Ernie Els: A Brief Bio of 'The Big Easy'

Ernie Els of South Africa poses with the Claret Jug after winning the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club on July 22, 2012
Ernie Els with the Claret Jug after winning the 2012 British Open, one of his four career wins in majors. Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Ernie Els was one of the best and most popular golfers of the 1990s into the early 2000s, known for his pure, easy swing and an easygoing personality. He won four major championships along the way and racked up impressive win totals on both the PGA Tour and European Tour.

Els — full name Theodore Ernest Els and nickname "Big Easy" — was born on Oct. 17, 1969, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Tour Victories by Ernie Els

  • PGA Tour: 19
  • European Tour: 28

(Note: All of Els' tournament wins are listed below.)

  • Major championships: 4

The four majors won by Els are the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Open tournaments, and the 2002 and 2012 British Open championships.

Awards and Honors

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • European Tour Order of Merit winner, 2003, 2004
  • European Tour scoring average leader 2003, 2004
  • Member, Presidents Cup International team, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003 (tie), 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013
  • Winner, Payne Stewart Award, 2015

Biography of Ernie Els

"Big Easy" is Ernie Els' nickname, and it's a great nickname because it describes so many things about him: he's tall; his manner on and off the course is very low-key and easygoing; his golf swing is fluid and appears effortless, yet produces great power.

Els grew up in South Africa playing rugby, cricket, tennis and golf. At age 13, he won a big regional tennis tournament, the Eastern Transvaal Junior Championships.

But at 14 he made it to scratch as a golfer, and decided to focus on golf. That year he won the Junior World Championship golf tournament in San Diego, Calif., beating Phil Mickelson by several strokes.

Els turned pro in 1989 and won his first pro tournament in 1991. In 1992, he won the South African Open, South African PGA and South African Masters tournaments; winning those three tournaments in the same year was something only Gary Player had previously done.

Early in 1994, Els notched his first win on the European Tour, and later that year he also won for the first time on the U.S. PGA Tour. And that was a big one: the 1994 U.S. Open, which Els claimed by winning a three-man playoff that lasted 20 holes.

Els always enjoyed great success splitting his time between the U.S. and European tours, while also playing in South Africa, Asia and other places around the world. He's won four majors with numerous other close calls.

Among the other big tournaments Els has won is the World Match Play Championship. In 1994-96, Els became the first golfer to win the event three consecutive years. He did it again in 2002-04, becoming the first six-time champion in that event's illustrious history. Els' third win in a major happened at the 2002 British Open.

In 2004, Els led the European Tour in money while finishing second on the U.S. PGA Tour's money list.

Els tore ligaments in his left knee in 2005, and the injury kept him out of golf, and then off form, for quite a while. But in late 2006 he won the South African Open, then late in 2007 he won the World Match Play Championship for the seventh time.

When Els won the Honda Classic in early 2008, it was his first victory on the USPGA Tour since 2004.

He won twice more in 2010. And late in 2010, by vote on the PGA Tour Ballot, Els was elected to join the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Becoming a Hall of Famer didn't mean Els' winning ways were over, though. Despite slumping in 2011 and the early parts of 2012 — Els didn't even qualify to play the 2012 Masters — he won his fourth major at the 2012 British Open.

In addition to his four wins in majors, Els finished second in six other majors and has 35 career Top 10 finishes in majors. He hasn't won on the PGA Tour, however, since 2012, or on the European Tour since 2013.

Business, Personal and Els for Autism

Off the golf course, Els' business interests include golf course design and a winery. He's produced numerous golf courses as well as vintages of wine. In addition, Els owns restaurants in both South Africa and the United States.

Els and his wife Liezl have been married since 1998. They have a daughter, Samantha, and a son, Ben.

Their son is autistic, and since 2009 Els has hosted the fund-raising Els for Autism Pro-Am golf tournament, and the Els for Autism foundation raises awareness and money for research. The Elses have also established the Els Center of Excellence, dedicated to fund-raising for a research facility and school focusing on autistic children. In addition, the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation supports junior golf in South Africa.

List of Ernie Els' Tournament Wins

PGA Tour
Here are Els' 19 PGA Tour wins listed chronologically:

  • 1994 U.S. Open
  • 1995 GTE Byron Nelson Golf Classic
  • 1996 Buick Classic
  • 1997 U.S. Open
  • 1997 Buick Classic
  • 1998 Bay Hill Invitational
  • 1999 Nissan Open
  • 2000 The International
  • 2002 Genuity Championship
  • 2002 British Open
  • 2003 Mercedes Championship
  • 2003 Sony Open in Hawaii
  • 2004 Sony Open in Hawaii
  • 2004 The Memorial
  • 2004 WGC American Express Championship
  • 2008 The Honda Classic
  • 2010 WGC CA Championship
  • 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational
  • 2012 British Open

European Tour

Els has 28 career victories on the European Tour. Listing them in chronological order:

  • 1994 Dubai Desert Classic
  • 1994 U.S. Open
  • 1995 Lexington South African PGA Championship
  • 1997 Johnnie Walker Classic
  • 1997 U.S. Open
  • 1998 South African Open
  • 1999 Alfred Dunhill South African PGA Championship
  • 2000 Standard Life Loch Lomond
  • 2002 Heineken Classic
  • 2002 Dubai Desert Classic
  • 2002 The Open Championship
  • 2003 Heineken Classic
  • 2003 Johnnie Walker Classic
  • 2003 Barclays Scottish Open
  • 2003 Omega European Masters
  • 2004 Heineken Classic
  • 2004 WGC American Express Championship
  • 2004 HSBC World Match Play Championship
  • 2005 Dubai Desert Classic
  • 2005 Qatar Masters
  • 2005 BMW Asian Open
  • 2005 Dunhill Championship
  • 2006 South African Airways Open
  • 2007 HSBC World Match Play Championship
  • 2010 WGC CA Championship
  • 2010 South African Open
  • 2012 British Open
  • 2013 BMW International Open