It's hard to believe it but Ernie Els turns 50 today. Here he shares his swing insights and how he's dealing with getting old
Ernie Els first came to light when he won the boys’ 13-14 category in the Junior World Championship, beating the young hotshot Phil Mickelson into second place in San Diego. A certain Eldrick Tont Woods won the 9-10 bracket.
That took place in 1984 – 35 years on and Els is now 50 years old. In between there have most notably been the four major wins, part of 71 victories around the world, eight Presidents Cup appearances and an awful lot of love for a player who has been one of the really good guys from day one…
People talk about how effortless your swing looks. How technical are you?
The rhythm is just there; it’s in my make-up and I’ve never really had to work on it. I wouldn’t say I’m technical but I’ve got a good understanding of the mechanics. A lot of it my dad taught me, and I learned a lot from Phil Simmons, the pro at Germiston back home in South Africa. The fundamentals to me are key. Even today it’s the first thing I think about when I go hit balls.
Do you like watching yourself on video?
I don’t really make a habit of it! But no, it’s fine. You obviously get used to it.
What are your common faults and how do you fix them?
My faults are the same now as they were at the start of my career. You’d hear a lot of players say the same thing. For me, it’s a tendency to take the club back with just my hands and arms, basically out of sync with my body and the club then gets too far on the inside and a little laid off at the top. So I’m always mindful of that.
How many swing thoughts do you like to have in your head?
As I said, I’m always working on the fundamentals – grip, posture, stance, ball position. I guess if there was one swing thought that’s stayed with me, it’s trying to move the club away from the ball with the arms and body working together and making sure I finish my backswing with my left shoulder behind the ball. From there, you can make a smooth transition and go through the gears into the hitting area.
Which particular ‘feels’ have worked for you and when did they pay off?
It changes. I mean, you don’t always have the same feel. Every day is different, that’s one of the big challenges with golf. But early in my career I realised the importance of having a stock shot that you can rely on under pressure.
My bad shot, even when I was a kid, was a quick hook, when the hands get too active. So I worked hard on being able to hit a gentle little fade. It’s a shot I’ve always felt like I could trust, you’re kind of blocking out the left side of the course. You need that; you need a stock shot.
Whose swing, past or present, would you most like to swing it like?
I always loved watching Freddie Couples.
The most hypnotising swing on tour.
Happy 60th birthday, Freddie.
— NCG (@NCG_com) October 3, 2019
It’s hard to think of a more naturally gifted swinger of the club than him. He’s also the best long-iron player I’ve ever seen.
How does your swing differ now from when you were at your peak?
At the start of my career my swing was longer, more loose and it had a lot more leg action and hand action. But as you get older your timing isn’t quite as razor sharp, shall we say. So as I grew into my 40s we shortened the swing a little, also made it wider and more compact. I still have that nice smooth transition, that just comes naturally to me, but I focus on keeping my legs and hands quieter and keeping my upper body and legs in sync. I’ve lost a little power over the years but I can still get it out there pretty good.
What’s a good tip for those of us of a similar age?
Try to stay flexible and never forget the fundamentals; that’s the foundation of your swing right there. Also try to stay in love with the game.
Ernie Els is a global ambassador for XXIO.