Sunshine Tour

‘Ernie's Army’ out in force at SA Open

Ernie Els (Gallo Images)
Ernie Els (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - Dave Blain is a long-standing member of Randpark Golf Club where the South African Open is being played.

LIVE: SA Open - Round 3

Now in his seventies, he was born and grew up in Scotland - where he was a scratch golfer and champion of his club - before emigrating to SA as a young man.

He's an absolute golf nut and has been watching the SA Open - and for SA Open read Ernie Els - each day armed with an old Arnold Palmer umbrella (the sun has been beating down relentlessly at Randpark) he had in Scotland back in the old days.

"I was in Arnie's Army back then, hence the umbrella, but now I'm part of Ernie's Army," Blain says with a broad smile. "I just love the guy and he certainly gave us something to get excited about in today's third round," he said on Saturday.

Ernie's Army were out in force and there were cheers that might well have been heard on the other side of Johannesburg in Els's home town of Kempton Park as the 49-year-old moved swiftly from six under to 10-under thanks to four straight birdies from the 13th to the 16th on Randpark's Firethorn course which, at that stage, had him just two off the lead.

At the par-4 13th he knocked in a six-footer to pick up a shot. Big cheers. At the 500m par-5 14th he was up in two and two-putted for birdie.

More big cheers. At the par-3 15th, playing extremely difficult because of swirling winds and a tough pin, he hit a mid-iron again to about six feet and rolled in the putt for a two. Huge cheers. And at the long, treacherous par-4 16th he hit five-iron off the tee, and not the best five-iron for his second.

He now had a 60-footer for birdie. But in it went and Blain was absolutely beside himself. And the many fans in Ernie's Army were turning themselves inside out.

So was Phil Simmons, the left-hander now in his 60s and who coaches at Randpark but who played for many years alongside Els in tournaments and was known as the Germiston Giant because he could hit the ball far distances.

"That putt at 16 was amazing," he enthused. "Right across the green, up the slope. Hey, the old guy still has it!"

Els was playing alongside his 21-year-old nephew Jovan Rebula, who this year became only the second South African in over 100 years to win the British Amateur (Amateur Championship for the purists). He's a young birdie machine and more about him in a second or two.

Sadly, Els three-putted at 17 and 18 for successive bogeys to sign for a 68 and an eight-under 54-hole aggregate of 205. Pretty smart golf for a man just a year away from turning 50, though, and he had every reason to be proud of himself.

Not as proud as he was of Rebubla, though, who birdied 17 with a fine two and parred 18 to score 70 for the day and he was able to make his way into the clubhouse on six-under 207.

Pretty good going for this young, talented amateur who when he finishes up with his university studies in America is destined to follow "Oom" Ernie into the paid ranks.

"My hope is that Jovan will break every record of mine - that would really be something and he's got the talent," said Els with a touch of emotion in his voice.

And we're with you on that sentiment, Ernie.

Go Jovan, go the Big Easy - in Sunday's final round and, yes, in the years to come. Ernie on the Champions Tour, Jovan on the regular tour…

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