Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Ernie Els will be on a dual Asian mission when he lines up at this week’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia and next week’s CJ CUP @NINE BRIDGES in South Korea.
The Big Easy, as Els is fondly known, wants to enjoy a final fling competing alongside the stars from the PGA Tour before focusing his attention on the PGA Tour Champions when he turns 50 in 2019.
As the International Team captain for next year’s Presidents Cup, the 19-time PGA Tour winner is also keen to follow the progress of some of the new talents who currently feature in the team’s standings and will compete in the same tournaments over the next fortnight.
Els will make his fifth appearance in the US$7 million CIMB Classic at TPC Kuala Lumpur followed by a maiden showing at the US$9.5 million CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES (October 18-21) on Jeju island.
“Honestly, it’s been one of my greatest pleasures, as a player and golf course designer, to have been able to travel extensively around the world and around Asia. It’s one of the reasons I’m very proud of my role as an ambassador and honorary member of the Asian Tour. It’s a special relationship for me,” said Els, whose Ernie Els Design company is a Full Business Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
“The first CIMB Classic in 2010 (where he finished tied fifth) also happened to be the first time I’d ever played a four-day golf tournament in Malaysia. The golf course and the setting were great and I remember everybody – the sponsors and the fans – really got involved and made the players feel welcome.
“They’ve got a fantastic venue at TPC Kuala Lumpur, a very strong field and, for me, it feels like the perfect way to get the ball rolling on the new season. I’m really looking forward to this tournament and the CJ CUP, especially as I missed out on that last year due to having the flu.”
A tied third finish at the recent Fiji International has provided Els with the impetus to begin his 2018-19 PGA Tour season on a strong note. The smooth-swinging South African, who has also registered 47 international wins in his illustrious career, feels he can reproduce some good golf before he switches his focus to the PGA Tour Champions.
“It’s been a frustrating few years, not getting the results I’d have liked. It’s been pretty depressing at times. But my game’s been in much better shape than the scores suggest. I feel physically fit, healthy, and still have the desire to compete. I don’t want to make any predictions. This will probably be my last full season on the PGA Tour before we switch our attentions to the PGA Tour Champions, so obviously there’s big motivation to play some good golf, but I also want to try to enjoy it,” said the World Golf Hall of Fame member.
He is also excited to see the PGA Tour expanding its footprint in the Far East, which also includes the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai (October 25-28).
“The quality of tournaments across Asia says it all. You can see it in the way the world’s major Tours want to be involved here. Big sponsors are jumping on board. You’ve got this little stretch now, the Asian Swing if you like, with three great tournaments attracting more and more of the top guys. The fans are loving it. It’s all had a kind of snowball effect, so you can only see it getting bigger and better in years to come,” Els said.
With leading Asian players such as Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Indian Shubhankar Sharma, Chinese Taipei’s CT Pan, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, Koreans An Byeong-hun and Kim Si-woo featuring in the CIMB Classic and CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, Els will be watching their progress closely in view of his role as International Team captain for the Presidents Cup which takes place in Melbourne, Australia in December 2019.
“That’s one of the fringe benefits, so to speak, of me coming to Asia and playing these events. Obviously, I know some of the guys already. There’s a way to go yet before we make any decisions, but it’s a building process. This is an opportunity for me to talk to people and see for myself some of the new talent. I love that. It’s one of the nicer aspects of this new job of mine!” said Els.
He was also delighted to see Tiger Woods, his opposing captain for the Presidents Cup, return to the winner’s circle at last month’s Tour Championship.
“I’m not that surprised. He’s young enough and when he came back you could see he had that attitude: ‘I want to compete and win tournaments’. It didn’t happen straight away, but that’s to be expected. When you’ve been out of the game through injury, it takes a while to get comfortable again, to get things flowing again. I’ve been there myself; I know what that feels like. It’s good for golf to have Tiger back winning again. He’s swinging it well, he’s clearly still got the desire and the passion. If you have that, you can compete well into your 40s.”