Ernie preaches patience to would-be Leopard Creek contenders
MALELANE – He’s been through the mill, and 50-year-old Ernie Els had a little advice for the European players who have graduated from the Challenge Tour and play their first European Tour event in this week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
The man who won the tournament in 2005 – and also memorably lost it in 2007 to England’s John Bickerton when he twice dunked his approach to the 18th in the water surrounding the green – dug into his memory banks ahead of the European Tour’s season-opener which is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour.
“Back in the day, I played in some smaller European Tour events – Majorca and Santa Ponsa – and I remember those days,” said Els. “You never forget those days. You learn a lot from them.
“You see very good players playing the game. I remember watching Seve Ballesteros hitting balls on the range, and I just wanted to hang around him all week to see how he hit the ball and how he approached the game.”
Heading up the list of Challenge Tour graduates is Italy’s Francesco Laporta, who cut his teeth on the Sunshine Tour after turning professional in South Africa in 2013. Between 2013 and 2015 Laporta played full-time on the Sunshine Tour, with his best finish coming with a share of second at the 2013 Zimbabwe Open.
And, although the Italian has already played a season on the European Tour in 2016, he knows enough about South African golfing lore to listen carefully to what Els says by way of advice for cementing a place on a bigger stage.
Ernie Els of South Africa in action during a pro-am event ahead of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek Country Golf Club on November 26, 2019 in Malelane, South Africa. Photo: Jan Kruger
“The guys have just got to learn from learning, you know,” said Els. “There’s no short cut to it. Just practice hard and play with guys that are a little bit better than you and they will pull you along.”
That advice speaks of being not expecting instant gratification from the game, and it’s advice Els plans to follow himself in playing the tournament this week. “I think patience is going to be a huge factor this week,” he said.
“With the new grass here, it’s very different from when I won. It depends on the weather. If we have a lot of rain, then it will help the players, but if there is no rain – which looks likely – then it’s going to be very firm and fast. And if you miss a fairway here, you’ve got that wispy grass, and there’s no spin coming out of that. So, there’s a lot of holes you’re going to have play away from the flag.”
Els has seen it all in golf, so he’s cautious about talking up too much of a good game ahead of his first round.
“I’m okay. You know, I’m 50 years old, so I’m not quite the player I used to be, but I’m happy to be here and I love the course,” he said.
“With patience that’s going to be a virtue, hopefully I’ll have a chance if I can keep up with the guys.”