Player celebrates Els’s Open triumph

Last December, Gary Player left a message on Ernie Els’s cellphone. “I told him I believed he would win a major in 2012,” says Player. On Sunday, Player could well have left another message on Els’s cellphone. Something along the lines of, “Told you so”.

South Africa’s most successful golfer could hardly contain his delight for the man who has carried the country’s flag on international fairways after him.

“I am so excited for Ernie, but my heart is broken for Adam Scott. He’ll never forget this. But that’s the nature of the game,” Player said.

“But I’m so pleased for Ernie. He’s had a rough time. Not long ago he was 65th in the world. I kept saying he’s got so much talent, and like most people I was frustrated by his performance. This is really going to rejuvenate his career.”

Player says that with five holes to go and Scott seemingly unstoppable, he still had a feeling Els could win.

“I know what the pressure is like in that arena. Ernie was holing some good putts, and when he holed that putt on 18, I knew he was going to win. Then, when I saw Adam Scott take a three wood off the 18th tee, I was convinced Ernie would win. Adam either had to take driver or an iron to eliminate that bunker he went into, and he did the unforgivable by going with a three wood.”

Much like Player was to the generation of Els and Retief Goosen, Els has served as the torchbearer for younger major winners in Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen.

South African golfers have now won three of the last nine Majors, which ties this country with the greater collective golfing might of America. American golfers have also won three of the last nine majors.

“We’ve got so many young golfers coming through the ranks in South Africa, and Ernie’s victory will again reinforce that if you work hard you can achieve in life,” said Player.

By Michael Vlismas

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