Els Opens Up About Autistic Son

By Rich LernerMarch 7, 2008, 5:00 pm
Ive always liked to watch Ernie Els set up over a driver, those powerful legs in perfect athletic position. Hes bigger than he appears on television. If he lowered into a four-point, football stance, he looks fully capable of flattening you ' a rangy tight end reeling in a 12-yard pass to keep the chains moving.
 
Plenty of times when I struggle to get my own 64 frame settled comfortably over a golf shot, I picture Ernie, even if I hit it like Elmo.
 
In any event, Ernie launched a Kennedy Space Center special from Innisbrooks slightly elevated 10th tee, and the assembled admirers gasped in amazement during Wednesdays pro-am.
 
I ambled down the hill with Els, knowing Id have some 340 yards to fill my reporters notebook with some pearls from the resurgent big man.
 
He jarred me with numbers for which I simply was not prepared after I inquired about the new logo on his golf bag.
 
Something like 1 in 150 (kids) are now diagnosed with autism, he said. Its four times more likely to hit boys than girls.
 
Suddenly, the 41-month winless drought and the Norman-like collapses meant nothing, just a few more lines from that movie now playing at a theater near you called The Tiger That Ate a Sport.
 
Ben is 5 years old, Ernie said. Hes a good kid.
 
And with that Ernie had struck perhaps the most important shot of his life. His son is autistic, and he and his wife, Leizl, have decided to go public.
 
We want to help raise awareness and try to find a cure, he added.
 
There is no cure. And Autism is approaching epidemic proportions, more common now than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
 
So stitched on Ernies golf bag is Autism Speaks. Its a 3-year-old organization co-founded by former NBC/Universal chief Bob Wright and his wife, Suzanne.
 
Leizl and I are fortunate that we have the means to get Ben the help he needs, Ernie explained. But plenty of people dont, so we want to do our part because it takes special teachers and a lot of attention.
 
You likely know someone who has an autistic child. I do. And Im told its an intensely trying experience. You want the best for your children, sure, but wed all settle for the basics ' that they find their place in the world socially, that they fit in without trouble.
 
Thats just not easy for the autistic, with their rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, the difficulty in communicating and relating to others, the obsession with arranging objects or following specific routines.
 
We have to find out whats causing this because its really spreading, Ernie said. Speculation currently swirls around infant vaccines or myriad environmental possibilities. No one knows for sure.
 
But Ernie Els has joined the fight.
 
He turned his focus to the wedge shot before him. He hit it with purpose and precision.
 
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