ERIN, WISCONSIN – His loping walk is still the same, one of the most distinctive in the game, one that eats up the ground. His figure is fuller but still recognisably his. His smile that seems to reach from one shoulder to the other remains and his swing, well, was there ever a smoother swinger of a golf club than Ernie Els? And on certain days, he plays golf as he once did.
The first round of the US Open was one of those days. He wasn’t the golfer of recent times, unable to hole the putts he used to sink with his eyes shut. He wasn’t raging against the advancing years, even though he will be 48 in four months. He felt loose, without pain in his body for the first time for some time.
His dad had sent him a photo of the US Open trophy he had won 20 years ago at Congressional, his second victory in this championship. In the photo were Els, his wife, Liezl, and Neels, his father, and Hettie, his mother. It brought back memories. “In many ways it feels like yesterday,” Els said. “In other ways it feels like a lifetime ago. I’m so blessed to be playing the game. It is so nice to be able to compete.”
And compete he did with a round that looked as though it might have been a 68 until strokes slipped away on the 17th and 18th, the only two bogeys on his card. He found himself five strokes behind Rickie Fowler, who is nearly 20 years younger, but that didn’t matter.
Something important had happened to Els, one of golf’s warriors. In his 25th US Open, just two months after he had played in his 23rd Masters, he had been competitive in his 88th round in this event. “I still want to be out there with the guys and play,” he said. On this day, he did.
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