Take it Easy Like The Big Easy: The Philosophy of Ernie Els
Take it Easy Like The Big Easy: The Philosophy of Ernie Els
By: Tommy Zimmer – Theodore Ernest Els is 6’3 and weighs 210 pounds. He is physically imposing and leaves a mark on any who come into contact with him. He is known for his perfect golf swing. For that reason, he has been known as The Big Easy. Els began his time as a golfer at the age of eight or nine at the Kempton Park Country Club while growing up in South Africa. He would start carrying for his father. There, he played other sports outside of golf. He also took part in tennis, rugby, and cricket. At age 13, he found success in tennis when he won his first major tournament, The Eastern Transvaal Junior Championships. Only one year later did The Big Easy decide to take his talents to the wonderful world of golf.
It was that year he would go on to win in San Diego, California the Junior World Championship, where he defeated Phil Mickelson. Els won his first tournament at the professional level in 1991 after becoming a professional in 1989. He followed up his first win with winning the South African Masters, the South African PGA, and South African Open during 1992. Gary Player, another South African golfer, had not been able to accomplish this as Els did.
He continued his successful years with a European Tour win in 1993 and a first US PGA Tour win during 1994. His US Open win in 1994 was significant because he won by way of a three-man playoff over the course of 20 holes. Els also won the World Match Play Championship. From 1994-1996, he was the first golfer that won it three years in a row. He would turn that into being a six-time champion by adding more wins during 2002-2004.
Els used to have quite the reputation as a partier. He enjoyed drinking all the time. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says that genes can be responsible for half the risk relating to alcoholism and addiction. They state that 17.6 million people in the USA, which is one in every 12 adults, that struggle with alcoholism. For Els, part of his drinking came from his father.
Neels Els, his dad, had to take over the family’s transport trucking business at the age of 18 after his father died from cancer at age 43. It was Ernie Vermaak, the father of Ernie’s mother, who told Neels he needed to move off of drinking. It seemed that Neels and Ernie Els could use Aetna rehabilitation services. Ernie Els reflected on his decision in October of 2012 to quit drinking.
“For myself, for my family, and for my future, it’s better for me to change the cycle, too,” Els stated. “It was always in the back of my mind, you know – it’s in your family – but I can’t say I ever really worried about it. Never. For all the fun, don’t forget, I always knew to put my golf balls down and practice.” Ricci Roberts, Els’ caddie, told the story of how Els came to an end with his alcohol consumption following his British Open win in 2012
“We were having dinner one night a couple of months ago when Ernie suddenly announced: ‘I’m not going to bother to have a glass of wine tonight. In fact I may not have a drink for a while – even if I never have another party night for the rest of my life, I still think I’ll be well ahead of the game.’” In his time since hearing Els make that announcement, Roberts hasn’t seen the golfer touch alcohol.
“Even when he was handed a glass of champagne after the Open win, I didn’t see him take a single sip,” Roberts said. “I know he said he wants to meet Nelson Mandela again to share a drink from the Claret Jug, but there’s a good chance that it might be filled with Diet Coke.”
While Els battled the party lifestyle and love of drinking, it did not stop him from maintaining a successful golf tourney. The ’90s were only the start of the golfer’s great successes. When 2004 rolled around, he was at the top in money and also finished second on the US PGA Tour’s money list. He was not struggling whatsoever and getting the attention he rightfully deserved for his skill.
However, he would suffer some physical troubles too. In 2005, he tore his left knee’s ligaments, which prevented him from playing golf for a little bit of time. It affected his game when he did return too. Yet, he was able to return to his prime when he won the South African in 2006 and the World Match Play Championship for the seventh time in 2007.
His first victory on the USPGA Tour since 2004 came as he won the Honda Classic in 2008. With two more wins during 2010, Els was elected by the PGA Tour Ballot to be part of the World Golf Hall of Fame. He has also gone on to win several other awards including the Jefferson Award for being an outstanding athlete, the Charlie Bartlett Award from the Golf Writers Association of America, and the Golf Foundation Spirit of Golf Award because of his achievements as a player. Additionally, he was the eighth recipient of the Nicholson Award for “a lifetime commitment and dedication to the game of golf” in Denver, Colorado.
While he received the attention he deserved for his achievements and he potentially needed Aetna rehabilitation services for his alcohol abuse and party lifestyle, he faced struggles during 2011 and 2012. He did not qualify to play during the 2012 Masters but did win his fourth major at the British Open in 2012. Outside of his successful golf career, he is very active in the world around him too.
Not only is he a family man having married Liezl, his wife, in Cape Town during 1998. They have two children, Samantha and Ben. He is very active in supporting his son throughout his autism struggles, which was announced in 2008. They have homes at the Wentworth Estate in England and a home in Jupiter, Florida, where Ben is able to receive treatment for autism.
Els also enjoys his work in a charitable organization to help underprivileged youngsters discover the game of golf in South Africa, a wine business, and a golf course design business. “I’ve got my life,” Els said. “I’m very serious about my business. I’ve got my family. And I’ve got my game.” The Big Easy continues to take things easy, even if the PGA Tour pursues him heavily, as they did in 2004, trying to mandate him to play more tournaments in the USA if he wished to play around the world more.
“To keep your card on the US Tour you have to play 15 events and I have already played more than that and I haven’t finished yet,” Els stated. “But they are saying they want over 20 and nothing abroad. Naturally we have to sit down and talk, but one thing is for sure, don’t start putting a padlock around me, don’t make a barrier because that’s not going to work.”
Currently, Els finds himself embroiled in controversy over his invitation to come to The Masters at Augusta National in April. The key thing, however, is he is allowed to attend but not play. “Wanted to clarify my excitement getting an invite from @TheMasters,” Els tweeted. “Work continues to qualify to compete.” Hopefully, Augusta National grants an exemption to this impressive and storied player who continues to take it easy despite continuing to make headlines in the modern world of golf.
Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery, and the entertainment industry.