Ernie Els Turns 50: Our Interview With The Big Easy

The four-time Major winner turns 50 today, here's our interview with him from last year...

Ernie Els Turns 50: Our Interview With The Big Easy
Image: Paul Severn

The four-time Major winner turns 50 today, here's our interview with him from last year...

Ernie Els Turns 50: Our Interview With The Big Easy

Ernie Els is now eligible for the senior tour having turned 50...happy birthday to the Big Easy!

The South African has been one of the very best players of his generation and made a huge impact on the game of golf.

Born in Johannesburg in 1969, Els went on to become a four-time Major winner with over 70 victories as a professional.

Read GM's Michael Weston's interview with Ernie from last year...

"I would never have done it any differently."

The discussion veers towards a comparison of eras: Ernie’s versus today’s young guns battling it out for Majors and for domination of the top spot. When it comes to offering his opinion, he doesn’t mince his words.

“I’d like to see them a bit more aggressive with each other,” Ernie says frankly on the topic of Ernie’s versus today’s young guns battling it out for Majors and for domination of the top spot.

What follows is certainly no rant; it’s not a ‘Back in my day’ speech, just his stance on what he regards as the ‘Post Tiger’ brigade.

“In our generation, Tiger, Phil, myself, Retief, we had a really long 20 years at the top of the game,” he adds.

“Then you had Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood. For 20 years you were hearing the same kind of guys. Now there’s a shift. There’s like ten guys now. Who’s going to step up?

"This is the new crop dominating and it’s taken almost 20 years for that to happen. I think now they’re finally starting to take over the mantle and good luck to them.”

“I like what Justin Thomas said after The Open at Birkdale in 2017. He said he felt jealous when Spieth won it. It really put the fire under his arse to go and win the PGA.”

As golf fans, that’s what we want to see, right? The odd bit of needle? Els, a four-time Major winner, agrees.

“Fans want to either like somebody or not, they either like Man City or they like Man United. This Man City, Man United loving each other dolly dolly, fans don’t do that.

"They want to be here or they want to be there. I didn’t see Retief or any other one of us win a Major and I’m standing there first to congratulate my buddy. I don’t want to take anything away from them, but you don’t see that in Formula One."

Making friends was not top of Els’ agenda when he set out on his career.

He reached number one in the world – a position he held for a cumulative total of nine weeks – and accumulated his extensive list of victories with a steely competitiveness that just didn’t allow for too much back-slapping and camaraderie with his peers, or compatriots for that matter.

“We were very private,” says the man from Johannesburg.

“We respected each other but we didn’t go out of our way.

"Even myself and Retief, we grew up together, but we weren’t the best of buddies.

"When we were in England we would have barbeques on Sundays and have the family over and so on, but we weren’t the best of friends.

"We didn’t travel together like these guys do, go on holidays together. I think it will work itself out eventually when these guys start winning golf tournaments.”

Winning is a topic this World Golf Hall of Famer can comment on with great authority.

He lifted silverware for 18 successive years between 1991 and 2008.

After a winless 2009, he was back in business in 2010 and ‘11, tasted Major glory for the fourth time in 2012, and in 2013 he triumphed at the BMW International Open in Germany.

In all, he has over 70 worldwide victories to his name. Although he admits to “letting the reins go a little bit” in recent years, he’ll go down as one of the greats. Finding himself edging towards the big 5-0, he reveals how his priorities have changed.

“Golf is not everything, like it was,” says the South African.

“When golf was everything, I could tell you every Major Champion from the ‘50s.

"For a long time I was very selfish. Now it’s taken a different meaning in my life and I’m happy.

"I want to keep playing as long as I can and compete with these guys, but it’s not everything, my family is.

"It’s amazing how the mind works. I think mentally there was a switch when I started doing more business work.”

Els acknowledges the significance of playing on both major tours in helping him become a better player, but he’s now reaping the rewards in other ways.

Related: Ernie Els' incredible career milestone

“It has helped my brand,” he says.

“Everywhere I go I’m recognised. Now I’m doing different things and people want to do things with you because they know you, so it’s been great travelling around the world.”

A browse of Els’ website gives an insight into his many businesses and charity work. It’s extensive. No wonder his priorities have shifted – yet he continues to compete. That’s what we all want to see.

Following his last victory in 2013, he said: “I’m still chasing Majors. Even after 50, I think I’ll still be fine.”

Whether or not he can elevate himself one more notch – alongside the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Phil Mickelson, on five Major titles – remains to be seen. Whatever happens, Els is not one to look back.

“I would never have done it any differently,” he says.

“Every single win I’ve ever had is really special, but a Major is an unreal feeling. It’s worth so much more. When you’re a Major Champion you get announced on the tee for the rest of your life as a Major Champion, so it just means everything in the game.”

As much of a buzz his business work gives him, you sense his appetite for further success is still what really drives him.

It’s his competitive nature that may help the International Team triumph at the Presidents Cup for the first time in over 20 years. Els will renew his battle with Woods when his International side face the Americans in Melbourne – and it’s got his juices flowing.

“It’s going to be great with Tiger. He’s got a hell of a team. I’ve watched previous captains and how they’ve reacted and most of them have said it’s one of the best experiences of their lives. I want to experience it. I want to win the damn thing and that’s my only concern.”

Related: Ernie Els in agreement with McIlroy over easy course set-ups

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Elliott Heath
News Editor

Elliott Heath is our News Editor and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news, features, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as four Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats anywhere between 2-5. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: Titleist TSi2 HL

Irons: Mizuno MP-H4 3-iron, Mizuno MP5 4-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5