BOCA RATON, Fla. — Ernie Els doesn’t have much time to relax these days, being pulled in different directions in a life that is about so much more than playing golf.
Which is why Thursday, the day before the start of the TimberTech Championship at Broken Sound, Els left the schedule wide open. No commitments on the golf course, no charity events, no ribbon cuttings or grand openings at the Els Center of Excellence, no checking in on his design team.
“He just chilled,” said Liezl Els, Ernie’s wife.
So, on Friday when he arrived at the Old Course for the first round of the tournament, Els was refreshed. He then battled the 18-22 mph winds to shoot a 1-under 71, five shots behind leaders Shane Bertsch, K.J. Choi, Padraig Harrington and David Toms.
“The golf course plays actually well with the wind,” Els said. “I just didn’t play very well. The scoring holes, I screwed them up.”
The golf course is Ernie Els’ sanctuary. It’s where he’s most comfortable just doing what he does best and what he’s done his whole life, without any phone calls or checking bottom lines or working with consultants.
It’s where Els, 54, has made more than 1,000 starts in his career and has won about 75 times all over the world on tours in South Africa, Asia, Japan, Europe and Australia, along with the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.
“I’m a busy guy, but I love competing and I love playing,” he said. “I’m not practicing as much as I used to but I’m playing with the guys.”
The guys, meaning anyone of the who’s who of golf professionals in the Jupiter, Florida, area whom Els could run into at the Turtle Creek and Loxahatchee golf clubs.
But not this week. This was a week Els, a four-time major winner and former world No. 1, was just looking to take a breath before getting back to his day job.
It started Sunday evening when Els attended the dinner for the Integra Connect Golf Classic benefiting Conquer Cancer. Then Monday morning, he participated in a clinic along with Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam and Luke Donald at PGA National for the Integra Classic. He went from the range to the par-3 fifth hole on the Champion Course to hit 32 tee shots, one with every group in the classic. If you’re wondering, none found the hole.
“I ran out of steam,” he said.
That same evening, he and Liezl hosted a welcome party at The Breakers in Palm Beach for the Els for Autism’s final event of the season, thanking the biggest donors who helped them…