Els, Ernie

Theodore Ernest (Ernie) Els was born on 17 October 1969 in Johannesburg, South Africa, son of Neels and Hettie Els. He married his wife Liezl on 31 December 1998, and the couple have two children – Samantha Leigh (born 26 May 1999) and Ben Neels born on 6 October 2002. Els developed an interest in sport when he was only about 4 and soon developed a keen interest in golf. He used to caddy for his dad thereby learned the very basics of the game. He progressed and started to play a proper game by the time he was about 8 years old when he entered golf at junior club level.

As a teenager Els enjoyed all kinds of sports and played everything he could, Rugby, Cricket, Tennis, etc. but his favourite sport remained golf. At the age of 13 he could hit the ball as far as the average adult South African player. His parents were now convinced that he had a special talent, and that he was not just a kid trying to play golf. At 16 Els won the South African Amateurs in East London in the Eastern Cape province. He soon progressed from junior golf to Springbok level. Els were awarded Junior Springbok colours in 1984 and received the State President Sports Award in 1987. His entire world changed when he won the Lonehill Mini Masters and was sent to the United States of America where he won again. In 1988 Ernie was awarded his full Springbok colours.

Els completed his military conscription in Pretoria where his father secured him a slot at the Valhalla Gym Section, adjacent to the military area now known as Thaba Tshwane. He was allowed to practice every day. Still in Pretoria he played for his South African Springbok Colours and won, and then went ahead to win everything locally. As competition he had players such as Ian Hutchings, the Pappas brothers, Manny Zerman, Neville Clarke, Tony Lowe, Danny Da Silva, and Des Terreblanche. At the end of 1991 when he was 19, Els decided to turn professional.

He played on and off to qualify for the Open, and then he finally got his card in the USA. It became a trying time for Els who stayed in the cheapest accommodation; he hitched lifts to get around and did not always have the money for food or pleasure. A year later he returned to South Africa.

Now Els was at top form and won everything locally again, including the SA Masters, Dunhill, SA Open, Lexington PGA, and others. An opening followed this to the British Open, the event in Akron and suddenly he was a self-made man. He never changed the basics, the things that came naturally as he believed in himself, trusted his swing and his capabilities.

No coach ever really got involved with Els in the early days of his career, and that most certainly is the reason why his swing stayed natural. Later on in his career, when he focused on more technical shots, a coach was brought in.

1993 – He won the Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan, and was the runner-up in the Australian Masters.

1994 – He won the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour, and followed that by winning the Johnnie Walker World Championship in Europe. He won his first Major – the 92-hole U.S. Open Championship. It was the first of six victories in 1994 for Els — he won five more over the next seven months, including two on in South Africa. He won the World Match Play Championship title on the European PGA Tour, and won the 1994 Gene Sarazen World Open.

1995 – He won the South African PGA, and followed that by winning the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas. He successfully defended his World Match Play Championship title on the European PGA Tour, becoming only the fourth player in the 32-year history of the World Match Play to win successive titles. He led the first three rounds of the 1995 PGA Championship and finished in a tie for third. He won the 1995 Bell’s Cup in South Africa. He had a superb year winning the South African Open Championship in January, and he saw his third US Masters appearance. He finished in second place at the British Open, and his schedule saw him playing extensively in the US, Europe, South Africa and the Far East. He had an historical win to retain his title at the Toyota World Matchplay at Wentworth in October, for the third successive year! In early November, he went ahead and won the Johnnie Walker SuperTour Championship. Later in the year he took for his credit the World Cup of Golf title. This championship was played in late November and Els took first place with fellow countryman, Wayne Westner, for the team event, as well as winning the individual championship. He saw 1997 off to a great start, winning the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia in January. He finished third in the SA Open Championship where he was defending champion, and finished second at the European PGA Championship at Wentworth in May. He won the prestigious US Open Championship in June, and had a back-to-back win immediately following the US Open at the Buick Classic in New York. Els has been consistently ranked in the top five golfers in the world, according to the Sony World Rankings, reaching his lifetime goal of attaining the number one position in world golf in June 1997 after winning the US Open Championship for the second time in three years and the Buick Classic. He went on to win the PGA Grand Slam Tournament in November – a tournament featuring the four Major winners of 1997: Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III and Els himself. He finished second in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Phuket, Thailand; went on to finish third in the Heineken Vines and then won the SA Open Championship in Durban.

1999 – He won the prestigious Alfred Dunhill PGA Championship, and followed this victory by coming second in the SA Open Championship as well as the Heineken Classic in Australia. This was followed by another significant victory at the Nissan/L.A Open in California.

2000 – He won the International Presented by Qwest

2001 – Els won the Vodacom Players Championship in South Africa

2002 – His victories include the Genuity Championship and the British Open Championship. Also the Standard Life Loch Lomond and Nedbank Challenge, the Heineken Classic, Dubai Desert Classic, Cisco World Match Play and the South African Nedbank Challenge

2003 – Victories for the year were the Mercedes Championships and the Sony Open in Hawaii, Heineken Classic, Johnnie Walker Classic, The Barclay’s Scottish Open, Omega European Masters and World Match Play Championship.