LYTHAM ST ANNES, England (Reuters) – Just four months after looking like an “absolute fool” in his own words with no confidence in his putting, Ernie Els sank a 15-footer for birdie on the final green that won him the British Open on Sunday.
The 42-year-old South African completed a final-round 68 at Lytham to win the Claret Jug by one shot after Australian Adam Scott bogeyed the last four holes.
“Obviously, in March I looked like an absolute fool,” Els told reporters. “People were laughing at me and making jokes about me and really hitting me low, saying I’m done and I should hang it up.
“When you’ve been where I was, you have no confidence in putting, you don’t want to have that one coming back. I was coasting everything up to the hole and wasn’t giving the hole a scare.”
Since then, Els has completely changed his approach on the greens.
“It comes from retraining your whole outlook on putting,” he said. “I just changed the whole thing, mindset, training, everything. And I was really going from a totally different angle, which I liked, because I tried everything else.”
Els, 1994 and 1997 U.S. Open champion and British Open winner at Muirfield 10 years ago, said he had not seriously considered quitting the game.
“That’s easier said than done, isn’t it?,” he said. “This game is a tough game we play. It’s a physical game. It’s a mental game.
“You’ve got to have your wits with you, otherwise you have a missing link and it doesn’t quite all come together. So to play the game as long as I have, for 23 years now as a professional, you’re bound to go through every emotion out there.”
The former world number one said he took inspiration from his autistic nine-year-old son Ben and the “Els for Autism” Foundation he has set up.
“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,” he said.
Els said he felt more settled now the foundation was running smoothly.
“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,” he said.
Ben loves watching his dad hitting golf balls.
“I made a lot of putts today with Ben in mind because I know Ben’s watching,” Els said. “He loves it when I hit golf balls. He’s always there. He comes with me. He loves the flight of the ball and the sound.
“I know he was watching today and I was trying to keep him because he gets really excited. I wanted to keep him excited today, so I made a lot of putts for him today.
“You guys should see him. He’s a wonderful boy now and he’s a bright boy, so we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Els also paid tribute in his victory speech to former South Africa president Nelson Mandela.
“Believe it or not, this morning I was lying watching cricket and I was just kind of day-dreaming and that thought came through me in a split second,” he said.
“If I win, I told myself, I’d better thank President Mandela because I grew up in the era of the apartheid and then changing into the democratic era President Mandela was right there.
“Right after the change I was the first one to win a major, so there’s a lot of significance there in my life.”