Throwback Thursday: When Ernie Els met Nelson Mandela

The Scoop

NCG's weekly look back through the archives throws up a tale from when one of golf's most popular players met one of the sport's most famous fans.

The Background

Nelson Mandela never learned to play golf but he was an avid fan, particularly of Gary Player, who he regarded as a national hero.

When meeting top players, Mandela was said to appear as smitten and excited as the golfer.

He was a firm believer in the power of sport – including golf – to reunite the South African nation and said: “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.

“It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.

“It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”

The Scene

The European Tour heads to South Africa each December, for the Nedbank and the Alfred Dunhill Championship – the former of which often falls on the anniversary of Mandela’s death.

Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95, but he is pictured here, in 1996, meeting countryman Ernie Els at the Alfred Dunhill, which that year was contested at Houghton in Johannesburg from February 15-18.

The Legacy

The Nelson Mandela Championship in Durban was due to be played just a week after his death.

It was brought forward a day to accommodate the state funeral, where across South Africa there was an outpouring of public grief, including from those golfers whom Mandela adored.

Els said: “It is a very sad day for South Africa and the world. We have lost one of the iconic leaders of our time.”

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