That famous Ernie Els-Steve Marino airplane fight? Marino tells all

One of the most legendary golf stories of the past decade involves Ernie Els. Not for his four major titles, Presidents Cup captaincy or viral six-putt at the 2016 Masters — but for what went down on a private jet with pro Steve Marino, an abundance of adult beverages and a mid-air brawl that’s taken on a life of its own.

But did it actually happen? Yes, it did, and now we have even more details.

In June 2018, retired NHL player Mike Commodore, who heard the story from a friend, appeared on Barstool Sports’ Spittin’ Chiclets podcast and gave details of the mid-flight tussle. Also in June 2018, Els essentially confirmed the story when he appeared on the No Laying Up podcast.

Els told No Laying Up that he likes to give friends a lift on his private plan when he can, adding, “On the airplane, very seldom on the long flights we drink water.” In fact, his former caddie, Ricci Roberts, would joke there’d be so much Heineken on flights it would be enough to fuel the plane.

But Marino, who has won five times professionally and made 222 career starts on the PGA Tour, has never really told his side of the story. That is until he joined co-hosts Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz on GOLF’s Subpar podcast this week.

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“You were telling me like, ‘Look, Ernie’s told the story from his perspective like 50,000 times; the media runs with that,'” Stoltz told him. “You never get a chance to tell your side. So let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

Marino said the accounts do differ a little, but for the most part, “I think we tell the same story. I’ll tell you the whole thing real quick.”

Els, now 54, and Marino, 43, met for the first time through mutual friends at a bar; they started talking.

“I’m talking to him and he’s like, ‘What do you do?'” Marino recalls. “I said, I play golf. And he’s like, ‘Oh, what tour do you play on?’ I was like, “Dude, I play on the PGA Tour. I’m like three spots ahead of you on the money list, bud.

“He loved that,” Marino continued. “So we had a good time. We drank some beers.”

They continued to talk, and Els found out they were both soon playing in the same tournament in Japan and would both be traveling back to the Jupiter, Fla., area afterward. Els offered him a lift on his private plane.

“I’m thinking like, Hell, yeah, but it was two months away, and I’m thinking there’s no way this guy is going to remember,” Marino said. “So I had another plan [to get back], but as soon as I saw him [at the tournament] it was on. He’s like, ‘I can’t wait. Give your passport to my pilot.'”

Marino said it might have started off rocky, though, since Els had to wait two hours for Marino to finish his final round. They were the only two on the plane. It was about a 15-hour flight. And, one important precursor, “We consumed a lot of alcohol on the plane,” Marino said.

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“He might have been a little ornery pre-flight [because he had to wait for me], but I finally got on the plane, everything is great, we are hanging out, drinking beers, had a nice steak, bottle of wine,” Marino said. “And then he didn’t want to let me by to go to the bathroom, gave me a couple of headbutts. I returned the favor. He got a big smile on his face. Like was just like, Yes. Yes! I’m so happy. It was like a child. We were like two children.”

In one version of this story, it’s believed Els uttered a line that’s become famous: “Now we fight.” Marino didn’t necessarily mention that, but a brawl did ensue.

“So we started wrestling and tussling around,” Marino said. “I was on his back, he’s shaking me around and pilots come back and yell at us, and it stops. And then we’re both leaning against the bar afterwards and can’t breathe. We are out of breath. And he says, ‘I like you — you headbutted me back,’ or something. And I said, Well, I’m not going to let you headbutt me over and over. We became good friends ever since.”

This sort of in-flight mischief doesn’t see to be a one-off for Els, though. Marino said that when the pilots came back, they didn’t seem surprised.

“I think he might have done some things like this before, so I don’t think they were in total shock,” Marino said. “But they came back and they were like, ‘Guys, what are you doing?’ I mean the plane must have bouncing around all over the place like 45,000 feet over Russia. That’s pretty much the crux of it. Like two little kids play-fighting almost.”

There are other details of this flight that Marino didn’t touch on that have been reported elsewhere. Was there a Round 2? Did Marino really lose a tooth? Who knows, but he did say they walked off friends, and he’s even taken flights with Els since.

Added Els, on the No Laying Up podcast: “We had a lot to drink, and it was the end of the year, and it was a long way down to Florida,” he said. “There was a lot to talk about, and we kinda hugged each other [afterward]. It was a lovefest in the airplane. Nobody got serious injuries or anything like that and it was all in good fun.”

You can listen to the entire Subpar interview with Marino here, or watch it on YouTube below.

Josh Berhow Editor

As’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at