A year later Els continues fight against autism

By Associated PressMarch 2, 2009, 5:00 pm
2007 Honda ClassicPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. ' For Ernie Els, last year's Honda Classic was filled with significance.
 
It wasn't a major. Didn't come after some epic duel with Tiger Woods. Lacked that dramatic moment on the 18th green where a putt would decide the tournament. In fact, Els learned he won while standing on the driving range, prepping for a playoff that never happened.
 
But for Els, few wins mattered more.
 
Ernie and Ben Els
Ernie Els and his son, Ben. (Getty Images)
Prevailing at the Honda gave Els more than a $990,000 winner's check and his first PGA Tour victory since 2004. It provided the platform he'd long sought to finally reveal his family is one of many touched by autism, a brain disorder found in about one of every 150 children that hinders their ability to communicate and interact socially.
 
Els' son, Ben, is a healthy 6-year-old ' who just happens to be autistic.
 
So his dad's bag bore an 'Autism Speaks' logo that week, and days after winning at PGA National, Els started speaking about it as well.
 
'It was good timing,' Els said. 'It also had gotten to the stage where you've either got to talk about what's happened to Ben or you're just not. He was so in the public eye, especially not just in the U.S., but also worldwide. When you travel with Ben, you can really start seeing there's something going on. I didn't want to feel like we're hiding anything.'
 
If that ever was the case, it isn't anymore.
 
Els ' who'll defend his title at the Honda Classic this coming week ' and his family are now at the front of fundraising and awareness efforts.
 
Els' wine label helped sponsor a golf outing that raised more than $300,000 last summer for autism research, and on March 23 at PGA National, he will host a pro-am featuring Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Justin Rose, Raymond Floyd, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Tim Clark -- who ousted Woods from the Accenture Match Play Championship on Thursday.
 
In the beginning, Els was hoping to lure 18 teams and wondered if he'd draw that many.
 
He wound up having to stop taking entries when the field got to 22 foursomes, even turning some pros down.
 
'We've got our foundation up and running now and we can really start getting involved with finding a cure,' Els said.
 
'Basically, that's what we want to do.'

Keeping Ben's condition silent pained Els for years.
 
At times, he wasn't the same Big Easy on the golf course, letting emotions get the better of him in certain situations, a far cry from his typical demeanor.
 
It was a strain at home, too, as it is for most families dealing with autism.
 
But Els counts himself lucky: His family is moving forward, not letting anger and frustration override everyday life.
 
'You can't help but feel for this kid, Ben,' Els said. 'He's a healthy kid and everything about him is perfect. He's just not going to be a, call it normal, kid one day. You're not going to play the same sport and he's not going to do the same things as you envisioned. That's the hard part.'
 
In many ways, 2008 was a year of major changes for Els' family.
 
After seeing one too many snowflakes in London, where the South African made his year-round base for some time, Els packed the family up and moved to South Florida, buying a home in Palm Beach County. Off-season training there is easier, many of Els' friends live in the area and there's no shortage of places to play golf.
 
And of course, his son's condition weighed heavily on the decision to move, with Els saying he finds U.S. facilities involved in autism research 'so far more advanced in treating the condition or finding a cure for the condition.'
 
That helped make the decision to uproot the family seem rather easy.
 
'I don't want to say the biggest factor, but he was the most influential factor for us to come here,' Els said.
 
He also wanted to make sure his daughter Samantha, now 9, would be comfortable. She's adjusted perfectly, Els said, after finding a soccer team, new friends, a good school and going horseback riding in her spare time.
 
Liezl Els, the player's wife, also was fine with the move ' and with her husband's choice to reveal Ben's story. She has immersed herself in research about autism, even more so than when Ben was first diagnosed.
 
'What we learned was startling,' she said in a public service announcement taped after the family revealed their situation.
 
One of the things the Elses have learned is this: There's no shortage of folks who want to help.
 
Admittedly, starting a new philanthropic quest in these difficult economic times across the globe is not easy. But Els is already seeing good things happen, and with the help of some power brokers, his quest is off to a flying start.
 
'Most of the people we've asked are guys who run major corporations or are friends of mine or guys I play golf with,' said Marvin Shanken, who is organizing Els' March 23 event. 'I want to say 90 percent of the people I went to said yes on the phone.'
 
Shanken is the publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines, and a rabid golfer who only found the game seven years ago. He's since gotten to play with Woods in a pro-am, has become close friends with Els, even playing with him at PGA National before last year's Honda Classic.
 
Shanken is thrilled to see Els bring light to the autism fight.
 
'I was so proud,' Shanken said. 'It showed such courage and compassion for others that he was going to make a difference. That is singularly what drove me to come to him with the idea for this event. I wanted to help. I just want to be there for him and for all the other parents who face the same challenges.'
 
Everywhere Els goes now, he hears questions about autism.
 
Fellow players often stop him and inquire how things are going. Some new fathers and fathers-to-be on the various worldwide tours have sought Els' counsel. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, who has an autistic child and whose foundation has raised more than $20 million to fight the condition, invited Els to tour the research center in Miami that bears his name.
 
Golf is still Els' passion.
 
He's just made room to add another one.
 
'Since I've come out with Ben's condition, it's been like wildfire, just with people coming out and talking about it,' Els said. 'It's amazing how big a problem it is. You don't know it until you get involved.'
 
Related Links:
  • Lerner: Els opens up about autistic son
  • Full Coverage ' Honda Classic
  • Getty Images

    After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

    By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the Nelson's future ...

    If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

    Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

    The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

    The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray


    On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

    Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

    He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

    Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

    Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta


    On golf and gambling ...

    On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

    Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

    Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

    Getty Images

    Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

    By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

    DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

    Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

    He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

    Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

    With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.


    Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

    AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


    As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

    “She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

    Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

    That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

    “I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

    Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

    “He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

    Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

    The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

    “I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

    Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

    “It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

    Getty Images

    Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

    By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

    DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

    Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

    “Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”


    Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

    AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


    Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

    “It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

    Getty Images

    Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

    By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

    DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

    Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

    Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.


    Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

    AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


    “I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

    Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

    Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

    “I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.