LEGENDS OF THE GAME...
...ERNIE ELS - THE BIG EASY
South Africa has a tradition of producing world class sportsman, for many years cricket and rugby were the predominant suppliers of their heroes, that was until Gary Player, that golfing dynamo burst on to the scene by winning The Open Championship in 1959 at Muirfield and then became the first overseas winner of The Masters two years later. There was a little time before another star from the African continent burst onto the scene, but when he did, he made an impact. Ernie Els began to generate awareness and interest from the pundits with top ten finishes in The Open and the US Open in 1992 and 1993, before his first major success in 1994, when America was in the midst of the euphoria surrounding the repeated successes of European golfers. After finishing eighth in The Masters won by Jose Maria Olazabal in April 1994, he provided the second major win for the European Tour by winning the US Open Championship at Oakmont, beating Colin Montgomery and Loren Roberts in a three way playoff. He was followed in the major triumphs by Nick Price who had double success, firstly in The Open at Turnberry and then in the USPGA at Southern Hills in Oklahoma. It proved to be a great year for the non-American contingent battling for major honours. However the respite would be short-lived, for within three years he was to have a new and formidable nemesis, when Tiger Woods burst onto the scene. Theodore Ernest Els was born in Johannesburg South Africa in October 1969. As a youngster he was an outstanding athlete, impressive at soccer, rugby, cricket and tennis. At the age of 13 he won he won The Transvaal Junior Tennis Championships, and just a year later he was a scratch golfer. He was tutored by his father Neels, no mean golfer himself, and duly won the World Junior Championship in San Diego California. In 1987 he was awarded the State Presidents Award, and the following year was given his full Springbok colours.
10 TEE TIMES | February 2018
In 1989 Ernie has his first real success, winning the South African Amateur Strokeplay, and turned professional the same year. His first win came on what is now the Sunshine Tour, and he duly won the seasons Order of Merit for 1991-92, and the following year recorded his first international success winning the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan. More success was to follow, with his first major trophy, winning the US Open in 1994, which helped to earn him PGA Rookie of the Year. He took his clubs all round the world, winning the Dubai Desert Classic, The Toyota World Matchplay, which he defended successfully the following year, and won his first event on the PGA Tour, then returned to South Africa where he won twice more. With his six foot three inch physique and his fluid swing, he soon earned the nickname â€œThe Big Easyâ€?.
if not impossible to level criticism at a golfer who has a record which reads, 4 Major titles, 2 World golf Championships, 4 World Matchplay, 19 PGA Tour wins, 28 European Tour wins, 1 Japanese Tour, 16 Sunshine Tour and 19 other titles.
1997 was a career year for Ernie, he won his second US Open title and multiple wins in America and Europe, a story that was to continue for the following two years. In 2002 the European Tour made him an Honorary Member in recognition of his tremendous record; it was also a year when he was runner up in three of the majors, (The Masters, US Open and The Open) plus seven runners up spots, a great show of consistency despite extensive travel around the world. Between 2003 and 2005 the golfing arena was dominated by the Big Five, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els, between them they swept the board. In 2005 Ernie injured his knee in a sailing accident, that took him out of action, and although he returned to winning ways, his plans to challenge Tiger, were never fully realised. Despite a phenomenal catalogue of success, he, like Greg Norman is considered to have not been as successful as his talent deserved, but in top level sport nothing is guaranteed. In my view it would be extremely difficult,
Even though he is still actively pursuing his playing career on the PGA Tour and European Tour, he has established a very success golf design organisation. He has completed courses in Mauritius, China, Dubai, Malaysia, South Africa and the USA, and famously redesigned the West Course at Wentworth. A project that received some initial criticism, but which is now well admired. Current projects under construction are in Bahrain, Bahamas, Hawaii and at Gardener Ross Golf & Country Estate in his home country of South Africa.
It was no surprise when he was elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011, due recognition for consistency which earned him European Tour Order of Merit and Player of the Year a total of five times. A career that was so rich in success was touched with sadness when he son Ben was found to be suffering from autism. Since his diagnosis Ernie and his wife Liezl have been active in charities devoted to that condition. The Els for Autism Pro Am raises many thousands of dollars, and his support for The Renaissance Learning Centre, a charter school for autistic children is ongoing. His charitable work extends to The Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation, which supports under privileged but talented children to progress in golf, and he is an enthusiastic supporter of the Gary Player Charity events around the world.
As he approaches the time when he will grace the Seniors Tour, he is still battling, with his current target being to qualify for The Masters in April 2018, since his exemption for winning the Open in 2012 has now run out. Whether he qualifies or not he will be present, for he has an Honoured Guest Invitation to attend. He is a true gentleman of the fairways, and will join the roll of legends with every justification. Michael Rees
Published on Jan 23, 2018