The Lesson in Ernie Els’ Interview

Did you see it? The Golf Channel’s Steve Sands did what he was hired to do: conduct brief, post-round interviews with the players as they come off the course.

In this instance however, it was with Ernie Els at the 2012 Transitions Championship, who missed two short putts on the 17th and 18th holes to finish one shot out of the eventual four-way playoff. You can see the two-question interview here via DeadSpin along with a brief analysis.

My point in this post is not to belabor whether Sand’s interview was appropriate or whether Els should just take it like a man. To a certain extent he did: he agreed to the interview because that’s what classy guys do. But the imagery was apparently still flashing through his mind of those two missed putts and the Masters invitation that would now not be coming. He was clearly shell-shocked and very vulnerable.

Cue the gallows to prepare to string Sands up. How could he do such a thing? Cue the sports psychologists to come hold Els hand to guide him through the wreckage of his career. Note: none of this is true. Sands did nothing wrong and Els career is far from over.

The insight to our drama here can be found, once again, in the insidious nature of the human ego and how it bends us to its will.

In this instance, Els has spent a career, as most Tour players have, responding to egoic messages about how he should or shouldn’t be, how he should or shouldn’t react.

This might be a good time to re-visit three of my earliest posts.

In “About This Zone Thing,” I introduced the idea of the our bifurcated selves: our spiritual essence and our fabricated egos with which we overlay that essence.

In “Embarrassment,” I looked at the theatrics that players go through when they miss shots to make clear that it wasn’t their fault. Definitely more contrivances of the ego.

And in, “Who Are You Really?” I go into a deeper exploration of essence, ego and performance. What if it was possible to play from the best in yourself?

What “happened” to Els? He played from his egoic, worst fears. “What if I miss this putt?” “What will people think?” And then he began to assume that he would miss it and when he did, to descend into the despair of his worst fears coming true. In fact, he’s been playing from there — ego rather than essence — ever since his putting began to go south.

How can we tell? Because if he was so focused that he descended deep into his impervious essence, he would find only peace there. He would be free of any anxiety or angst.

From that place, the putter swings freely and true.

But it takes a lot of practice.

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