Ernie Els is the oldest player in the Nedbank Golf Challenge field and he has a lot on his mind with the upcoming Presidents Cup. But there is no place he’d rather be this week than making his 19th appearance in a tournament that has defined him as much as he’s helped to grow it.
“I’m really pleased they gave me an invite. I’m over 50 now, so I’m the oldest guy in the field, but I’ve had so many great memories around Sun City from fans and from the people I’ve met here, and obviously the golf course is very special to me. So you know, it’s nice to be here,”Ernie Els said on Tuesday.
The four-time Major winner won “Africa’s Major” in 1999, 2000 and 2002 and is a member of an exclusive club of only four players – Els, David Frost, Nick Price and Lee Westwood – to have won the Nedbank Golf Challenge three times.
He returns to the Gary Player Country Club with his mind focused on his captaincy of the International Team in the upcoming Presidents Cup, and then a new challenge as a senior tour golfer.
“Yeah, I’m going to be playing on the Champions Tour for next year. I just turned 50 in October, so I’m looking forward to January. I’m just playing some events around the globe now and then it’s the Presidents Cup. So my focus is really getting my team ready for the Presidents Cup. But playing here on home soil with so many great memories that I've had at Sun City is great.”
Els still holds the record for the lowest tournament total in the history of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and which came in his first victory in this event in 1999. His 25-under-par total that year improved by one shot the previous record of 24-under-par by Nick Price in 1993.
Then came a playoff victory over Westwood for his 2000 triumph, and an eight-shot victory in 2002.
“I’ve done well here in the past and I’m hitting it nice. But you know, the golf course is getting longer and I’m not the player I used to be. But you know, hey, if I get hot, it will be great. If not, I just want to have a nice week, enjoy the fans, the surroundings, the golf course and feed off the good memories I’ve had.”
This week will also give Els the opportunity to personally meet with two players he was bitterly disappointed not to be able to include as his Captain’s Picks for the Presidents Cup.
“It was a tough one. I didn’t enjoy it to be honest. There were many guys in there, especially a lot of my really close friends. Branden Grace was right there, so that was really tough for me to do. Erik Van Rooyen started playing great. It was tough to do that, not getting him on the team. Those are really difficult calls to make. But I had to go with what I believe in, and it’s for the best interests of the team. But I really felt for those guys.”