Masters 2016: Despite yips Ernie Els proves he is a true champion

The Masters

The four-time Major champion was humiliated on the opening green but refused to let the yips defeat him

The opening day of the 80th Masters belonged to Jordan Spieth, as the defending champion picked up where he left off and assumed his now-customary position at the top of the leaderboard.

But the abiding memory will be of a man who currently owns double the number of Majors.

Yips Ernie Els

As a result of the yips Ernie Els, the 1994 and 1997 US Open champion and winner of the Claret Jug in 2002 and 2012, six-putted the 1st green from three feet.

Five over after one, it was to the South African’s enormous credit that he finished with an 80.

If ever there were a reminder that sport is fickle then this was it. Less than four years ago, we were watching Els convert a 10-footer on the final green at Lytham to earn his fourth Major title when it seemed those days were behind him.

Since then, of course, his preferred method of putting has outlawed and with it, seemingly, his self-belief.

Ernie Els yip

Back in the 1990s, you would not have wished for another man to be standing over a four-footer if your life depended on it. Colin Montgomerie, for one, had no answer, most notably when finishing close behind in Els’ two US Opens.

Decline

The decline was gradual, and in 2004 Els really ought to have won the Green Jacket his distinguished Masters career deserves. Unfortunately, Phil Mickelson had other ideas, playing his last 13 holes in eight under par. Later that summer, he ought to have won the Open, missing out in a play-off to Todd Hamilton at Troon.

History may well conclude that the conquering of Lytham was a final hurrah, a notable blip in the downward trend of his career.

Ernie Els scoreboard

This was not the first time we have seen Els’ putter twitch. A horror-show of an 18-incher at the Dunhill Links last autumn springs to mind.

But nothing on this level, in public at least.

What followed was perhaps more heroic than anything we have seen in a career at the top spanning three decades.

Four hours after looking plaintively at his caddy, his palms upturned, unable to coax the ball into the hole – or even hit it – from a matter of inches, there was the 46-year-old tapping in for par at the 16th just seven over par. Or to put it another way, having played the next 15 holes in one over.

Els would finish with a couple of bogeys but it hardly mattered.

Courage

Courage, pride, resilience, bloody-mindedness, mental strength – only Els knows how he managed it.

There are those who will be laughing at what happened to him on the 1st green. For most who have seen it, not so funny.

Ernie Els at the 12th

Els is not the first to be afflicted by the yips and nor will he be the last. Like many before him, he sought refuge in the long putter, anchored against his chest. Whether at professional or recreational level, not many golfers would begrudge a fellow competitor with the yips being able to use such a method.

Certainly with the yips Ernie Els can’t be competitive.

Sadly, in becoming not just a last port of call but a preferred way of putting on tour, the authorities felt compelled to act.

The thin end of the wedge (or should that be putter) is that the afflicted will now be forced away from competition. We shouldn’t mock them. One day it might just be us.

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