Ekurhuleni – Ernie Els enjoyed two of his greatest passions at Glendower Golf Club on Tuesday as he spoke about his love for the South African Open, proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, and his work with the Els for Autism organisation.
The five-time winner of the second oldest national Open in golf said he was excited by the young South African stars who had responded to “The Boys are Back” theme of the 107th playing of this championship.
“We have a great field this week. I’m excited to see a lot of the South Africans here. There are so many of them knocking on the door of doing great things,” Els said.
The field includes South African Major winners in Els, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel, as well as Branden Grace, Brandon Stone, Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester, Haydn Porteous, George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken and Erik van Rooyen.
“There are young players here on the brink of becoming great players, and winning the SA Open could be a really great stepping stone for them,” said Els.
And he’s equally excited about the prospect of “bringing back some of the old magic” when it comes to his own game this week.
“Last year was a funny year with my daughter Samantha going to College and a couple of injuries that I had. But I feel healthy and I want to play some golf, especially in front of my home crowd. I’ve also got some new equipment I’m working with. Hopefully I can get some of the old magic back and have a good week.”
From his first South African Open title in 1992 to his last in 2010, Els has always had great respect for this championship and what it has meant to his own career.
“I’m fortunate to have won this five times and it’s been amazing every single time. I have so many great memories of this tournament, including playing with some of the greatest golfers in the game. It’s good to be here as a 48-year-old and still competing in my national Open.
“You look at this tournament, and for a small country like ours so far south, to have this kind of history in our golf is unbelievable. The champions we’ve produced over the years has been incredible. Golf is ingrained in us. We have great programmes and everybody gives back in some way and that keeps the ball rolling.”
Giving back is a major priority for Els this week through his Els for Autism organisation.
“We are doing a lot of work in the US and South Africa, and all of the proceeds from this week’s tournament go towards Els for Autism. It’s a wonderful way to give back. We’re helping a lot of kids and are moving forward with some exciting things. Working with these children changes your life. You think about things differently after you’ve been with these kids.”
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