Els brings more awareness to autism
As he walked off the 18th green with a four-shot victory in the CA Championship, ending the longest and most discouraging drought of his career, some well-heeled friends were at cocktail party up the road at PGA National to get ready for a tournament no less important than the World Golf Championship that Els won at Doral.
The Big Easy spent Monday playing and hosting the “Els for Autism Charity Pro-Am,” with a lineup of stars that included Jack Nicklaus, Steve Stricker, Raymond Floyd, Adam Scott and Robert Allenby.
His goal, as ambitious as winning the career Grand Slam, is to raise enough money to build a 30,000-square-foot center in Palm Beach County that eventually would be self-sustaining and treat some 300 children who have autism.
That would include his son, 7-year-old Ben, with his big blue eyes and blonde hair.
“People pay quite a bit of money to play,” Els said of a pro-am that raised $500,000 a year ago. “And obviously, that money goes straight into the Els for Autism Foundation. Our plan is, with this money and the help of investors, to build a really worthwhile center. … In this environment, obviously things are a little difficult to raise money.”
He had gone 54 tournaments worldwide without a victory, and it is little more than a coincidence that the longest stretch without winning in his career came right after going public that Ben was autistic.
Els and his wife, Leizl, had known for a couple of years that the youngest of their two children had autism. It was only in 2008, after winning the Honda Classic, that he wanted the world to know, realizing that Els’ stature in sports could only help raise awareness.
As for the struggles with his golf? That was a battle for Els alone.
He had a couple of close calls, although none in the majors, the most recent in Shanghai when he was 10 under for his round and had a one-shot lead when he tried a heroic shot over the pond—a cut 5-wood to take some distance off from a downhill like—and duffed it, making a bogey and settling for second place.
“I don’t think the motivation was lacking,” Els said. “I just think that I went about it the wrong way. I was almost chasing my own tail a little bit. I was not looking after the smaller things. I was looking at the whole big picture on Thursday morning – ‘Oh, I’m going to win the golf tournament’ – and it takes four days of good play. It takes strategy. It takes mental strength. It takes patience.
“And I kind of let that all out of the window.”
It might have seemed as though the window was closing when Els turned 40 last year, a reminder of dwindling days.
After a sluggish start to the year, he began working harder than ever. After leaving PGA National at the Honda Classic on the weekend, he stopped off at the Bear’s Club to hit balls. When the tournament was over, he was back at Nicklaus’ club each day until twilight, searching for the right ball flight.
He found it in sharing the 54-hole lead with Charl Schwartzel, his 25-year-old protege from South Africa. Although Els looked wobbly coming down the stretch Saturday afternoon by missing short putts, he was practically flawless on Sunday.
Els played bogey-free in the final round for a 6-under 66, with only two bad misses. He hooked one tee on No. 6, then played around the tree and lagged beautifully from 70 feet to get his par. On the 14th, the pivotal hole at Doral, he again went left and clipped a palm tree, leaving him in the rough and unable to get at the flag.
He pitched on 25 feet right of the hole, hopeful of taking a bogey and moving on. With a one-stroke lead about to be erased, however, Els made the par putt on the last turn and was on his way.
“There’s always a turning point,” Schwartzel said. “And it’s amazing. You can just see it. When he knocked it in, I just sort of thought to myself, ‘Don’t let this be the turning point.’ But in the back of your mind … that was big for him, for his confidence.”
Els’ daughter, 10-year-old Samantha, followed him on the weekend. With so much attention on Ben, he is mindful that Samantha gets equal time. She loves to run over to the side of the ropes as her father walks by, making sure he sees her.
Els said Ben is still a few years away from grasping why so many are cheering for his father, the significance of a blue trophy that was the 17th on the PGA Tour for Els, and his 61st win worldwide.
Still, the Big Easy said his boy would watch the video. He knows golf.
“He loves watching me practice,” Els said. “When I’m at the Bear’s Club, he always comes out and gets on the range and watches me play. He tries to hit a couple of shots himself. He just loves being on the golf course with me. Yeah, we’ll show him the tape. I think he’ll get excited about it. I think it will be another couple of years before he understands what we’ve done, but that’s no problem.”
Angela hits Sergio in stride on field at Superdome
Sergio and Angela Garcia's super 2017 keeps getting more ... Super ... Dome. (+1 awful blog lede.)
The couple started the year with Sergio's win at the Masters, then embarked on a whirlwind green jacket media tour, then kicked off El Clasico, then attended Wimbledon, then got married, then announced they were expecting their first child ...
And now, they're throwing each other passes on the New Orleans Saints' home turf at the Superdome.
Man, it must be so cool do that at the Silverdome. ... ... ... I'm sorry, it is the Superdome, brothers.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas
He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.
Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.
Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.
In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.
Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.
Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.
Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic
Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double
Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open
Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open
Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row
Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow
Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship
The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ
Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year
And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season
Photo Galleries: Best of ...
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com counted down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below. And click here for the full collection of articles.
Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge
ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.
The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.
They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.
Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.
Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.
Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.
''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''
The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.
In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''
Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.