When a player like Ernie Els tees up it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll play well and when it’s his 45th birthday you can add an extra spoonful of certainty to that mixture. Such was the case during the second round of the Kong Kong Open, where The Big Easy got his birthday celebrations going with a 65 that gave him the halfway lead.
The World Golf Hall of Fame includes the following in their description of Els: “Many would argue his elegant, powerful golf swing deserves its own exhibit. But the story of The Big Easy cannot be properly told without recognizing his impact off the course.”
That swing has been the enabler for Els, whose cabinet holds two Claret Jugs and two US Open trophies. As far as wins go he’s cleaned up across the planet, winning 15 times on the PGA Tour, 24 times on the European Tour and 17 times on the Sunshine Tour. What began in South Africa ended as an international sensation.
The Big Easy’s accomplishments on the course allowed him to give back to golf and in 1999 he founded the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation. That contribution to golf development in South Africa went a long way, with the likes of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel graduating from the foundation and rising through the Sunshine Tour on their way to major victories.
Outside of the sporting world Els has contributed greatly through his Els for Autism foundation, which is currently building the Centre for Excellence (due to be opened in 2015). In July this year American president Barack Obama thanked the Johannesburger for his contribution.
“It happens that philanthropy is a second job for many of these players,” said the president. “Ernie’s Els for Autism Foundation just broke ground on a new children’s education centre in Florida. We want to thank them for being such outstanding ambassadors for golf, who use their success not just on the course, but also to support worthy causes off the course.”
His achievements will be put aside this week, because Els still has 36 holes of golf to play, but for today it’s all about celebrating one of South Africa’s greatest sons.
“I won’t have any alcohol to celebrate but I’ll have a bit of cake and relax back at the hotel and see what we do for dinner tonight,” he said with a big easy smile.