5 things learned from a round with 4-time major winner Ernie Els

Ernie Els of South Africa plays his second shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club on November 09, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona.

What can you learn from a round with four-time major champion Ernie Els? Plenty! Here are five takeaways from 18 holes with The Big Easy.

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Fifty-four-year-old Ernie Els has had one of the game’s most impressive careers.

The South African World Golf Hall-of-Famer won 19 times on the PGA Tour and 47 times internationally, inclusive of four major championships — and he did it during Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson’s heydey, too.

These days, Els is showcasing his talents primarily on the PGA Tour Champions, where he’s competing in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club this week. After an opening round of 63 on Thursday, Els led the field by two shots with three rounds to play.

One person totally unsurprised by Els’ performance was my husband, Paul, the head pro at Phoenix Country Club, who got a front-row seat to Els’ incredible talent when he played with him in Wednesday’s pro-am. It was a fantastic experience for Paul, and he came away raving about not only Els’ game but also Els’ character, and the way he made the day so enjoyable for the group.

Naturally, I couldn’t help but pepper Paul with questions about how watching Els navigate the course could help teach the rest of us. Below are his top-five takeaways.

1. Tempo is everything

Els doesn’t have the nickname “The Big Easy” for nothing.

“Ernie has the same routine every time,” Paul said. “All the way from tee to green, same tempo, same rhythm, very smooth. Never changes. As soon as he gets over the ball, his routine is consistent down to the split second before he pulls the trigger. All the great players have their timing down perfectly, as he’s no different.”

2. Full-swing bunker shots, no matter the distance

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Paul said he was really impressed by Els’ bunker game, and that his rhythm in the bunker was the same as it was for shots off the tee and from the fairway.

“He took a really long, full backswing and a really full follow-through on every bunker shot, regardless of its length,” Paul said. “It was a full, fluid swing. It wasn’t short, it wasn’t long. It was the same tempo as every other shot.”

3. Wedge mastery

“His chipping was phenomenal,” Paul said. “Most amateurs stand too far from the ball. Ernie stands upright and close when he’s chipping. Even the heel of the club is almost off the ground. Toe down, heel up, and he would hit these little chips where you kind of hold the face off and it would spin.”

Paul said it was a shot he’s been working on utilizing in his own game, but Els displayed next-level mastery.

“He opens the face, gets the club upright, and then chips with what looks kind of like an out-to-in swing,” Paul said. “It comes off the toe, comes in nice and low, and then checks quickly.”

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4. More time doesn’t equal more insight

When it comes to putting, Paul said Els went about his business fairly quickly.

“He’s not one to walk around the putt for a long time,” Paul said. “He looks quickly, makes a decision, and that’s it. He steps in and goes at the same speed and tempo as usual. He trusts it.”

5. Tap in to the game’s joy

Paul said it was obvious that Els still loves and enjoys the game.

“If we got a little backed up after finishing a hole, he would just drop a few balls and mess around chipping, opening and closing the face for different results,” Paul said. “It’s like going back to being a kid, and challenging yourself with different clubs and lies and scenarios just for fun. But it really helps you get better.”

Paul said Els shot an easy, breezy 65 on Wednesday — and he missed a bunch of putts.

With this insight from Els, here’s hoping you can shave a stroke or two from your own game this weekend.

Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.