by Jeff Skinner
Anyone golf fan who watched Ernie Els stumble down the stretch at The Transitions Championship and then sat through his painful interview afterwards had to feel for the Big Easy. Els showed the strain of how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour and his pain was written all over his face. Els is playing very good golf lately but a few pulled irons and that troublesome putter has so far kept him from The Masters. Ernie is very open about his desire to tee it up at Augusta next month but he’ll need to win over the next two weeks to qualify. But that’s not the only way he can get in: he can be awarded a special invitation to play in The Masters. But so far the green jackets at Augusta haven’t been forthcoming with a pass for Els. My question is why not?
Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne has already extended a special invitation to Ryo Ishikawa as The Masters likes to say “in an effort to grow the game worldwide.” Ernie Els has been growing the game worldwide for two decades. The 42 year old has travelled the globe winning 68 tournaments all over the world including three major championships. He’s the most prolific South African golfer since Gary Player and has a wonderful history at Augusta. He has two second place finishes, six top tens and only one missed cut in eighteen attempts.
It seems that Augusta National uses these exemptions to grow the game, or their brand really, in Asia and only Asia. In the past ten years they have awarded only one special invitation to a non-Asian: Greg Norman. In 2002 Norman was 47 and had played in four PGA Tournaments with a missed cut, a withdrawal and a T23 and a T33.
Ernie Els, a Hall of Famer, deserves an invite on his playing record alone but that isn’t all you get with the Big Easy. Els is one of the very good guys playing golf. He never fails to help out others whether it is with their game or their charities. He is open and honest to a fault and treats fans, media and the game of golf with respect.
It is simple to me. If Augusta wants to use the special invitations for golfers they think will grow their brand that’s their prerogative. If they want to continue to have the current greats of the game walking the hills of Augusta National they will invite Ernie Els.