Ernie Els Seizes Claret Jug: Make No Mistake, Lytham Was No Winged Foot

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Ernie Els Seizes Claret Jug: Make No Mistake, Lytham Was No Winged Foot

The 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham should not be remembered for an Adam Scott breakdown, but rather for one of golf’s great champions resurfacing to further cement his already undeniable legacy.

There’s no doubt Scott’s loss was heartbreaking. The guy played the best golf of anybody all week, and contrary to what the commentators on TV said, his loss was in no way comparable to Jean Van De Velde’s collapse at the 1999 British Open.

For 14 holes, Scott hit the ball conservatively but solidly, making a ton of easy pars, although certainly not pushing the lead by any means. He started to show nerves on the final four holes, but ultimately Els should be given credit for applying an absurd amount of pressure. Had Els not birdied the last forcing Scott’s hand, I think the Australian would not have stumbled as he did.

Ultimately, the 32-year-old has to feel terrible, but there’s plenty of reason for him to hold his head high. His peers seemingly all worship his swing, expect him to win a major sooner rather than later, and his approach into the 18th green was as gutsy as they come.

For all of those who will be throwing around “Adam Scott choked” comments, go ahead and imagine hitting that shot given the circumstances. I also think Scott hit a good putt on the 18th that would have forced a playoff, despite the ball curling left at the last moment.

The 2012 Open should not be remembered as the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot is—as much for Phil Mickelson losing it as Geoff Ogilvy winning it. Els played solidly all week, and to put together a 68 in the final round of a major with wind gusting up to 25mph on a course with 205 bunkers is remarkable.

It serves as a kind reminder of the kind of golfer Ernie Els is—one of the most under-appreciated of my generation.

I was about 15 years old when I took my first golf lesson, and I vividly remember following an old leather-skinned pro into his office, absorbing the smell of hand-rolled cigars, and spending five minutes studying a swing sequence of Ernie Els tacked to the wall.

I then proceeded to hit balls under the pro’s gaze, just one of thousands of students from beginners to PGA professionals who have sought to replicate Ernie’s positions and seemingly effortless tempo.

With all the hype given to Phil Mickelson as Tiger’s chief rival, it’s very difficult for many to remember that Ernie was really more a casualty of the Tiger Woods era than Phil ever was. Ernie now also equals Phil’s record in majors with four wins, becoming only the sixth player in history to capture two US Opens and two British Opens.

He’s won 65 tournaments around the world, reached No. 1 in the world ranking, won the European Tour Order of Merit twice, and captured the World Match Play Championship a record seven times. And unlike Mr. Woods, Ernie’s done it all while being a great guy and a fantastic ambassador for the international game by all accounts.

Ernie has long been one of my favorite players, and when I reflect on his career, visions of his gritty US Open victories in 1994 and 1997 first come to mind. His Open Championship at Muirfield in 2002 and now at Lytham in 2012 will also be career milestones.

But perhaps more than anything else, I recall Ernie’s duel with Tiger at the 2003 President’s Cup in his home country of South Africa. It may have been the highest level of clutch golf I’ve ever seen, with Ernie matching Tiger multiple times, drained putt for drained putt, en route to a 17-17 tie.

Ernie is one of the best three or four players of my generation, and with an enormous frame and a swing that relies on its incredible arc and solid contact as opposed to fast hands, hip rotation, or fast twitch muscles, he has the potential to compete for a long time to come.

I’m thrilled to see Ernie’s return to form and I hope he captures another major or two—preferably a Masters —so long as he leaves one or two for Adam Scott to claim.

 

Geoff Roberts is the Founder & Managing Editor of howiGit.com, a Boston sports blog.

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