- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Els has great memories of Congressional in ‘97

If you want to be a member at Congressional Country Club, Ernie Els knows just how to become one.

“It’s easy,” he said with a chuckle, “you’ve just got to win a U.S. Open.”

Easier said than done for most, of course, but that’s how Els joined — by winning here in 1997, the last time the Open took place in Bethesda. Admittedly, “It’s a long time ago,” Els said, but there’s certainly a familiarity with the course that could play to the South African’s advantage this week.

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Even with a host of changes — a longer 18th hole, for example — Els had no problem readjusting to Congressional last week during a practice round.

“Every time I play it, it brings back great memories,” he said. “The finish was obviously very different than it’s going to be this week, but the rest of the course is very, very similar. They’ve lengthened a couple of holes since ‘97, but I think with technology they’re almost playing the same.”

Congressional is a longer course than it was 14 years ago when he captured his second U.S. Open, but Els probably has changed more. He’s married now with a son, Ben, who has autism. Els said every week on the golf course at least a dozen people come up to him to discuss autism and the best ways to deal with it, and he and his wife, Liezl, are heavily involved in their foundation to raise money to fight the disorder.

As far as his game, Els isn’t coming in talking up his chances of winning, especially considering his lack of success this year. He finished 5 over at the Masters and missed the cut at the Players Championship.

“I’d really love to have a really good week and see where it goes,” Els said.

Reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, a fellow South African who idolized Els growing up, said the veteran’s game is coming around.

“I never see Ernie frustrated. He’s just got that go-with-the-flow [attitude],” Oosthuizen said. “I think all of us as golfers know that whenever you go through bad stretches you will get through it.”

‘Nothing to defend’

Graeme McDowell comes into the U.S. Open as the defending champion following his victory at Pebble Beach last summer, but the 31-year-old Northern Ireland native doesn’t see himself that way. He already has turned the trophy in to the USGA and is ready to move on.

“Defending titles is a strange psyche because, I mean, I’ve got nothing to defend this week,” McDowell said.

Feeling as if the “glare” is off him after his even-par win last year, McDowell knows it will be hard to top his 2010. But now the goal is to build a better golf game.

“They were really sort of little concentrated bursts of great playing in 2010, and I really think I can have a year where I can be more consistent than that,” he said. “I want to win more major championships, of course, and I want to win more events all over the world.”

Documenting Tobiason’s story

Michael Tobiason Jr. was a virtual unknown until last week, when the story of his qualifying for the U.S. Open less than a year after his father’s death was first chronicled in The Washington Times. Now, his best friend and manager Kyle McMahon said, he’s the guy “everyone wants to know.”

Tobiason is the subject of a Golf Channel documentary, with a camera crew following his every move all week from his hometown of Wilmington, Del., to Congressional.

“It’s been such an awesome experience, man,” Tobiason said. “Every day’s like I can’t wait to get out of bed.”

The show is set to air Sunday.