Player celebrates Els’s Open triumph

Michael Vlismas

STELLENBOSCH (23 July 2012) – 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 3 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 3 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.

This week the Sunshine Tour’s next generation of professionals will be hoping this message rings true for their careers when they tee it up in the third Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament this season at the De Zalze Golf Club in Stellenbosch. This six-tournament series is the single biggest on the Sunshine Tour and plays a vital role in developing the careers of South Africa’s young professionals.

In 2010, the series celebrated Els’s career and contribution to South African golf. Jean Hugo won in Stellenbosch that year, and this week he’s another South African thrilled with Els’s Open triumph.

Hugo was still an amateur when he played in the 1999 South African Open alongside Els.

“I finished ninth in what was a good week for me. I played with Ernie and the memories I have of that experience are brilliant,” he said.

This year’s series celebrates another South African Major winner in Retief Goosen.

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