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Apr 01

No More Els at Masters?

Barring An Upsurge, Els Could Fail to Qualify Again

Throughout this calendar year, and come to think of it, the last calendar year, we’ve all been peering into the crystal ball of professional golf to see if Tiger Woods would either win another major, make it through another major, or even show up for another major. With all that Tiger watching, another player has gone unnoticed in terms of his relevance to the Masters at Augusta. Ernie Els has been playing this thournament for a very long time, and was dubbed a sure thing many years ago to win it someday, at least once. In 2017, next week, Els plays the last year of a five-year exemption that has kept him on our television screens from Georgia. However, if it doesn’t get a bit better this year, that invitation to Augusta is going to run out. Like membership at the club, they don’t give out these four-day invitations easily. Even for Arnie, charm and boyish good looks are not enough. Els is going to have play better, pure and simple, or we may never see him up close again.

That would be a shame. Of course, some people click with other people, and some don’t. But, if you don’t like Ernie Els, there is probably something just plain wrong with you. He’s a guy prone to being liked. So, we need to drop the binoculars that we’ve had trained on Tiger for years now, and retrain them on to the struggling South African who has been so good for golf.
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It isn’t going to be easy, and might take a lot of St. Christopher medals to pull if off. When Els  played in his first Masters of 1994, he finished eighth, more than respectable. Els was an up-and-comer, no doubt about it. Now, he’s ready to take on his 23rd try at winning the green jacket in a tournament he has never won. In 2000, he finished second to Vijay Singh. Second in a major is saddening in one respect for an up-and-comer. But in 2000, Els was still in the “We’ll get ’em next time” years. Now, he’s 47. I can’t comment on that with any precision, as I remember 47 as the pinnacle of everything. I loved it. It worked for me. Maybe on the PGA, it wouldn’t have so much. Anyway, in 2004, he lost it again in a heart-breaker to Phil Mickelson. He was on the putting green keeping his game warm when he heard the cheers for Phil’s winning birdie.

In last year’s version of Augusta’s crown jewel, Els managed to reach the first green in three, then six-putted for a 9. I know all about how to six-putt a green, any day on any course, but I didn’t know that Ernie Els knew anything about that. I guess that it was a horrible case of the yips. The condition is incapacitating, although I can’t describe it accurately. I’ve never had it, but was just a bad putter a lot of the time.  Els’ noble behavior after such trials has been duly noted by professional observers. Unlike others experiencing problems, there’s no thunder cloud over the head, no lashing out or avoiding people with microphones –  no tantrums, no passing the buck. And get this – to behave that way, in Els’ mind, would be a bad example for the younger players. How often do we see that these days?
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In order to get his mojo back for the Masters, Els could finish in the top four of other majors this year. For someone with the yips and 2 disappointing second-places, that sounds like a tough way to go. He could make the top 30 in the Fed Ex standings, but that sounds difficult for someone who has recently been ranked at 404th in the world. As for Els, he is still interested in the game, and still practicing hard. On the exterior, though, he is starting to sound like a muni-weekender. As he puts it, he wants to “take one last look around, and enjoy myself.” If Ernie can get the nerves to calm down, it would sure be fun to see him cause an uproar one more time.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.