s the secret for me. The further I get the ball position back, the more I have to turn my upper body to get my chest behind the ball. From there I get a lot of power. As a tall person, you have got to have a proper base but you can’t be too wide because then you can’t turn properly so you have to get that balance right. So it is the simple, basic parts of the technique that determine what you do and so it’s crucial to get these right.”