Editors note: Ernie Els had a long-standing relationship with Arnold Palmer. They met in 1992 and stayed very close through the years. Els won twice at that Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard in 1998 and 2010.
Els is one of three players to win each of the PGA TOUR’s elevated events: The Genesis Invitational, the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide and the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. The other two are Fred Couples and Hale Irwin.
Els sat down with PGATOUR.COM at the PGA TOUR Champions’ Cologuard Classic to discuss his relationship with Palmer and his success at Bay Hill.
PGATOUR.COM: What was your relationship like with Arnold Palmer?
ELS: Well, Mr. Palmer has been just an unbelievable gentlemen to me. We met in 1992, we played at the PGA Championship in Bellerive. That was kind of his farewell in those days. I was just coming on the scene. I was 22 years old. I think he was 62 years old or something like that, we just had a ball, we talked and he was warm to me. I was obviously in awe of him. And we had two great days at Bellerive. And that particular day, he invited me (to the Arnold Palmer Invitational). No matter what happened he says, ‘You’re playing in the Invitational next year, 1993.’ And then he paired himself with me in 1993, and that particular year he made the cut. I remember, the weather was awful, he hit driver on 18 and then hit another driver off the fairway onto the green and then two-putted to make the cut, it was an unbelievable moment. And then I got to win the tournament twice, so we’ve just had a great relationship over the years and he’s just been awesome to us and our family.
PGATOUR.COM: What is your memory of your first win in 1998 at Bay Hill?
ELS: We played 36 holes on a Sunday. It was Tiger Woods, Davis Love III and myself and we were No. 1, 2, 3 in the world. After 36 holes, I prevailed, I won somehow. I won the tournament and became No. 1 in the world on that day. I’ll never forget that for a long time.
PGATOUR.COM: How special is the API as it relates to showcasing international players?
ELS: Because of Mr. Palmer’s play in The Open Championship, he really put that tournament on television in the United States. I mean, he was the biggest player in the world at that time and for him to play in the British Open and win it twice, I think he won it in 1961 and 1962, and it was televised, he really put The Open Championship on the map and for many American players to go over there. And for that reason, The Open Championship has really become an Open with everybody being able to play over there. And it’s because of Mr. Palmer. And he’s done the same with the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he’s invited people from all over the world, all walks of life to come and play at his tournaments. He’s really a man for the world, you know, a wonderful guy.
PGATOUR.COM: It sounds like he means a lot to you.
ELS: Absolutely. Each win I had – the second win was a morning finish on a Monday – but obviously in 1998 I was in a very good mood becoming No. 1, myself and Liezl, my wife, we sat in the men’s grill with Mr. Palmer, having a couple celebrating the win. He was just a man’s man, I loved him.