I’m always glad when Leo Durocher’s famous adage of “nice guys finish last” is proven wrong………but this time maybe a little more so.  Ernie Els has been struggling with trying to find his majestic golf game in recent years, and he’s also been struggling to cope with his 10-year old son Ben’s autism.  He has been consumed by it, and golf just wasn’t that important anymore for the 42-year old South African golf Hall of Famer, known as the “Big Easy”.  Six strokes behind to start today’s final round of the British Open, Els shot a 68 for a one-stroke victory while 54-hole leader Adam Scott shockingly limped home with four straight bogeys and a 75 to finish second.  Ernie Els, one of the most admired and well-liked players on the Tour, found his game just in time to hoist the Claret Jug and put a momentary smile back on his face again in the midst of his family ordeals. 


Autism is a development disorder that appears in the first three years of life, and now affects 1 in 88 children.  It impacts the brain’s normal development toward general social and communication skills.  The exact causes remain unknown, but we do know that boys are four times more likely to be affected than girls.  The behavior problems most associated with autism include: irritability, sudden outbursts, sleep difficulty, hyperactivity, aggression, attention difficulty, anxiety, impulsiveness, and severe mood swings.  Today, there is no cure.  However, with the proper therapy, many of these symptoms can be controlled but not totally eliminated.  It’s a VERY challenging situation for these children and their families.


Back in 1999 before his son was diagnosed, Ernie Els first got involved in helping disadvantaged children.  It was something always very important to him.  In 2009, he and his wife established “Els for Autism Foundation” and they have also created a non-profit charter school (ages 3-21) and autism research facility in the Palm Beach Gardens area where they reside.  They remain extremely active in many other charities involved with autism.             


It’s been very tough on and off the golf course.  We know why.  Only one Top Ten in 2011 when he had previously posted at least FOUR Top Tens EVERY year since his rookie season of 1994.  Then, 2012 began somewhat of a turnaround.  Even though he failed to qualify for the Masters for the first time in 20 years, he made 11 of 13 cuts, lost in a playoff in New Orleans in late April, and has already had four Top Tens.  Still, no one would have predicted this British Open triumph.  Many in and outside the world of golf will be thrilled for Ernie, and he will be the first to say that it was TOTALLY unexpected. 


This win was his first in over two years, and was the fourth major championship of his brilliant 19-year career.  He has 19 PGA Tour wins and is 5th all-time in career earnings.  He becomes only the 6th player to win the U.S. (‘94 and ‘97) and British Opens (2002 and 2012) twice.  He has also now won a major in THREE different decades.  His very first win was the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, and perhaps his last could be the 2012 British Open….not too shabby of bookends!  However, he now believes his biggest victory will not occur until he advances our understanding of autism. 


It IS good to see a nice guy win!    



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