LYTHAM, England, July 23 – South African golf star Ernie Els, fresh off his fourth major victory at the British Open, says he wants to share a drink from the Claret Jug with anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.
Els paid tribute to the statesman and former South African president in his victory speech at Royal Lytham after firing a final-round 68, two-under par, to finish on seven-under 273 for a one-stroke victory over Australian Adam Scott.
As Els watched a telecast of South Africa’s cricket team surge to a strong position against England in their opening Test match at London, Els found his thoughts drifting to Mandela, who celebrated his 94th birthday on Wednesday.
“He has been very much in my thoughts,” Els said. “I was just daydreaming and that thought came through me in a split second — ‘If I win, I had better thank President Mandela because I grew up in the apartheid era and then changing into the democratic era and President Mandela was right there.’
“And right after the change, I was the first one to win a major.”
That was the first major title for Els, which came in the 1994 US Open at Oakmont and resulted in a congratulatory telephone call from Mandela.
Since then, Els added the 1997 US Open and 2002 and 2012 British Opens to his trophy case. And now he holds the Claret Jug and hopes to share a drink from it with Mandela.
“I would love to,” Els said. “When you’ve met him personally it’s an unbelievable feeling and he’s a great man.”
Els feels a bond with Mandela, whose 1990 release from an apartheid prison put South Africa on the path to democracy and reconciliation.
“And so there’s a lot of significance there in my life, from Mandela becoming president and me winning a golf tournament and then him getting on the telephone with me talking to me when I was in Oakmont.
“We’re intertwined together in a crazy way. And I just felt he’s been so important for us being where we are today as a nation and as sports people.”