ANCASTER, ONT. - Ernie Els strides into a room with an easy step, and easy smile. He’s known as the Big Easy, after all.
But it wasn’t always so.
Els is the star of the RBC Canadian Open this week, after winning the British Open in dramatic fashion last Sunday.
He is a man who has revived his golf game, but perhaps it is because he has his private life settled as well.
Els revealed recently that his nine-year-old son, Ben, has autism, although he and wife, Liezl, prefer to keep their lives private.
“We weren’t public with it for quite some time,” Els said Wednesday. “For us to be public, we really felt that the whole community would get kind of a bolt of energy.”
Awareness is key, he said.
Over the past couple of years, Els and his family (which includes 13-year-old daughter, Samantha) have set up an autism foundation, bought some land, figured out a mission statement, set goals. It occupied a lot of his time and thoughts.
After winning the British Open, he said, he’s now able to separate his two concerns.
“It’s a lot simpler now than it has been,” the 42-year-old South African said. “And I think emotionally and mentally, I’m also in a better place than I have been in the last couple of years with the whole situation.”
Not only that, but he’s more comfortable with his game.
He started to feel as if he belonged on the golf course again. He felt more in control of his emotions, he said.
He felt he could stand up to the pressure again – like in the days when he was the world’s No. 1 player.
Els’s son has a happy nature, although he is shy, and responds to loving attention. Els takes him everywhere.
At the Open Championship, Els said, he made a lot of putts with Ben in mind, because he knew his son was watching.
“He loves when I hit golf balls,” Els said. “He’s always there. He comes with me. He loves the flight of the ball and the sound.”
Els said he was trying to keep Ben excited and happy by sinking as many putts as he could. It worked for him.
Despite the craziness regarding his past few days after his victory at Royal Lytham and St Annes, Els doesn’t seem to be ruffled, or weary or overwhelmed by it all.
“I’ve been trying to just be low-key,” he said.
He partied with friends in London last Sunday night, slept quite late Monday, and spent the entire day with his family. He flew to Toronto on Tuesday morning to fulfill an obligation with the Right to Play organization.
Els joked he was going to “blow off” the Canadian Open. But in reality, he has a multiyear endorsement deal with title sponsor Royal Bank of Canada and has made the Canadian Open a fixture on his calendar.
“I should choose my words more carefully,” he said with a grin. “But I was always coming.”
Surprisingly enough, Els says he feels fresh coming into the Canadian Open – even though he hasn’t prepared himself on the course the way he would have liked.
“But I’ll be competing at 100 per cent [on Thursday,],” he promised.