On Tuesday, Aug. 13, 1991, I was walking off the range at Castle Pines when something caught my eye — the greatest golf swing that I had ever seen in person. The heaven-kissed motion was as technically perfect as it was elegant, Fred Couples’s rhythm with Nick Price’s precision. I stood mesmerized, forgetting to even ask who the player was or where he came from. Eventually the guy’s caddie said something, and the player turned and smiled like a kid on Christmas before getting back to his work. The swing and the smile belonged to Ernie Els, who was playing in his first International, and I knew I was watching greatness.
Almost 20 years have passed since then, and everything I felt on that Tuesday has been verified. Ernie has won more than 75 tournaments worldwide, including three majors, and in May will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. More than that, though, he has given us countless examples of how a person can be relentlessly competitive on the course and yet softhearted and nurturing off it. In 1999 he started a foundation that seeks to enrich, educate and financially aid underprivileged youths from South Africa. That foundation gave Louis Oosthuizen his start, among thousands of others.
At 41 Ernie still has time to squeeze more out of his golf clubs. His 64 in the second round at Kapalua (he finished 11 under, in 17th place) makes me believe that he will win another major before he’s done. Maybe not this year but over the next few. More important, during that same time he’ll give scores of young men and women a head start.