He has often been described as having the right game to finally be the golfer to beat Woods in a major. Born 17 October 1969, Ernie Els is a South African professional golfer who is celebrated for his exceptional and fluid golf swing. He stands 6 ft 3 and is sometimes called “The big easy” due to his imposing physique.
Els grew up with an insatiable desire for sports. At age 8, he was an expert in rugby union and cricket. As a professional junior tennis player, he won the Eastern Transvaal Junior Championships at age 13.He was just a brilliant youngster.
The game of golf was something he learnt from his father Neels, a trucking executive, at the Kempton Park Country Club. He soon became better than his father and older brother in the game and by age 14, he became a scratch handicap and then decided to focus exclusively on golf. Since then, Els has maintained a steady and unbeatable progress in the game and has recorded more than 66 career victories.
He won the U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont and in 1997 at congressional. He also won the Open Championship in 2002 at Muirfiled and at Royal Lytham & St Agnes in 2012, making him one of six golfers to twice win both the U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
Els rose to prominence in 1984, when he won the Junior World Golf Championship in the Boys 13–14 category. He won the South African Amateur Championship a few months after his 17th birthday, becoming the youngest-ever winner of that event, breaking the record which had been held by Gary Player.
He was the leading career money winner on the European Tour until overtaken by Lee Westwood in 2011, and was the first member of the tour to earn over 25 million Euros from European Tour events. Els has held the number one spot in the Official World Golf Ranking and until 2013 held the record for weeks ranked in the top ten with 788.He rose to the 15th position in the World rankings after winning the 2012 Open Championship and was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2010, on his first time on the ballot, and was inducted in May 2011.
1989 officially opened the door to an interesting golf career for Els, it was the year he won the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship which admitted him into the professional golf players group. He won his first professional tournament in 1991 on the Southern Africa Tour (now known as the Sunshine Tour). He won the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit in the 1991/92 and 1994/95 seasons. In 1993, Els won his first tournament outside of South Africa at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan.
Since then, it’s been no holds barred for the outstanding golfer as he kept upping his game. His young career gained a world acclamation when he won the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour, and the Toyota World Match Play Championship defeating Colin Montgomerie 4 & 2. The following year, Els defended his World Match Play Championship, defeating Steve Elkington 3 & 1.
He again won the GTE Byron Nelson Classic in the United States and then returned home to South Africa and won twice more. In 1996, Els won his third straight World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, defeating Vijay Singh in the final 3 & 2. No player in history had ever managed to win three successive titles in the one-on-one tournament. He ended the year with a win at his home tournament at the South African Open.
The South African golf pro was awarded with honorary life membership of the European Tour by the Board of Directors of the European Tour for his two U.S. Opens and three World Match Play titles.
2002 was a good year for him, as he started with a win at the Heineken Classic and then proceeded to America where he outplayed World Number one Tiger woods and took the Genuity Championship title. He also won 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.
The following year offered the all-time golfer his first European Tour Order of Merit. He also performed exceptionally in the United States with back to back victories at the Mercedes Championship – where he set the PGA Tour 72 hole record for most strokes under par at 31 under – 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. As a good finish for the season, Els won the World Match Play title for a record-tying fifth time and in 2003, he was voted 37th on the SABC3’s Great South Africans.
In 2004, Els won 6 times on both tours including big wins at Memorial,WGC-American Express Championship and set a new record at his sixth World Match Play Championship. And that was just his launch pad to more victories.
On 2 March 2008, he won the Honda Classic contested at PGA National’s Championship Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florider and shot a final round 67 in tough windy conditions, which was all he needed to mark a win against 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. And it was the 16th PGA Tour victory of his career.
In 2012, Els failed to qualify for the Masters, the first time since 1993 that he would not play at Augusta. He was ranked 58th in the world prior to the tournament (the top 50 are given automatic invitations).
In June 2013, Els won a wire-to-wire victory with a one stroke win over Thomas Bjorn, he started the tournament with an opening round of 63 to take control and followed this with two 69s in rounds two and three. He then entered the final round tied with Alexander Levy and Alexander Noren. He was overtaken during the final round by both Levy and Bjørn, but he responded with three birdies in four holes mid-round to move back to the top and then played the back nine in level par to complete victory. That earned him his 28th European Tour title, which moved him up to the14th place from 20th in the world rankings and moved to 4th in the Race to Dubai standing
The golf guru cofounded the Els and Fancourt Foundation, established in 1999. And which has the objective of identifying youths who show talent and potential in the game of golf from under-privileged backgrounds in South Africa. The foundation provides educational assistance amongst other moral and financial help in order for these youths to reach their full potential.
Els married his wife Liezl in 1998 in Cape Town and they have two children, Samantha and Ben. He also runs a huge wine making business and has been a contributor in Golf Digest magazine for many years.
Theodore Ernest Els is a great African hero who is outstanding in his vocation. And because of people like him, we can say that Africa is truly rising.