“The last time I played Royal County Down was with my dad way back in 1998 and it went straight into my top-five courses in the world. It’s still in there! Everyone knows my love for links golf. To me it’s the purest test of golf and I love how you can use your imagination, work the golf ball and play all different types of shots,” he said.
The Big Easy joins a host of top-ranked players, headed up by world number one Rory McIlroy, all bidding for a win on European soil.
“It’s an honour to play the Irish Open again and my good friend Rory asked us to play and I said yes very quickly,” said Els. “It’s only a pleasure to come and play and this is going to be a good test this week. I played nine holes yesterday and it was difficult to keep the ball on the greens.”
The 2012 Open Champion will surely have the Claret Jug in the back of his mind when he tees up this week. The quality golf needed to win in Northern Ireland this week, along with the huge crowds, make it a pure golf tournament for the ages.
“County Downs is always in the top three of everyone’s picks for the best links course in the world. It is great to see more links courses being used as tournament venues outside of the Majors. Maybe it’s two months early for The Open Championship, but it will be a great links test this week in this weather,” said the 45-year-old.
“The fans are obviously just as excited, because I hear this week’s tournament is likely to be a complete sell-out before a golf ball is even struck,” he added.
Els became host of the South African Open Championship this year and was excited for McIlroy to take up similar duties at the Irish Open.
“I spoke with Rory in Dubai at the start of the year and I’m happy for him that he’s involved in hosting such a prestigious event. It is a similar role that I have taken with the South African Open and, of course, it is a genuine honour to host your national open.
“It’s wonderful also to be able to give something back to the game and, in Rory’s case, raise a lot of money for kids who really need it. In exactly the same respect, we were honoured that the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation and Els for Autism were chosen as the South African Open’s beneficiary charities,” he concluded.