No one in this week’s Saudi International field has more European Tour wins than Ernie Els — he’s seventh all-time with 28 — second best is Lee Westwood with 25. “The Big Easy” goes way back with the Middle East — his first European Tour was at the Dubai Desert Classic in 1994. And he understands the power of sport and how it can make the world a better place.
“The country [Saudi Arabia] is in the process of change. Down the road’s going to be a lot of positives coming out of Saudi,” Els tells WBGD after shooting 74 and 71 for a five-over total — the cutline sits at minus-one.
“In our country [South Africa], sport really brought people together. We came through a period of change in the late 80’s and 1990’s. President Mandela at that time, really used the power of sport to bring people together. The whole nation would root for the national rugby team who won the world cup back in those days and our soccer team, and individual sportsmen like myself, Gary Player and Ratief Goosen and a lot of other players,” Els adds.
For someone that has won more than 70 golf tournaments around the world, Els could likely make the cut here in Saudi Arabia if was practicing as much as he did in the 90’s. But it feels like he has shifted his energy to golf course design and more impactful causes . Whereas golf was once the main event, now it’s a tool to spread goodwill. General humanitarian efforts and Els for Autism are top of his list, the Foundation has raised more than $26 million since 2011. The 11th Edition of the Annual Golf Challenge Series is pushing through in 2021 — the next event is set for Tuesday, April 20 at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Florida.
The series of events at golf courses in North America happens from April through October. The Els for Autism Golf Challenge series is one of the largest charity-driven, amateur golf tournaments. Registration is open and will support the Foundation’s mission to better understand the aspirations of people with autism spectrum disorder — register: here
We spoke with Ernie Els after his second round 71 at the Saudi International which is being played at Royal Greens Country Club. We spoke talked about Saudi Arabia and how golf can impact the world — watch the conversation below.