Everything about Ernie Els is big. Its more than the fact that hes 63 and listed at a forgiving 210 pounds. Its more than the fact that his hand can swallow yours whole when he shakes it.
Ernie Els lives big. He wins big. And he loses big.
Els has a life that can hardly be imagined. He owns homes in South Africa, the Bahamas, England and the U.S. In his private jet, he and his family, which includes his wife, Liezl, and two children, Samantha, 5, and Ben, 22 months, can fly wherever they desire at moments notice. And hes also a three-time major champion and the second-ranked player in the world.
But its not always easy being the Big Easy. Not to make excuses for the man who has just about everything that money can buy and talent can afford, but when youre that big its a harder, more unforgiving fall to the canvas when you get knocked down.
And Els has repeatedly been knocked to the canvas this season ' in major knock-out fashion.
You might have thought that it couldnt get any more frustrating for Els in the majors than it did in 2000, when he finished runner-up three times.
Those losses took their toll on Els. He admitted that Tiger Woods had gotten inside his head, had affected his confidence.
Els is always upfront like this. He answers questions not politically, but personally. Which is why you knew there would be an honest answer to the question: Are you looking forward to PGA Championship or do you enter with hesitation?
A little bit of both, he said, smiling midway through the question as if to say: I know where youre going with this one.
Once again, Els is facing a psychological battle as he heads into the seasons final major.
Like in 2000, he has had a series of good, but not good enough, finishes in the majors. But this time its different. Four years ago, Els wasnt able to catch Vijay Singh in the Masters; he then got railroaded by Tiger Woods in both the U.S. Open and British Open. Woods also won the PGA, while Els tied for 34th.
What hurt so much in 2000 was that Els knew his best wasnt good enough. He came to the obvious conclusion that Tiger Woods was just better than him and everyone else ' and he and everyone else had no idea how long it would be that way.
It was the man to whom he lost, not the losses themselves, which caused the most pain.
This time its not a singular individual that dominates the downside of his psyche; its the losses themselves, which have gradually become more painful to bear.
First there was the Masters, when his final-round 67 proved agonizingly insufficient. Then there was the U.S. Open, where, playing in the final group on Sunday, he had a chance to become the No. 1 player in the world with a win, but double bogeyed his first hole and finished with a stomach-turning 80. And most recently there was the British Open, where he twice came up short ' literally with a 12-foot putt for victory on the 72nd hole, and then figuratively in a four-hole playoff with Todd Hamilton.
It still hurts when I think about, Els said of his British Open loss, but youve got to move on.
Obviously, Shinnecock was a bit of a disaster. I felt I played well, he said. The Masters, I really didnt feel very disappointed after that one, unlike the (U.S.) Open.
Still, Ive come this close, so obviously Im doing something right. Something is good in my game. Its just not quite there right at the end product.
Over the last five years, Els has won seven PGA Tour events, as well as 13 other tournaments around the world. The World Golf Hall of Fame can get started on the making of his bust right now if theyd like.
But Els is nonetheless on historys slippery slope at the moment. Hes in danger of becoming known for the tournaments he lost rather than the ones he won.
During that same five-year stretch, Els has 10 top-5 finishes in the majors, including five Silver medals ' but only one Gold (2002 British Open).
If youre up there all the time, like Greg Norman was, youre going to get knocked down a bunch. Thats just the way it is, said David Toms.
Norman is the poster child for Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. He had eight runner-up finishes and 19 top-5s in major championships, to go along with two victories (1986 and 93 British Opens). He also endured some of the most memorable ' and spirit crushing ' defeats in golf history.
Els isnt in Normans category. Hes got one more major victory, a few less heartbreaks and several more competitive years still remaining.
And one big win this week will salve the wounds of those three big losses.
Theres good and bad, Els said in reference to his performance in the seasons first three majors. Something is still missing. So, you know, if you look at it that way, yeah, you can kick yourself quite a few times.
I think theres a bit of down still in me, which will come out ' and hopefully come out at the PGA.
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