Watching Ernie Els hit balls on the range at Magna Golf Club near Toronto the other day, you couldn't help but wonder where The Big Easy has been. The big man's action embodies the mystery of the golf swing: How could something that looks so effortless make the white ball go so far?
Is there a player who has a better transition at the top of the swing? It is so unhurried and culminates with an explosion of speed at the bottom, that one foot through the ball. The three-time major winner is trying to climb back to the leading edge of elite golf. A knee injury which required reconstruction and different priorities in life -- dealing with his son Ben's, autism, for one -- having made staying on top a difficult job.
His tie for sixth at this year's PGA Championship was his best finish in a major since a third in the 2007 PGA. He has missed the cut three straight years at The Masters. The British Open, which he won in 2002, has remained kind to him where he has four top 10 finishes since the knee injury. But he has just one win on the PGA Tour -- last year at the Honda -- since hurting his knee.
"The main goal is there," said Els of his desire to win golf tournaments, "but you have to take care of other things. I'm not blaming anything. I just lost my swing a little bit. I feel now I can put more energy into golf."
A tie for second in the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs last week hints at perhaps a renaissance for his game.
Els, who was in Toronto for the Golf Town Invitational, a charity event, admitted his swing has changed since his left knee was surgically repaired after he blew out his ACL in a boating accident in 2005.
"You put a knife in your body and it can't be the same," he said. "I don't know if it will ever be 100%, but I've adapted to it. My swing is a little different, my move through the ball is different than before the knee injury, but I'm not in pain. Speak to Tiger, he'll tell you. You recover, but you're never quite the same."
Els has six top 10s this year and his second-place finish at The Barclays is a good start to the playoffs for Els. He moves on to the Deutsche Bank this week on a course he likes.
He could be a man to watch this week.
HERE AND THERE
Els' key thoughts on the swing: "I always make sure I make a full turn and my left shoulder gets behind the ball," he said. He always pays attention to the fundamentals, which literally sounds like a basic thing, but too many people let slip. "Stance, posture, ball position," he said. He favours a neutral grip which took him years to achieve. He started out as a kid playing with ladies clubs that were too heavy and he compensated by playing with a strong left hand which led to too many hooks later ... There are still some media types uptight because, in their thinking, a guy could win a couple of FedEx Cup playoff events and still not win the title. That's the whole idea of the playoffs. The regular season gets you in. The playoffs in every sport are about who's playing well when it matters. Just because a player played well in the first couple of rounds should guarantee nothing but the opportunity to continue. The players get it.
"Look at the (New England) Patriots or the Dallas Mavericks, the regular seasons they had. Or even the Detroit Red Wings," said J.J. Henry, another Callaway staff player who joined Els at Magna. "Just because you have a great regular season ... like the other sports, you've got to play well to bring home the hardware."
Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., won the Mark McCormack award presented by the R&A for owning the top spot in the amateur rankings at the end of the competitive season ... A touch of irony in the award for a top amateur is named after a guy who made golfers rich (McCormack, one of the first sports agents and founder of the multi-tenacled IMG, made Arnold Palmer a brand) ... Els has his own winery. So does Presidents Cup captain Greg Norman and Canada's Mike Weir. "We can have a major pissup if everybody brings their wine. We could be there for a while," joked Els.
Interesting to read in Robert Thompson's Going for the Green blog -- an excellent source for golf architecture news and views -- that Cabot Links, a seaside project on Cape Breton being designed by Alberta's Rod Whitman (Wolf Creek, Blackhawk, the excellent new Sagebrush in B.C., with Richard Zokol) is going ahead. It's expected to open in 2011 and the buzz is it could be an outstanding addition to the island's already strong roster of courses ... Henry caught a ride on Els' G5 jet from New Jersey for the Golf Town Invitational. "It's the way to go, that's for sure," said Henry. "I've got to make more birdies."
How did Els get his nickname? "I'm not sure," he said. "I guess some guy thought I was big and I was easy." ... There's talk the CPGA Championship could be close to being resurrected after a four-year sabbatical. It could be back as early as next year with Canada's top pros playing for what was once a prestigious title (it's the second-oldest championship in North America, first held in 1911). Talk is the CPGA is down to the short strokes with a sponsor.
What's happened to Lorena Ochoa? Life can get in the way, I guess (she's about to become a stepmother) ... Who would have guessed Tiger Woods would lose the PGA Championship and the first event of the FedEx Cup to guys named Y.E. and Heath?
Given the status of the Canadian Women's Open under the sponsorship of CN, it's a shame the tournament lost its major status when Du Maurier was forced to give up its sponsorship because of anti-tobacco legislation. I always thought it was quaint the way the LPGA could confer or revoke "major" status. Our national women's championship offers more money and probably has a better field than three of the tournaments currently considered majors.
THE LAST WORD
Who has the shortest shelf life:
a) a coach of the Ottawa Senators;
b) executive director of the NHLPA;
c) a John Daly wife.