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

All about the popular South African known as '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.

Date of birth: Oct. 17, 1969
Place of birth: Johannesburg, South Africa
Nickname: Big Easy (for the smooth, seemingly effortless way he swings the club)

Tour Victories by Ernie Els:

• PGA Tour: 19
• European Tour: 27

View list of Ernie Els' career PGA Tour wins

Major Championships:

• U.S. Open: 1994, 1997
• British Open: 2002, 2012

Ernie Els 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

Ernie Els Biography:

"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 major 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, something Gary Player had previously done.

In 1993, Els got his first win on the European Tour, and in 1994 his first on the U.S. PGA Tour.

And that was a big one: the 1994 U.S. Open, which Els claimed by winning a 3-man playoff that lasted 20 holes.

Els has enjoyed great success splitting his time between the US 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 straight years. He did it again in 2002-04, becoming the first 6-time champion in that event's illustrious history.

In 2004, Els led the European Tour in money while finishing second on the US 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.

Off the course, Els' business interests include golf course design and a winery. He also is involved with two foundations. One, Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, supports junior golf in South Africa. The other is Els For Autism, which raises awareness about and raises money for research into autism.