Ernie Els is the golfer with the syrupy swing and the Alfred E. Newman, "What, me worry?" facade. But there's a fire in the belly of the guy they call "The Big Easy" - and, no, I'm not talking about the kind of fire that goes away with a coupla Pepcid AC.
Saturday night, after the third round of the PGA Championship in Kohler, Wisconsin, I saw Els belch that fire on Alan Shipnuck, the former full-time golf writer for Sports Illustrated who is now "par" sona non grata with golfers and fellow media members alike because, in the estimation of everyone I know, he's an ambush journalist and a sniper, willing to take shots at anyone from any distance. One writer told me the reason SI took him off the golf beat is because none of the players would ever talk to him.
Well, Els was certainly talking to Shipnuck Saturday night, but there wasn't much I can repeat that would make it through my CyberSitter 2003 family-friendly internet filter. Suffice to say, Els is not a big fan of Shipnuck's work. Unless the index finger he was sticking in Shipnuck's face was to tell him, "You're the number one sportswriter in golf!" This particular dust-up is believed to have begun when Els learned Shipnuck had used one of his SI colleagues to get a quote from Ernie for a story Shipnuck was writing. Els wasn't happy. For ten minutes, he dropped f-bombs with abandon, an Enola Gay of expletives, to make sure Shipnuck knew he never wanted to talk to him again. Even Els' wife, Liezl, unleashed her own unique invective. I'd never seen a scribe proscribed quite like that. I was unable, however, to find anyone who felt sorry for Shipnuck.
Keep in mind, Ernie was already in a bad mood at the moment because of an 18th hole bogey that put him at 8 under par, 4 shots behind Vijay Singh with only one round to go. And for a minute there it looked like a stroke wouldn't be the only thing Els dropped. I thought the writer might go down, too, right there on the practice putting green as the sun set on Whistling Straits. Twenty-four hours later, Els would bogey the 18th again, this time costing him a spot in a PGA playoff. I hope for Shipnuck's sake he wasn't anywhere in sight when Els walked off the 18th green having notched yet another near-miss in a major championship.