Golf Challenge greats remember Madiba

2013-12-06 13:02

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On a day as sombre as the country’s mood, the 30 players in this year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City have added their voices to those of mourners around the the world, remembering how Nelson Mandela had made the world a better place.

Before the resumption of the tournament, the golfers gathered for a minute of silence and to pin black ribbons on their shirts and caps. Just as is happening all over South Africa, the flags at Sun City are flying at half-mast.

The most emotional of the 30 players was four-time major winner Ernie Els, who formed a personal relationship with Mandela after he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994.

“I met him for the first time with (tycoon Johann) Rupert at a meal in 1994. After that we kept in contact,” Els recalled.

“His house was very close to the Houghton Golf Club and he came across there once when I playing and we exchanged gifts. I still have the photo of that day in 1996 in my office in the US. After that, I got a call from him every time I won.

“I remember once on a plane to London, we were sitting right at the front and Mr Mandela was the last to board. He sat in the front seat and saw me sitting with my daughter. But suddenly he wasn’t interested in seeing me any more – he just wanted to talk to my daughter. He called Samantha over to him and she sat on his lap and he spoke to her as if she was his grandchild. Those were special times. He was the most amazing person I have ever met.

“(Today) is a very sad day,” Els said. “A sad day for South Africa and the world. We have lost one of the iconic leaders of our time. You can’t say anything bad about the man. He fought for what he believed in. He was the father of our country and our continent. It’s just so sad that he had to go. He was 95 and had a full life, but much of it was not necessarily good because for so many years he was away (from his people).”

Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open three years ago on Mandela’s 92nd birthday. On that day, he dedicated the Claret Jug to the icon.

He said: “Of course, we expected it but that doesn’t make it any easier. The country will mourn the loss and miss him forever.”

In the US, the world’s leading golfer, Tiger Woods, described his first meeting with Madiba in 1998 to the American golf media as “one of the most inspiring days of my life”.

“It’s sad for everyone, not only for those who met him, but those (like me) who were touched by him. I had the opportunity of meeting him with my father in 1998. He invited us to his house and it was one of the most inspiring days of my life.”

- Beeld

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