Ernie Els has “made peace” with his fellow South Africans and friends who joined LIV Golf.
But when it comes to those relationships with Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, Els says “we’ve lost that camaraderie, definitely. I’m still friends with them but it’s different.”
Els is a mentor to many South African golfers, and much more than that to some of those who made it to the top of their profession. When Schwartzel moved to the Jupiter, Florida, area 13 years ago, he lived with Ernie and Liezl Els for two years. When Grace won his first PGA Tour event, the 2016 RBC Heritage, Ernie and Liezl opened their home for a celebration.
Els believes he could have been a resource for his friends as they were making career-defining decisions.
“I was disappointed they never asked me my opinion,” Els said about their decision to leave the PGA Tour and join LIV. “I had them in the foundation (in South Africa), looked after them as youngsters. They flew with me, they stayed at my house. Kind of nurtured them to get onto the PGA Tour.
“It just was done in a way I didn’t like.”
And Els, talking last week from the Chubb Classic in Naples, Florida, watched his proteges as often possible when “they played on the real tours and doing the real stuff.” But since they joined LIV, “I have not seen one golf shot.”
“They have gone about it the wrong way,” Els said about LIV, “and they’ve really upended a lot of good the game stands for. … the whole thing just doesn’t sit right.”
Still, Els understands why his friends took the money and acknowledges they have done very well financially. Schwartzel won LIV’s inaugural event and earned more than $8 million last season. Oosthuizen pocketed about $5.4 million.
Grace won the first U.S. event held by LIV and took home nearly $17 million in six months. He made $12.3 million in 14 years as a PGA Tour professional.
“As an international player and living in South Africa, it’s tough to come over here, your family, upend your whole household to join the PGA Tour,” Els said. “So I get that. But for me, no.”
Els plays occasionally with Grace, no longer sees Schwartzel and is not in touch with Oosthuizen.
“We’ve made peace,” Els said.
LIV ignored Els’ suggestions
Before players started defecting from the PGA Tour, representatives of the league financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund met with Els to discuss their plans. Els, who has 74 professional wins, including four majors, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011, was not sure a season-long team concept would work and had other suggestions. He proposed partnering with the PGA Tour, European Tour and even the Tour Champions and others for a “Formula 1 type” format.
“We can play around the world and play team golf and get some television network that will buy it and come back to your respective tours and get on with life,” Els said he told them.
“I think that would have been a cool way. I think a whole year of team golf gets ….” Els did not finish the sentence but let’s just say he’s not a fan of the concept.
“They didn’t see it that way and they basically showed me the door early on,” Els said.
LIV’s business model centers around team golf; 48 players divided into 12 four-man teams with 54-hole no-cut events.
Having announced a television deal with the CW Network, LIV now will focus on trying to secure Official World Golf Ranking points for its players. LIV, which starts its second season this week in Mexico, applied for ranking points last July, but the OWGR board typically requires one to two years from the time they receive the application from a golf tour to rewarding points to players in its events. Even at that point, nothing is guaranteed for LIV.
“There is no way you can give ranking points,” Els said. “They’re playing team golf. They say it’s all about team golf.
“How in the hell can you give that any serious consideration. It’s not a stroke-play event, you’re playing a team event with 48 players. There is no way they can get ranking points.”