ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA, May 10- Ernie Els, whose deceptively effortless swing has earned him the nickname the "Big Easy" — and three major golf titles — has led a class of six inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"It’s been a long journey coming from South Africa," said Els on Monday, whose globetrotting game has so far netted him 62 titles around the world including two US Open victories and the British Open.
Els, who is still trying to add to his cache of golf’s most prestigious titles, was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the US PGA Tour ballot.
Japanese icon Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki, who won all but one of his 111 titles in Japan, was elected on the international ballot.
The two were inducted along with the late Jock Hutchison, and Doug Ford — both two-time major champions — former US President George H.W. Bush and the late Frank Chirkinian, whose innovative work as a producer for CBS Sports set a standard for television golf coverage.
Els and Ford were the only inductees at the ceremony. A back injury makes it difficult for Ozaki to travel, and he also said he wanted to be home as Japan recovers from the earthquake and tsunami.
The ceremony included a tribute to another Hall of Famer, Spain’s Seve Ballesteros, who died Saturday three years after he was first diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Players must be at least 40 years old to be eligible for the Hall of Fame, and Els became the first active player to be inducted since Fiji’s Vijay Singh was honored in 2006.
Els practiced earlier Monday at TPC Sawgrass for this week’s Players Championship.
"I’m still trying to win golf tournaments, still trying to win major championships," he said before the ceremony. "I think it’s a huge bonus for anybody’s career."
Els made his major breakthrough at the US Open at Oakmont in 1994, winning a three-way playoff that included Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie and American Loren Roberts. He has said the triumph had extra meaning for him coming in the year that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president of South Africa.
He won another US Open at Congressional three years later, and the British Open in 2002.
"You don’t get inducted in here without doing something to catch people’s attention, whether it’s winning 18 or 19 majors like Jack Nicklaus or building golf courses like Pete Dye," Els said.
"There are people here that have done special things in the game of golf. I feel I’ve won my fair share of tournaments around the world, a truly global golfer like my idol, Gary Player."
Bush becomes the second US president inducted, joining Dwight D. Eisenhower who was enshrined in 2009. He was honored for his role in raising the game’s profile and for serving as honorary chairman of The First Tee youth golf initiative.