Els gets into Hall of Fame on the first ballot
AP Golf Writer
ATLANTA (AP) – Like most golfers, Ernie Els always wonders if he could have achieved more in his career. He was reminded Wednesday he has done plenty with the announcement that he has been elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Els was the only player to receive enough votes from the PGA Tour, the first year his name was on the ballot. The most global player of his era, the Big Easy has won 62 times around the world, including two U.S. Opens and a British Open.
“It makes you feel very good about what you’ve done,” Els said.
Els will be among five players who are inducted May 9 in St. Augustine, Fla., the Monday of The Players Championship next year.
Doug Ford and Jock Hutchison were elected through the Veteran’s Category, while former president George H.W. Bush was selected through the Lifetime Achievement category. It will be the second straight induction ceremony featuring a former U.S. president, with Dwight D. Eisenhower inducted in 2009.
World Golf Hall of Fame chief executive Jack Peter said one player was elected fron the International ballot. That player will be announced Oct. 6.
Ford, a former Masters and PGA champion, won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was the player of the year in 1955. Hutchison, born in St. Andrews, won the 1920 PGA Championship and the 1921 British Open. His 14 tour victories include two Western Opens.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Bush was selected for a lifetime promoting the game and his public support, along with his devotion to The First Tee since the program to reach youth began in 1997.
Els received 66 percent of the vote from a panel of journalists, golf dignataries and Hall of Fame members, 1 percent more than is required for election. He would have made it anyway through a clause that allows the player with the highest percentage to be elected, provided no one gets 65 percent and the player gets at least 50 percent.
Ford, who also was on the PGA Tour ballot, received 50 percent. Fred Couples received 32 percent of the vote, followed by Mark O’Meara (29 percent) and Davis Love III (27 percent).
Among other criteria, PGA Tour players must be at least 40 and have 10 years on the PGA Tour to be considered.
“I thought I had to be a little more senior,” said Els, who turns 41 next month.
Vijay Singh was 43 when he was inducted in 2006.
Of all his worldwide titles, one that stands out for Els is his first big one – the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, in a three-man playoff that included Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie.
“If you rewind the history just to my homeland of South Africa, when President Mandela was elected as president, that was a huge year in 1994,” he said. “If I look back, that will be my defining moment, as a young pro from South Africa and winning the biggest tournament in the world, the U.S. Open. You’ve got to call that a defining moment. And from then on, it was a very comfortable ride.”
Els went on to win the U.S. Open at Congressional in 1997, and the British Open at Muirfield in 2002.
He possessed so much skill and power, along with a soft touch around the greens, that Hall of Fame member Curtis Strange referred to him that year as “the next guy.” Because of Strange’s thick Virginia accent, some newspaper accounts quoted him as saying the “next god.”
Els showed early he was something special.