At 49, Els re­mains rel­e­vant

STILL PLAYS GREAT GOLF AND HAS PUT HIS PAS­SION INTO A FEW WOR­THY CAUSES

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - PROFILE -

It’s fun and I still love the game we play. It has never felt like a job to me, whether I’m six-putting a green or be­ing a cham­pion...

Ernie Els,

Phil­an­thropic golfer

Ken Bor­land

The re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion of a bank­rupt cloth­ing fac­tory in Dur­ban would not seem to have any ob­vi­ous links to South African golf­ing le­gend Ernie Els. How­ever, such is the scope of the four-time Ma­jor cham­pion’s com­mit­ments these days that he can take part of the credit for the Royal Green Cloth­ing Com­pany now be­ing a thriv­ing con­cern.

While the South African cloth­ing in­dus­try has been rav­aged by cheap over­seas im­ports, Royal Green makes 2 000 gar­ments a day for the Ernie Els Col­lec­tion, which is run by Global Golf .

Els launched a new dis­tri­bu­tion deal this week with Bar­ron, who de­scribe them­selves as “the largest and most trusted cor­po­rate and pro­mo­tional brand in Africa”.

Els’ in­volve­ment in his range of golf at­tire ex­tends to the de­signs, with “The Big Easy” say­ing he wants the shirts to be “as com­fort­able when you’re swing­ing a golf club as when you’re drink­ing a beer”.

The 49-year-old is also in­volved in the wine in­dus­try and course de­sign busi­ness, and is also the cur­rent Pres­i­dent’s Cup cap­tain, pre­par­ing for their bi­en­nial con­test with the United States in Melbourne in a year’s time.

He de­votes plenty of his time to the Ernie Els and Fan­court Foun­da­tion to as­sist young golfers, and the Els for Autism char­ity which he started in the wake of his son, Ben, be­ing di­ag­nosed with the con­di­tion.

And the fa­ther of two is also still play­ing reg­u­lar top-level golf and is in­side the top-30 as the pres­ti­gious South African Open heads into the week­end at Rand­park Golf Club.

So how does Els jug­gle all these com­mit­ments?

“It’s fun and I still love the game we play. It has never felt like a job to me, whether I’m six-putting a green or be­ing a cham­pion 70 times around the world.

“I’ve forged some nice part­ner­ships and friend­ships through golf and these other com­mit­ments are just an ex­ten­sion of my golf.

“I’ve forged friend­ships around the world but I al­ways wanted to do some­thing with South Africans.

“This cloth­ing fac­tory, Royal Green, is the per­fect way to do that.

“I first met Lan­g­ley Per­rins of Global Golf when we spent my 21st birth­day to­gether in a for­eign city when we were both young golfers try­ing to make it.

“I met my wife, Liezl, at a wine farm and for nearly 20 years we’ve been mak­ing wine out of Stel­len­bosch.

“Autism touched my fam­ily and Liezl has been the driv­ing force of that work, she’s made it very prom­i­nent,” Els said.

The fact that The Big Easy is able to com­bine such a laid back de­meanour with an undi­luted pas­sion for the game is prob­a­bly what makes him so pop­u­lar with the pub­lic, even af­ter all these years.

“Even though there are play­ers in the top 50 of the world rank­ings – like Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Wal­lace and Branden Grace in the field – Els has boasted some of the big­gest gal­leries fol­low­ing him around Rand­park.

Apart from hold­ing events for the Ernie Els Col­lec­tion and Els for Autism, the for­mer world No 1, now 591st in the rank­ings, also hosted the prize­giv­ing for the Ernie Els and Fan­court Foun­da­tion, which funds the ed­u­ca­tion and golf in­struc­tion of youths from un­der­priv­i­leged back­grounds.

“The foun­da­tion started 20 years ago and we’re try­ing to sup­port the ed­u­ca­tion of these boys and girls and their en­deav­ours in golf.

“It has evolved quite a bit since then and I feel very proud when I see pro­fes­sion­als who have come through the foun­da­tion.

“I was priv­i­leged enough, be­cause of the great back­ing from my Dad, Neels, and my mother, Het­tie, to be able to el­e­vate my game to higher lev­els, but I knew some of my mates at the time couldn’t do that.

“So the foun­da­tion looks to make that process eas­ier, to give these young­sters a bet­ter chance of be­com­ing what they want to be.

“It all starts with junior golf. There is no other way, no short cut to the top. You need hard work, a love for the sport, and you need to get a few breaks.

“And you have to show char­ac­ter to come back from dis­as­ter,” Els said at the prize­giv­ing.

The five-time SA Open cham­pion, while de­lighted to still be mix­ing it with the young­sters out on the course, is also us­ing this week’s tour­na­ment as a re­con­nais­sance mis­sion.

As part of his du­ties as Pres­i­dent’s Cup cap­tain, he has to keep an eye on all the con­tenders for the in­ter­na­tional team, play­ers like Charl Schwartzel, Justin Hard­ing, Grace and Bran­don Stone.

“I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to next De­cem­ber in Melbourne and I want to get it right.

“I think I know what the play­ers need be­cause I’m play­ing quite a bit just to see them in ac­tion.

“I won a cou­ple of times in Melbourne as well, so I can give them some lo­cal knowl­edge.

“So I need to stay close to the play­ers, to stay rel­e­vant to cap­tain them prop­erly.

“It’s fun and I’m ex­cited about it. Even if I’m not com­pet­ing day by day, I’m qui­etly go­ing about play­ing good golf still. Shoot­ing 60s at my age is re­ally nice and I would ob­vi­ously love to win again, but my con­sis­tency is not what it should be,” Els said.

There is no doubt that the World Golf Hall of Fame mem­ber since 2010 re­mains con­sis­tently rel­e­vant to the game all around the world.

Pic­ture: Re­filwe Modise

JUG­GLING ACT. Ernie Els has not only left his mark on the golf course, but has en­riched lives, too, with var­i­ous com­mit­ments off the course.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.