Ernie Els

Ernie Els

Theodore Ernest "Ernie" Els (born October 17, 1969) is a South African golfer who has been one of the top professional players in the world since the mid-1990s. A former World No. 1, he is known as "The Big Easy", for his imposing physical stature (he stands 1.90 metres) along with his fluid, seemingly effortless golf swing.

Early life

Growing up just east of Johannesburg in Kempton Park, South Africa, he played rugby union, cricket, tennis, and, starting at age 8, golf. He was a skilled junior tennis player and won the Eastern Transvaal Junior Championships at age 13. Els learned the game of golf at the Kempton Park Country Club where he started carrying for his father, Neels. He was soon playing better than his father (and his older brother, Dirk), and by the age of 14 he was a scratch handicap. It was around this time that he decided to focus exclusively on golf.

Els first achieved prominence in 1984, when he won the Junior World Golf Championship in the Boys 13-14 category. Phil Mickelson was second to Ernie that year. (The Boys 9-10 category was won by Tiger Woods.)


Els married his wife Liezl in 1998 in Cape Town and they have two children, Samantha and Ben. In 2008 after Els started to display an "Autism Speaks" logo on his golf bag it was announced that their 5 year old son was autistic. [ [ Ernie Els speaks out over son's autism] , The Daily Telegraph, March 11 2008] Their main residence is at the Wentworth Estate near Wentworth Golf Club in the south of England, although the family plans to move to Jupiter Island, Florida in order to get better treatment for Ben's autism. The family will keep their Wentworth home.

Career overview

Among Els numerous victories are three major championships: Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 at the Oakmont Country Club and 1997 (this time at the Congressional Country Club), and the The Open Championship in 2002.cite web|url= |title=Ernie Els: Career Detail | |accessdate=2007-11-07]

Order of Merit in the 1991/92 and 1994/95 seasons.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Els is known for his willingness to participate in tournaments all around the world (he regularly plays in European Tour-sanctioned events in Asia, Australasia, and his native country of South Africa). He says that his globe-trotting schedule is in recognition of the global nature of golf, but it has caused some friction with the U.S. PGA Tour, an organization that would prefer Els to play more tournaments in the United States. In late 2004, Tim Finchem, the director of the PGA Tour, wrote quite a firm letter to Els asking him to do so, but Els publicized and rejected this request. The PGA Tour's attitude caused considerable offense in the golfing world outside of North America.

Professional career

In 1989 Els won the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championiship and turned professional the same year. Els won his first professional tournament in 1991 on the Southern Africa Tour (today the Sunshine Tour). In 1993 Els won his first tournament outside of South Africa at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan. In 1994 Els won his first major championship at the U.S. Open. Els was tied with Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts after 72 holes and they went to a 18 hole playoff the next day. The play-off consisted of 18 holes of golf but Els and Roberts were still tied by the end with Els eventually prevailing on the second hole of sudden death.

Els brought his game all around the world in his young career winning the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour, and the Toyota World Match Play Championship defeating once again Colin Montgomerie four-and-two. The following year, Els defended his World Match Play Championship, defeating Steve Elkington three-and-one, won the Byron Nelson Classic in the United States then headed back home to South Africa and won twice more. In 1996 Els won his third straight World Match Play Championship over Vijay Singh three-and-one. No player in history had ever managed three successive titles in the one-on-one tournament. Els finished the year with a win at his home tournamnet at the South African Open.

1997 was a career year for Els first winning his second U.S. Open (once again over Colin Montgomerie) this time at Congressional Country Club, making him the first foreign player since Alex Smith (1906, 1910) to win the U.S. Open twice. He defended his Buick Classic title and added the Johnnie Walker Classic to his list of victories. Els nearly won the World Match Play Championship for a fourth consecutive year, but lost to Vijay Singh in the final. 1998 and 1999 continued to be successful years for Els with 4 wins on both the PGA and European tours. 2000 started in historic fashion for Els being given a special honour by the Board of Directors of the European Tour awarding him with honorary life membership of the European Tour because of his two U.S. Opens and three World Match Play titles. 2000 was the year of runner ups for Els; with three runner up finishes in the Majors (Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship) and seven second place finishes in tournaments worldwide. Els had a disappointing 2001 season, failing to win a US PGA tour event for the first time since 1994 although he ended the year with nine second place finishes.

2002 was arguably Els's best year which started with a win at the Heineken Classic at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club. Then went to America and outplayed World Number one Tiger Woods to lift the Genuity Championship title. The premier moment of the season was surely his The Open Championship triumph in very tough conditions at Muirfield. Els overcame a four man playoff to take home the famed Claret Jug for the first time, also quieting his critics about his mental toughness. The South African also took home his fourth World Match Play title, along with his third Nedbank Challenge in the last four years dominating a world class field winning by 8 shots.

2003 gave Els his first European Tour Order of Merit. Although playing less events than his competitors Els won four times and had three runner ups. He also performed well in the United States with back to back victories at the Mercedes Championship and Sony Open and achieved top 20 spots in all four majors including a fifth place finish at the U.S Open and sixth place finishes at both the Masters and PGA Championship. To top of the season Els won the World Match Play title for a record tying fifth time.

