The Big Easy turns 49 – 17 October 2018 - and there can hardly be a more popular figure both on and off the course in world golf.
A four-time Major winner, twice a Champion Golfer of the Year at Muirfield in 2002 and Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012, a former world No.1 but now just as famous for his efforts away from the game.
A pioneering ambassador for autism awareness – after his son Ben’s diagnosis – Els is a family man, an award-winning golf designer and a highly-regarded winemaker.Blast from the Past
The Champions Tour is certainly coming fast over the horizon for Els – but his effortless fluid swing can still make an impact at the top level.
He made a first top ten in over two years at the Fiji International in August – just a month after missing the cut at The 147th Open at Carnoustie.
And with his putting struggles now behind him, Els will be hoping to reproduce some of his former glories on the senior tour in the not too distant future.
And what glories they were for Els in his prime. One of only eight men to have won majors in three different decades, Els was marked out early for greatness.
A winner at the Junior World Golf Championship back in 1984 as a 13-year-old – beating a certain Phil Mickelson – Els burst onto the scene and was labelled the ‘next God’ by Curtis Strange.
The easy-going kid from Lambton, Johannesburg won his first major in 1994 at the US Open and looked destined to dominate for years to come.
That his current tally of four Majors feels low is a reflection both on his natural ability and – unfortunately for him – the brilliance of Tiger Woods.
Near misses and Open glory
Els had to endure a number of near misses in his career, six times he was a runner-up at a major.
But his second major arrived in 1997 at the US Open again – becoming the first non-American in over 50 years to win two US Opens.
No golfer has finished runner-up to Woods more than Els – who was second in three of the Majors in 2000 alone – but his record at The Open marks him out as a true great. His victories coming a decade apart cemented him as a fan favourite, from 2002 at Muirfield where he had to navigate a four-man play-off through to 2012 at Royal Lytham and a nervous wait as Adam Scott faded.
Since his switch away from the belly putter when it was outlawed, Els suffered some early struggles with the return to the short putter.
But his easy hitting keeps him in touch with the world’s best and his love for the game is seemingly never-ending – he keeps busy week-in and week-out when others might look to shorten their schedule.
Seven times a World Match Play champion, Els will even captain the International team at next year’s President’s Cup – going up once again against his nemesis, friend and Florida neighbour Woods.
But family will always come first for Ernie – his Els for Autism foundation set up with wife Liezl – has raised millions and millions of dollars for education, research, recreation and more for those with autism spectrum disorder.
His nephew Jovan Rebula also hit the headlines this summer when making his Open bow at Carnoustie – 29 years on from his uncle’s debut at Royal Troon in 1989.
And Els’ connection to his family was never more visible than this past month at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Els – playing with his Dad in the pro-am competition – made the cut on his son Ben’s 16th birthday and there was no doubting what meant the most to him.