100 MA­JORS

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - The Golf Life -

ERNIE ELS

will play his 100th ma­jor championship in the US PGA at Quail Hol­low in North Carolina from Au­gust 10 to 13. It is an­other out­stand­ing achieve­ment for one of South Africa’s great­est sports­men.

Coin­ci­den­tally, an­other of the game’s leg­ends, Phil Mick­el­son, will be reach­ing the same mile­stone at the tour­na­ment. It would have hap­pened at the Royal Birk­dale Open, but for his hav­ing to with­draw from the US Open. It will be a rare mo­ment in the an­nals of the game, es­pe­cially as both Els and Mick­el­son are still ca­pa­ble of con­tend­ing, even though they may be past their prime. They are not in the field at Quail Hol­low as spe­cial in­vi­tees. Both aged 47, they will be­come only the 13th and 14th golfers in his­tory to play 100 ma­jors, which takes a min­i­mum of 25 years to ac­com­plish. No one has ever done it in that short a time frame, al­though Jack Nick­laus did play 146 con­sec­u­tive ma­jors from 1962 to 1998.

Get­ting to 100 ma­jors en­tails two con­sid­er­able re­quire­ments for the mod­ern-day golfer, where get­ting into the field for a ma­jor comes with strict el­i­gi­bil­ity re­stric­tions.You must ei­ther have had a ca­reer where you main­tained a high level of per­for­mance for at least 25 years, or you had to have been a Mas­ters cham­pion, which means you have a life­time ex­emp­tion to tee up in one of the four ma­jors ev­ery year, even when you’re long past your best (Fred Cou­ples will be 59 when he reaches 100 ma­jors at the 2019 Mas­ters).

Els and Mick­el­son fall into the first cat­e­gory. They have an even spread of ma­jors which they have con­tested. Els will have played in 27 Opens, 25 US Opens and PGAs, and 23 Mas­ters, and Mick­el­son in 26 US Opens, 25 Mas­ters and PGAs, and 24 Opens.The cur­rent 12 in­cum­bents have won 73 ma­jors be­tween them, and Els and Mick­el­son will add an­other 9 ma­jors to that tally. No­table stars who never got to 100 in­clude Seve Balles­teros, Greg Nor­man, Nick Price and Lee Trevino. The pre­vi­ous player to reach 100 was Nick Faldo, at the 2015 Open aged 58. He had last played all four ma­jors in the same year in 2004, but man­aged to get to 100 thanks to be­ing a past Open cham­pion, and play­ing in an­other eight of them.

Ernie Els won four ma­jors in his ca­reer,which seems a mea­gre re­turn for a player of his im­mense stature in the game.Such was the bril­liance of his play over a span of 20 years that it could eas­ily have been dou­ble that num­ber, or more, with a lit­tle bit more luck on his side. South Africans who have fol­lowed him since the be­gin­ning of his ca­reer have lived through many emo­tional ups and downs – he has been in the top-10 a re­mark­able 35% of the time.They know only too well how fickle fate can be at the high­est level of the game.

Ev­ery ma­jor in which Els se­ri­ously con­tended, and let’s say there were at least 20 of them, was a fraught oc­ca­sion, marked by in­creased tension and pres­sure. He han­dled it su­perbly. He was in­volved in three play­offs, and two of his other wins were by one-shot mar­gins, as were two of his de­feats. What has char­ac­terised his 99 ma­jors to date is the way he has time and again risen to the oc­ca­sion when the eyes of the golf­ing world fo­cused four times a year on its his­toric cham­pi­onships, as only the great­est play­ers had done in the past. Gary Player is the only other South African to have played 100 ma­jors, get­ting to 150 be­fore he fi­nally called it a day at Augusta Na­tional in 2009 at the age of 73.

Pho­to­graph Ian Wal­ton

Rare Mo­ment at Quail Hol­low when Ernie Els and Phil Mick­el­son both reach one of golf’s spe­cial mile­stones. By Stuart McLean

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