2004 was another successful year as Els won 6 times on both tours including big wins at Memorial, WGC-American Express Championship and his sixth World Match Play Championship, a new record. His success didn't stop there. Els showed amazing consistency in the Majors but lost to Phil Mickelson in the Masters when Mickelson birdied the 18th for the title, finished ninth in the U.S. Open after playing in the final group with friend and fellow countryman Retief Goosen and surprisingly losing in a playoff in the Open to the unknown Todd Hamilton. Els had a 14-foot put for birdie on the final hole of regulation for the championship, but Els missed the putt and lost in the playoff. Els ended the major season with a fourth place finish in the PGA Championship. In total Els had 16 top 10 finishes, a second European Order of Merit title in succession and a second place finish on the United States money list. 2004 was the start of the "Big Five Era" which is used in describing the era in golf where Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, and Phil Mickelson dominated the game of golf. The five switched up and down the top five positions in the World Golf Ranking; most notably Vijay Singh's derailing of Tiger Woods as the best golfer in the world. The five stayed, for the most part in the top five spots from 2004 till the start of 2007. Nine majors where won between them many fighting against each other head to head. .

At the start of the 2007 season Ernie Els laid out a three-year battle plan to challenge Tiger Woods as world number one. "I see 2007 as the start of a three-year plan where I totally re-dedicate myself to the game." [ [ Els has 3-year plan to catch Woods as world's No. 1] ] Els told his official website.

When he missed the cut by two strokes at the 2007 Masters Tournament, Els ended tour-leading consecutive cut streaks on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour. On the PGA Tour, his streak began at the 2004 The Players Championship (46 events) and on the European Tour it began at the 2000 Johnnie Walker Classic (82 events)

Els has often been compared to Greg Norman in the sense that both men’s careers could be looked back on and think what could have been. Although the two of them are multiple major championship winners they have both shared disappointment in majors. Their disappointments have ranged from nerves, bad luck and simply being outplayed. 1996 was the year where Norman collapsed in the Masters and Els in the PGA Championship. Els has finished runner-up in six majors and most notably for his runner-up finishes to Tiger Woods. Els has finished runner-up to Woods more than any other golfer and has often been described as having the right game to finally be the golfer to beat Woods in a major.

On March 2, 2008, Els won the Honda Classic contested at PGA National's Championship Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Els shot a final round 67 in tough windy conditions, which was enough to give him the win by one stroke over Luke Donald. The win marked the end of a three and a half year long stretch without a win on the PGA Tour for Els. The win was his 16th PGA Tour victory of his career. Els is represented by International Sports Management. When not playing, he has a golf course design business, a charitable foundation which supports golf among underprivileged youngsters in South Africa, and a highly-regarded wine-making business. Els has written a popular golf instructional column in "Golf Digest" magazine for several years.

On April 8, 2008, Els officially announced that he was switching swing coaches from David Leadbetter (whom Els had worked with since 1990) to Butch Harmon who has revamped the golf swings of many established pros (which started with Greg Norman). During Els 2008 Masters press conference Els said the change is in an effort to tighten his swing, shorten his swing, and get a fresh perspective.

Amateur wins (4)

*1984 World Junior Golf Championships (Boys 13-14 division)
*1986 South African Boys Championship, South African Amateur Championship
*1989 South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship

PGA Tour wins (16)

1 Defeated Montgomerie in 18-hole playoff and Roberts in sudden death: Els (74-4-4), Roberts (74-4-5), Montgomerie (78)
2 Defeated Appleby and Elkington in 4-hole playoff and Levet in sudden death: Els (4-3-5-4-par), Appleby (4-3-5-5), Elkington (5-3-4-5), Levet (4-3-5-4-bogey)

Results timeline

1Cancelled due to 9/11
DNP = Did not play
QF, R16, R32, R64 = Round in which player lost in match play
"T" = tied
WD = withdrew
NT = No Tournament
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10.

Team appearances

*Alfred Dunhill Cup (representing South Africa): 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 (winners), 1998 (winners), 1999, 2000
*World Cup (representing South Africa): 1992, 1993, 1996 (Individual and team winners), 1997, 2001 (winners)
*Presidents Cup (International team): 1996, 1998 (winners), 2000, 2003 (tie), 2007

Els-designed golf courses

*Mission Hills Golf Club (The Savannah Course) - Shenzhen, China
*Whiskey Creek - Ijamsville, Maryland, USA
*Oubaai - Garden Route, South Africa

He is also responsible for the refinement and modernisation of the West Course, Wentworth-Virginia Water, England, which took place in 2006.

Courses under construction include:
* [| Hoakalei Country Club] at Hoakalei Resort - Honolulu, Hawaii
*The Dunes - Dubai, UAE
*Gardener Ross Golf and Country Estate - Gauteng, South Africa


The Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation was established in 1999. It has the objective of identifying youths which show talent and potential in the game of golf from under-privileged backgrounds. It provides educational assistance amongst other moral and financial help in order for these youths to reach their full potential.

The first Friendship Cup was played in 2006 which is a matchplay competition, played in a Ryder Cup type format. In the cup, Ernie's foundation plays against the foundation of Tiger Woods. Ernie's foundation won 12.5 points to 3.5 points.


"I've never been a very technical player. I don't get caught up in swing positions and mechanics. When I work on my swing...I'm looking for feels. You'll get better results—and often more distance—if you swing at eighty percent effort. I get all kinds of people telling me I have the best swing in the world—it's beautiful, it's effortless. But I know when that isn't true." [" [ The Gigantic Book of Golf Quotations] ", ed. Jim Apfelbaum. 2007.]

—Els "to Golf Digest"

See also

*Golfers with most major championship wins
*Golfers with most PGA Tour wins
*Golfers with most European Tour wins
*List of African golfers


External links

* [ Official Ernie Els Site]
* [ Profile on official PGA Tour site]
* [{20E6AA6B-0225-4C71-BD89-2ACBEE615D69}&playerId=5576 Profile on official European Tour site]
* [ Profile on official Sunshine Tour site]
* [ Results in ranking events for the last two years from the Official World Golf Rankings site]

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