Growing up in his home country of South Africa, Ernie Els played a number of sports as a child, excelling at both tennis and golf. However, having won the 1984 Junior World Golf Championship and the South Africa Amateur Championship, just after his 17th birthday, it became clear golf was going to be Els’ sport of choice.
Cut to June, 1994. Temperatures are nearing 100 degrees in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Amidst the hype of possibly being Arnold Palmer’s last U.S. Open, a 24-year-old Ernie Els looks to capture his first Major title, unbeknownst to the career that lay ahead.
With the 2016 US Open being played at Oakmont Country Club, memories will be flooding back for Els, of his first major win in golf. In 1994, the South African was tied with Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts after four rounds but went on to win a sudden-death playoff to claim the US Open Title. Els went on to win a second US Open and also two Open Championships, becoming only the sixth golfers to achieve such a feat.
Looking back to the early 1990’s and prior to Els win at Oakmont, the former world number one struck up a relationship with leading golf instructor and fellow South African, David Leadbetter. This relationship would end up spanning 18 successful years. It was during this time, Els really began to shape his game and with the assistance of Leadbetter, it wasn’t long before people on the European and PGA Tour were talking about Els’ swing. He soon became known as the ‘Big Easy’ for along with his formidable size, Els has a superb, fluid golf swing in place.
Working with Leadbetter during the period of 1990 through to 2008, Els completed a number of remarkable achievements. These included several tournament victories on both the European and PGA Tour plus three stints ranked officially as the number one golfer in the world. However, it was the 1994 victory at Oakmont, which really introduced Els to the world and while reminiscing about the performance ahead of the 2016 tournament, Leadbetter said
“He started to fulfil his potential from there. It gave him the confidence to go on and do that, and become this world-class player for a couple of decades”.
The pair obviously enjoyed a fantastic relationship during that period of time. In an interview with Golf Magic, Leadbetter said:
“I would have to say the most naturally talented player I worked with was Ernie Els”, before continuing “I bet if you asked the average golfer which pro golfer’s swing they’d like to own they’d say Ernie Els, simply because it looks so elegant yet powerful at the same time”.
High praise indeed, from a man who has worked with some of the very best players in golf. However, the relationship works both ways and having linked up with Leadbetter again in April 2016, Els immediately felt better about his game.
“It was great to have him around,” Leadbetter told the media just prior to the 2016 Masters. “The stuff we were talking about is stuff I remember like it was yesterday.”
Els clearly has fond memories of working with Leadbetter:
“It’s really getting me thinking about positive stuff again” said Els. “We’ve worked for many years and I feel like he knows me as good as my father knows me”.
Having scored a final round 66 at the RBC Heritage, to finish T14 and 4 under par for the tournament, Els putting has shown great signs of improvement since reuniting his old coach. Els also scored an impressive round of 66 in the first round of The Players Championship this past May.
Being back at Oakmont, the scene of Els’ first US Open victory in 1994, has obviously stirred up some great memories, for both player and coach. Exciting times lie ahead for Ernie Els, as he and David Leadbetter become a team once more, in search of more glorious moments, like that witnessed on all too familiar 18th at Oakmont, over 22 years ago.
— David Leadbetter (@DavidLeadbetter) June 16, 2016