- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ernie Els sat down with the media ahead of the opening day at the Quicken Loans National to discuss the past, present and future of golf as he sees it. He also added a story about snacking with President Obama.

Els has a mixed history at Congressional Country Club. His highest moment came in 1997 when he conquered the competition at the U.S. Open, and one of his lowest occurred when he missed the cut in the same tournament on the same course in 2011.

“I was very disappointed in my play that time,” Els said Wednesday. “That was the first time back after the ‘97 U.S. Open. So not playing well in that U.S. Open really hurt a lot because of my memories here and so forth. … I’d like to make up for that, and obviously want to have a good week here this week.”

Els was one of six international players invited to the White House for a Tuesday night ceremony honoring the U.S. team that won the Presidents Cup. Prior to the ceremony players were taken on a tour of the Oval Office, which Els found very compelling.

“That was really special,” Els said. “That’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially coming from South Africa. I’ve seen movies and television shows and so forth, and I must say, they do quite a good job because it’s quite authentic the way it looks on television, and so to see the real thing was quite amazing.”

He brought his daughter Samantha along with him and picked up a snack along the way.

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“We walked around there and Phil Mickelson asked if he could have an apple,” laughed Els. “So the president lost about 20 apples out of his jar. We walked around the Oval Office eating apples and just feeling it.”

Els also touched on the impact of the youngsters on the Tour and 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth in particular.

“[I’m] quite blown away by what he’s done,” said Els. “You know, comfortably Top-10 in the world. Just an amazing start to the career. … He’s cocky enough that he knows he’s good, but he doesn’t think that he knows everything. He’s ready to learn still. But I like his competitiveness.”

Els and Spieth share something of a bond as they both have close family who are on the autism spectrum. Spieth’s sister and Els‘ son are both living with the disability. In 2009 after his son Ben was diagnosed, Els established the Els for Autism Foundation designed to aid those on the autism spectrum.

“Yes, we have spoken,” said Els when asked if he and Spieth had ever discussed the topic. “I’ve played with him quite a few times and we’ve spoken about his family and how they have coped with their situation and how they have moved forward. We’ve shared some really funny kind of stories, because autistic kids are so special, and the way they handle life is quite special.”

While Els admitted that he and his peers are something of an old guard in the world of professional golf, he stressed that it was still his passion and he still has a thing or two to show us.

“They are definitely not shy,” Els said with a laugh referring to the younger golfers on the Tour. “As I said they are cocky enough to know they are good. But we like to teach them some stuff every now and again that they haven’t seen. We needle each other and it’s great fun. That’s the way I grew up. That cycle will continue, and that’s one of the great things in golf.”

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