Malelane - He's been through the mill, and
50-year-old Ernie Els had a little advice for the European players who have
graduated from the Challenge Tour and play their first European Tour event in
this week's Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
The man who won the tournament in 2005 - and also memorably
lost it in 2007 to England's John Bickerton when he twice dunked his approach
to the 18th in the water surrounding the green - dug into his memory
banks ahead of the European Tour's season-opener which is co-sanctioned by the
"Back in the day, I played in some smaller European Tour
events - Majorca and Santa Ponsa - and I remember those days," said Els. "You
never forget those days. You learn a lot from them.
"You see very good players playing the game. I remember
watching Seve Ballesteros hitting balls on the range, and I just wanted to hang
around him all week to see how he hit the ball and how he approached the game."
Heading up the list of Challenge Tour graduates is Italy's
Francesco Laporta, who cut his teeth on the Sunshine Tour after turning
professional in South Africa in 2013. Between 2013 and 2015 Laporta played
full-time on the Sunshine Tour, with his best finish coming with a share of
second at the 2013 Zimbabwe Open.
And, although the Italian has already played a season on the
European Tour in 2016, he knows enough about South African golfing lore to
listen carefully to what Els says by way of advice for cementing a place on a
"The guys have just got to learn from learning, you know,"
said Els. "There's no short cut to it. Just practice hard and play with guys
that are a little bit better than you and they will pull you along."
That advice speaks of being not expecting instant
gratification from the game, and it’s advice Els plans to follow himself in
playing the tournament this week.
"I think patience is going to be a huge
factor this week," he said.
"With the new grass here, it's very different from when I
won. It depends on the weather. If we have a lot of rain, then it will help the
players, but if there is no rain - which looks likely - then it's going to be
very firm and fast. And if you miss a fairway here, you've got that wispy
grass, and there’s no spin coming out of that. So, there's a lot of holes
you’re going to have play away from the flag."
Els has seen it all in golf, so he's cautious about talking
up too much of a good game ahead of his first round.
"I'm okay. You know, I'm
50 years old, so I'm not quite the player I used to be, but I'm happy to be
here and I love the course," he said. "With patience that's going to be a
virtue, hopefully I'll have a chance if I can keep up with the guys."
- Sunshine Tour