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By Kevin Currie, Golf Editor - Archive - Email
More to Els than just major champion
It was the challenge within his own family that has been shaping Ernie Els' philanthropy.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Of the many striking things in Ernie Els' acceptance speech after winning the British Open, two stood out to me more than most.

First was his words about Adam Scott. The pair have been on four Presidents Cup teams together, and Els knows the feeling of losing a major.

Outside of his four major championship victories, Els has 29 top 10-finishes in the majors, including six second-place finishes.

Els' words had a sense of compassion in them.

The other important words Els spoke were about former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Els felt it was important to pay tribute to the man that helped lead his country from an apartheid era into a democratic era. Mandela called Els after his first major championship title in 1994, when he won the U.S. Open at Oakmont.

And that speaks to Els' well-rounded nature.

He started his own foundation in 1999 to help underprivileged children, and has aided fellow South African, Gary Player, in similar causes around the world.

But it was the challenge within his own family that has been shaping Els' philanthropy more than his Hall of Fame golf career did.

Els waited nearly five years after the birth of his second child to reveal that his son, Ben, was autistic. He broke the news in 2008 after snapping an 0-for-47 skid on the PGA Tour.

Els' win Sunday at the British Open was his first major since Ben was born. In fact, 41 of his 69 worldwide wins were before Ben's birth.

He spoke candidly after winning at Royal Lytham about his foundation, and Ben's situation.

"Coming out publicly quite a few years now ago with Ben and the autism, it took a lot of work to get the foundation set up, the right people, and our mission statement. And we're clear on that. People know where we're going with that," Els stated. "Even the foundation itself knows where we're going with that; we've got a clear goal.

"And with my golf life, also. The two are running parallel, but yet separate. And it's a lot simpler than it has been. It took quite a bit of time to set it up. And I think emotionally or mentally I'm also in a better place than I have been in the last couple of years with the whole situation."

The results show that as well. Els' win in 2008 at the Honda Classic was his first on the PGA Tour since 2004. Since the Honda victory and subsequent announcement about Ben's autism, Els has won three more PGA titles, at three of the best events on tour.

Els won twice in 2010 at the WGC - CA Championship (at Doral) and at the Arnold Palmer Invitational (at Bay Hill).

Now he has claimed his fourth major championship, which helps erased the bitterness of missing this year's Masters. He won't have to beg for an invite to Augusta National any time soon, as he will be invited to the next five Masters tournaments thanks to his win at Royal Lytham.

And nothing would make Els happier than winning more and more events. Why? Because Ben will get more excited.

"I made a lot of putts today with Ben in mind today, because I know Ben's watching. He loves when I hit golf balls. He's always there," Els said on Sunday. "He comes with me. He loves the flight of the ball and the sound. I know he was watching today. I wanted to keep him excited today, so I made a lot of putts for him today."

When Els is happy, Ben is happy. And that's what every parent wants, a happy child.

HOW WILL EVIAN STACK UP AS A MAJOR?

The Evian Masters is one of the best stops on the LPGA Tour, but will that change in 2013? Starting next year, it will be the fifth LPGA Tour major.

Was that a needed move? Not necessarily, but it will raise the stature of the tournament even more.

My only problem with the Evian becoming a major next year is this - in its first 12 years as an LPGA Tour event, the winner has shot 12-under par or better 11 times.

I don't care if it's a men's major, a women's major or a Champions Tour major, winners shouldn't have to average 15-under par to win the title. Majors should be on tough course with scores in the single digits.

Since the Evian Masters joined the LPGA Tour, the winners have averaged 14.8 under par. Take out 2007 when Natalie Gulbis won at minus-4, the average winning score jumps to 15.8 under par.

I'm sure the course will be more difficult next year, but will it go from one extreme to the other where no one can break par? Doubtful, but let's hope the winning scores start coming in the 280s, not the 260s.

MINI-TIDBITS

* As it was pointed out about 10 minutes after he won the Open Championship, Els will be a dual defending champion at next year's British Open. Obviously, he is the reigning champ, he is also the last winner at Muirfield (2002), where next year's British Open will be contested.

* Women's world No. 1 Yani Tseng posted her 12th straight round of par or worse on Thursday. I think she is injured and trying to fight her way through the year. If she is hurt, Tseng, 23, needs to stop playing now, get healthy, and worry about the lengthy career she could be ruining.

* Phil Mickelson has never been the best player at the British Open, but his missed cut there was just his third missed cut in a major since 2000. Pretty healthy record there.


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