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December 9 2013

8:23 AM

Els blog: Difficult, sad week

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Ernie Els is a four-time major champion.

Editor's note: Ernie Els has been writing a blog for PGATOUR.COM in 2013 and this is his latest installment. For more information on the World Golf Hall of Famer, visit www.ernieels.com.

It seems somehow disrespectful to talk about my golf in the context of what happened at the weekend, so all I’ll say for now is that I found it virtually impossible to properly focus on my game. Playing with a heavy heart; that’s the simplest way to express how my emotions were on the golf course. Deep down inside I just felt very, very sad out there.

Of course, Friday was a tough and emotional day for our nation and for the world. There was obviously a somber mood at the golf course that morning and understandably the fans were a little more subdued than normal. Hats off to everyone involved in running the Nedbank Golf Challenge. These were unique and difficult circumstances and I thought the guys handled everything in a very respectful and correct way.

My own personal tribute to the greatest human being I ever met is posted elsewhere on this website so there’s no need to repeat it. Suffice to say, Nelson Mandela’s passing is something that will be tough for all South Africans to come to terms with, but at the same time we have to be thankful for what he did and also celebrate the life of one of the most iconic leaders the world has ever known.

He never saw himself as a saint or a hero – he was too humble for that kind of thing – but that’s what he was to us. He changed our lives and you cannot say enough good things about the man.

We met many times. Among the most special was during The Presidents Cup in 2003, when President Mandela invited Tiger and me around for tea at his place. He treated us like we were his two sons. His sincerity was amazing and it really left a mark on both of us.

Another man who left his mark on my life was my former coach Jos Vanstiphout, who also sadly passed away at the weekend. We heard the news when we got to the golf course on Saturday morning and it was devastating for me. Jos meant so much to my career. We really connected and there was a genuine love for each other. It was a love-hate at times, as many people will know, but the stuff he taught me and the way that he did it was totally different. His approach was unique and I know he got under a lot of people’s skin but for me he was just brilliant.
 
He gave me the absolute honest truth at exactly the times when I really needed it, never more so than during the Open at Muirfield in 2002. Just before the playoff he took me to one side and told me to pull my finger out of my backside in no uncertain terms and told me to do what he had trained me to do! He taught me to think in a certain way and he helped me win that Open, no question. In all we probably won 25 tournaments together in quite a short period.
 
Another memorable moment that springs to my mind was the time I shot a course record 60 at Royal Melbourne on the way to winning the Heineken in 2004. I walked on to the range the next day and he looked at me that way he did sometimes. I said “What?” and he said “You know and I know that you should have shot 58.” That was Jos! He knew me so well and was one of the only people who could say that to me.
 
The thing is, Jos had a lot of bravado but deep down he was a genuine, genuine man. He came from a tough background where he had nothing. He didn’t have the education, but he understood the psychology of how things worked and he gave that to me. I will be forever grateful to him for that. He changed my life and I am really going to miss him. I know you shouldn’t have regrets but I regret not seeing him before he left us, just to give him a hug or something. It’s really tough.
 
Anyway, the Nedbank was my last tour event of the year and we’ll be staying in South Africa now through the festive period and into the New Year.

Bye for now.

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