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Thu Apr 17 00:50:18 SAST 2014

Els one of golf's great gentlemen

TEAMtalk Media | 24 July, 2012 12:230 Comments
141st Open Championship - Final Round
Ernie Els of South Africa chats with Adam Scott of Australia after winning the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club on July 22, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England
Image by: Harry How / Getty Images

Ernie Els did himself and his country proud on Sunday, not only because he won his second Open and his fourth major, but also because of the humble and gracious way he accepted the coveted Claret Jug.

The big South African, who has also won the US Open twice, was cheered all the way around Lancashire's always hospitable Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club all week - and never more so than when he ended his charge on the closing stretch with a rock-solid birdie at the 18th.

It was already clear then that he would be a very popular winner of the 141st Open, the 11th to be played at Royal Lytham and the third to be won by a South African following the victories of Bobby Locke and Gary Player.

This not only with the large concentration of South Africans in the large galleries, but also with the British hosts themselves

'The Big Easy' had to wait for some 20 minutes to learn that Adam Scott, the Australian who had dominated this Tournament all week and had teed off on Sunday with a six shot lead over him, would inexplicably implode coming down the final stretch, would bogey the 15th, 16th and 17th, find a bunker that made it impossible to make the green in two at the par-4, 18th for the birdie he so desperately need to snatch back a last gasp victory and then, worse still, miss a very gettable putt on a tension-packed final green that would have put him into a face-saving play-off against Els.

Scott, who, I believe, would also have been a popular winner, looked crushed after seeing that fatal, final putt slide past the hole and it was clear that Els felt genuinely sorry for a rival he would describe as a fine golfer and a great friend who he was sure would go on to win more than one major in the future.

This was clear, both in a brief TV interview Els had immediately after his victory and later during the official presentation of the traditional winners gold medal and the Claret Jug for Scott's misfortune was the first thing Els mentioned on both occasions.

"I feel so deeply sorry for Adam," he said. "He is one of my really good friends and that was an awful way to lose."

Later 42-year-old Els would write on his website: "Wow, what a week. It's a crazy, crazy game - this was one of the greatest days of my career and one of the best rounds of my career.

"I said at the start of the tournament that I felt like something special might happen and it doesn't get more special than this. It's an amazing feeling.

"Obviously the putt on 18 was as sweet as they come, right into the heart of the cup. The crowd's reaction was incredible. They are the moments you dream about really."

But, clearly out of respect for Scott in his moment of despair, Els played down his great moment of triumph during his on-course celebrations by making light-heated comments like, "I feel pretty stunned right now that things went my way" and "I am not sure whether you people (the galleries) were cheering for me because you liked me or whether it was because you actually thought I could win" and concentrated on praising his family and his professional team for the important roles they had played in reviving his flagging career.

Taking much of his personal glory and spreading it around, this smiling, likeable 21st century giant of South African sport thanked his wife and his father, his coaches, his caddy, his new eye co-ordination guru and the friendly Royal Lytham crowds for all the help they had given him.

He also praised South Africa's iconic statesman Nelson Mandela whose 94th birthday on July 18, 1918, was celebrated around the world during this year's Open.

We have much to thank Madiba," Els said. "He played a huge role in peacefully making South Africa the place it is today and I am grateful for the way we (the country's sportsmen and women) have benefited.

Yes, big humble Ernie came across on Sunday as one of the game's great gentlemen who won't easily be forgotten.

He's definitely the kind of champion that helps to make sport such an important part of 21st Century society.

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