Ernie Els is now in the midst of a few
rare and peaceful moments at his
home in Wentworth, England. Any sense of relaxation he enjoys in this week-off recharge is deserved, for the happy and highly successful globetrotter has traveled enough of the world this season to justify a little time in the easy chair.
Since Dec. 12, when Els began his season at the PGA European Tour’s Dunhill Championship in his native South Africa, he has played 12 events in six countries and four continents.
And this is not just travel for travel’s sake.
Els continues to circle the globe and continues to pile up impressive performances. In the 21 major championships since 2000, Els has won the 2002 British Open, has five runner-up finishes, 14 top 10s and has not missed a cut. In that same span, he has won eight times on the PGA Tour and 14 times on the European Tour.
This season, Els has three European Tour victories in six starts, and they have come in Dubai, Qatar and China. Surprisingly, Els has not yet won on the PGA Tour, but he finished second at the Sony Open, tied for third at the Mercedes Championships and tied for sixth at the Buick Invitational.When you add to the travel the persistent weather woes this year – including the Monday finish May 2 at the Asian Open, which Els won by a record 13 strokes – you’ve got the potential for logistical nightmares and disjointed nerves. Yet somehow, Els keeps deplaning his private jet with focus and energy, and reboarding with trophies in tow.
“Mentally and physically, I’ve made a total about-turn in the space of a week,” Els said after tinkering with his swing and blowing away the field in Shanghai for his 10th wire-to-wire victory on the European Tour, his 21st European Tour triumph and his 56th worldwide victory. “I’m a little surprised it came so fast, but I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do and the changes made it a little easier to focus.”
Els’ “clear vision” came despite maintaining his near-maniacal schedule.
Before landing in North Carolina in mid-June to play the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Els is slated to travel from his Wentworth home to Irving, Texas, to play the Byron Nelson Championship; back to Wentworth for the European Tour’s BMW Championship; to Dublin, Ohio, for the Memorial Tournament; and finally to Bethesda, Md., for the Booz Allen Classic.
That’s approximately 14,000 miles in the space of five weeks. Add that to the approximately 71,000 he already has logged this season, and you start to wonder at what point the stamina runs dry.
“No one can keep up with him, he’s a horse,” said David Leadbetter, Els’ swing coach since 1990. “He loves the world stage, considers himself a true world player, and the private jet doesn’t hurt matters, either.”
The private conveyance offers comfort, of course, but jet lag is jet lag. Els, however, doesn’t seem to mind.
“You know, obviously there’s a couple of hours jet lag in there, but I’m really fine,” Els said in mid-March, describing his travel schedule before playing Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla. “I came back Sunday night, (my wife) Leizl joined me in Qatar. So we flew back together to London, saw the kids Sunday night, gave them their surprises, as we call it, and then I got on a plane the next morning at 7 and flew to Palm Beach.”
Els played Seminole the next day, and called the experience refreshing.
“It was good to do that,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”
Els was more than fine last week in the co-sanctioned event at Shanghai, breaking the Asian Tour record for margin of victory. His 13-stroke triumph was the second largest in the history of the European Tour.
Fittingly, it came with a little across-the-globe visual aid.
“I was watching the Masters telecast and noticed Ernie’s posture was slouched more than it was when he was swinging well,” Leadbetter said. “So we printed up some photos from the television telecast, gave them to Michael Campbell, who was (in Orlando) with us doing some work and who was going to be playing in China. Michael was kind enough to drop the pictures in Ernie’s locker.”
Said Els: “I was able to study those images and pick out the things I wasn’t doing quite so well, basic stuff like posture and ball position. Then it was just a case of working on those things on the practice ground.”
Speaking of the ground, the day soon may be coming when Els decides that’s where his feet belong a bit more frequently. He’s now 35, the jet lag lasts just a little longer and an analysis of his schedule could be in the offing.
But until that day, Els, the globetrotting trophy collector, will continue to take flight.
– Jeff Barr and wire reports