by Jeff Skinner
This is a special week for Ernie Els. This is a special week for a special guy. This week Els has seen more than his share of good fortune and winning the WGC CA Championship is only a small part of a wonderful time for Els and his family. Every golfer at one time or another has paid homage to “The Golfing Gods” and Els is no different. This time however it seems like The Gods are smiling upon Ernie. Ernie is being deservedly rewarded by The Gods for all the hard work he has put in both on and off the course. You see this week isn’t just about winning a golf tournament; it’s about much more than that for Ernie.
This has been an interesting time for Els. Ernie was as happy as any golfer could be as he grabbed his first PGA Tour trophy since the 2008 Honda Classic. Els played spectacular golf as he shot a 66 to finish four shots clear of his countrymen and friend Charl Schwartzel. Els and Schwartzel were thrilled to be paired in the final round together but the seeds of this relationship were sown years ago in South Africa. Twenty three years ago Schwartzel was two when his father and Els won a club tournament together. The young Schwartzel also was a member of a junior golf team sponsored by Ernie’s foundation in South Africa. As Gary Player was a mentor to up and coming South Africans, so has Els been to golfers like Schwartzel. Schwartzel isn’t a regular PGA Tour player but he was here to play in the two WGC events so Els asked him to stay at his home while he was here. I would venture to say it worked out fine for the both of them. Els got to see one of his protégés perform very well on a big stage and he completes his comeback to the world’s elite golfers with the win. Schwartzel gets to play with his hero, take home a check for $850,000 and establish himself as a player on the 2011 PGA Tour.
That alone would be enough to classify as a great week for Els, but there’s much more. Last week Ernie was named as the winner of the Charlie Bartlett Award by the Golf Writers Association of America. The award is given a golfer for their “unselfish contributions to the betterment of society.” Much of that betterment will take place today when Els hosts the 2nd Annual Els for Autism Charity Pro-Am Golf Tournament. Els and his wife, Liezl started the Els for Autism Foundation to help raise funds for autistic children. Their son Ben, 7, is autistic and they have committed the foundation to raise $30 million towards a school and research center. Last year’s tournament raised over $500,000 and this year’s is expected to raise more.
Els is pulling out some big guns for his tournament as Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd will play as well as many other PGA pros like Stricker, Appleby, Allenby, Calcavecchia, Scott, Rose and Sabbatini are all scheduled to play.
Ernie Els is one of the more forthright players on tour. He is honest, sincere and involved. Certainly his win this week is very significant to his career but his play on the course is only a part of his life. Els established his willingness to give back long ago in South Africa with his foundation and now he continues his benevolent work here. This is one of the aspects that makes Els such an appealing and likable player. He’s “The Big Easy” and he’s back. Can he add “Masters Champion” to his list of titles next month? He thinks he’s ready to contend at Augusta and wouldn’t that be a special week for Ernie.