Hall of Fame fitting honor for global Els

May 10, 2011 

It's a very strong possibility that Ernie Els' best years as a professional golfer are behind him. That said, it's equally likely that several more wins, even a major championship perhaps, could still be part of his future.

Yet whatever one thinks of his past accomplishments or his ability to add to them, there is no arguing that the present is especially special for the celebrated South African, who was one of six people inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla. Joining Els were a couple other accomplished former professional golfers in 1957 Masters champion Doug Ford and Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki, former United States President George H.W. Bush and legendary CBS Sports producer Frank Chirkinian.

Given that diverse and storied class of celebrants, it was certainly a special night at the World Golf Hall of Fame, but without question Els was the center of attention as a truly global professional who has influenced so much in the world of golf.

"Most of the people in here are idols and heroes of mine," Els said of the Hall of Fame. "To think you are in the same group as them, well, it really makes you stop and think about it a little bit. It is truly special."

A quick look at the books, and one quickly sees that Els is indeed worthy of the honor. Els is the owner of three major championships -- two U.S Opens and a British Open -- and if it weren't for the dominance of Tiger Woods during the past decade-plus, he might easily have several more. All told, Els owns 60 international titles, including five South African Opens, and was an early leader in the globalization of professional golf that we see today.

Though admittedly struggling of late, Els' induction comes just before he turns 42, and by his assessment still with plenty of game left in his bag. Thankfully, the World Golf Hall of Fame doesn't bother with silly retirement rules when deciding who is worthy of a plaque -- or a locker -- in its sacred hall of history. Rather, golf inducts players when they are worthy, not when they are weathered.

"I don't know too many players on tour that can say they are in the Hall of Fame," Els said. "It will be special to stop on the first tee knowing you made the Hall of Fame while still trying to win golf tournaments and major championships."

Els burst on the scene in 1994, winning the U.S. Open in a playoff over Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie. The South African repeated the accomplishment three years later at Congressional Golf Club, site of this year's U.S. Open, again outlasting Montgomerie. In 2002, Els would add the British Open to his championship ledger and add to his growing family with the birth of his son Ben.

During that same time, Els has become a popular figure on Hilton Head Island, competing in numerous Heritage tournaments and several times coming painfully close to claiming victory at Harbour Town Golf Links. Els has competed in the Heritage 12 times, finishing in the top 10 five times en route to winning more than $1.3 million in prize money.

In two days, Els will be introduced at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., as he has so many times before. They will tell the gallery of his major championships and his worldwide victories. Then, before he puts the peg in the ground, they will say one thing that hasn't been uttered about him before.

They will call him a Hall of Fame golfer.

It's a major accomplishment to be sure, but one Els hopes is just another in a list to come.

"I know time is running out, but I also know there have been plenty of players that have won major championships in their 40s," Els said. "I'm hoping to get a kick start. I need to get going."

Considering where's he's been and what's he's accomplished, there is little doubt that will happen.

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