Els Reveals Son has Autism Seeks Research

By Associated PressMarch 9, 2008, 4:00 pm
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- For all the tough losses he has endured on the golf course the last few years, Ernie Els found perspective at home in the blue eyes of 5-year-old Ben.
 
His son was diagnosed with autism, which Els and his wife coped with privately until the Big Easy showed up on the PGA TOUR this week with an Autism Speaks logo on his golf bag and a message he wanted to get out.
 
I feel comfortable talking about it now, Els told The Associated Press after he missed the cut Friday in the PODS Championship. Ive got a bit of a profile where it will grab attention. Thats what this problem needs. And with that, hopefully, more people will get involved and we can start getting to what causes it and what can be done to help it.
 
His son turned 5 in October, the youngest of two children, a big boy with blond hair and blue eyes.
 
Ben is quite affected by it, Els said. But hes a lovely boy.
 
Els, who won the Honda Classic last week to end an 0-for-47 drought on the PGA Tour that spanned 3 1/2 years, said he and wife Leizl have known about it for quite a few years, and they have spoken to specialists around the world.
 
It was something they dealt with privately at home in London and in South Africa.
 
Samantha, 8, is their oldest child and she often accompanies her mother on the golf course for at least nine holes to watch Els play, sometimes bringing a sketch pad to draw the holes.
 
Its been a bit of a challenge, Els said. Its so new to everybody, that a lot of people have different ideas. After seeing just about everybody in the world, I decided on this path were going to go.
 
Like any family will tell you, its not easy. And its a change of life, a change of priorities. Youve got to be ready for it. And its happening more often. I never knew about it, never thought about it, until its in your lap.
 
He contacted Autism Speaks and is preparing to raise money and awareness for the disorder, which impairs a persons ability to communicate and relate to others.
 
Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks in New York, was thrilled to have the 38-year-old South African speak out.
 
No other golfer touches so many corners of the world than Els, whose schedule routinely takes him to just about every continent where golf is played. Among his three major championships, Els has 60 official victories in Asia, Europe, Africa and America.
 
Its very important having prominent people get out in front of this issue, Wright said. Its hard to get people to do that. Having Ernie, somebody who is prominent all over the world, to get out here is immensely helpful.
 
Several celebrities who do not have autism in the family still donate time to the organization, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby and Jay Leno. NHL players Olaf Kolzig, Byron DaFoe and Scott Mellanby all have children with autism and founded Athletes Against Autism, which is part of Autism Speaks.
 
Wright said having Els involved would bring more people forward, something Els already has experienced. Cliff Kresge saw the Autism Speaks logo on the bag Friday and told him that his 8-year-old son, Mason, had autism.
 
I was surprised to hear about Ernie, Kresge said. In a way, though, we need someone of that stature to get some notice to this problem that we all have. Theres so many people like that out there, and so little is being done. If they can find cures for cancer, surely they can find a cure for autism.
 
Hopefully, with Ernies notoriety, we can get to the bottom of this.
 
Autism is now part of Els life.
 
Ben was born in October 2002, after a season in which Els captured his third major at the British Open and won the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, his primary residence.
 
When they discovered he was autistic, Els did not share this publicly through some of his toughest years in golf'having a chance to win all four majors in 2004 and coming away empty; a tubing accident that tore knee ligaments and ended his season in July; and losing more duels with Tiger Woods, most recently at the Dubai Desert Classic.
 
Weve been taking our time and trying to assess what we need to do, what we want to do, Els said. Were doing a lot for Ben. But there are a lot of kids like him out there, and worse than him. Were in a fortunate position where money is not a real problem for our family. We can get Ben the right help. Some people are not in the same position. Wed like to raise money for the poor.
 
And Id like to know why its happening, he said. Its gone crazy the last couple of years. Its an epidemic.
 
Els said he was stunned to learn from Autism Speaks that 1 in 150 children are diagnosed with autism, the rate even higher for boys. Wright said while not all countries are forthcoming with statistics, Britain has even higher rates.
 
Before speaking publicly, Els wanted to make sure his family was comfortable ' not only his wife, but his daughter, best known in the United States for her PGA TOUR commercial in which Els plays a math teacher adding the scores on a golf card, and Samantha (Sarah in the commercial) answers the question in her Afrikaans accent'3 under paw.
 
Samantha, shes been unbelievable with Ben, Els said. Shes like a mother figure, not a sister figure. I wanted her to feel comfortable, because obviously, this is going to get attention. We just feel more ready to deal with it now.
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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”