Ernie Els

Ernie Els Chosen as 2015 Payne Stewart Award Recipient

ernie elsThe PGA Tour and Southern Company recognized Ernie Els-a four time major champion- as the recipient of the 2015 Payne Stewart Award. Els- who is know for his off-the-course philanthropy, in particular his devotion to improving the lives of those with autism spectrum disorder as well as development of junior golf talent in his native South Africa- will be honored Tuesday, September 22, in conjunction with the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola in Atlanta. The ceremony will be televised live on Golf Channel as part of a “Golf Central” special 7-8pm ET.

The Payne Stewart Award is presented annually to a professional golfer who best exemplifies Stewart’s steadfast values of character, charity and sportsmanship. Payne, an 11-time winner on the PGA TOUR and World Golf Hall of Fame member, died tragically the week of the Tour Championship in 1999. Southern Company, the “Official Energy Company of the PGA and Champions Tours,” was the sponsor the year of Stewart’s passing. A year later, the PGA Tour created the Payne Stewart Award in his honor, and Southern Company has supported the presentation since its inception.

“I have so many fond memories of Payne and always had the greatest respect for him as a golfer and a person, and I think this award is a wonderful way to honor his memory and the values that he stood for,” said Els. “To be considered worthy of receiving such an award makes me proud and humble. It really means a lot. Of course, the work that we do is a massive team effort, and I thank my wife Liezl and everyone at the foundations for their work and commitment, as well as all the individuals and corporations that support us in helping improve the lives of kids, young adults and families who need and deserve our help. Thank you to everyone at the PGA Tour and Southern Company for this incredibly generous donation that will help us in our ongoing mission to support causes close to our heart.”

Ernie Els, also known as the ‘Big Easy’, was a former #1 in the world and holds 70 worldwide victories including four major championships, 2 U.S. Opens and 2 Open Championships. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011. “Ernie is a legendary figure in our sport, both on and off the golf course,” said Tour Commissioner Tom Finchem. “His victories across the globe speak for themselves, but his commitment to using his talents and celebrity to improve lives has made him a true Hall of Famer. It is only fitting that we announce this award on the heels of an amazing milestone in his charitable work through Els for Autism, as Ernie and Liezl celebrated the grand opening of the first two buildings of the Els Center of Excellence August 17th. The number of lives that will be-and have already been-impacted through his passion and dedication to this cause is immeasurable. Ernie’s name certainly belongs on the roster of those who have been awarded the Payne Stewart Award before him, and he sets a high bar for those to aspire to be named after him.”

Southern Company Chairman, President & CEO Thomas A. Fanning said, “Southern Company is proud to join the PGA Tour in recognizing Ernie Els for his tremendous impact beyond the golf course, particularly through his foundation, Els for Autism. Ernie’s commitment and leadership in serving others align with our company’s values and honor Pane Stewart’s enduring legacy.”

Ernie grew up outside Johannesburg, South Africa where sports were a big part of his life. He excelled at both golf and tennis. In fact at age 13 he won the Eastern Junior Transvaal Championship, a major regional tennis event. A year later, the 14 year old Els won the World Junior Golf Championship in San Diego, California, defeating a strong field of juniors including Phil Mickelson.

Eventually, Ernie focused his talents on golf and at 16 he became the youngest player to win the South African Amateur in 1986. At 19, he won the South African Tour School title, and in 1989 turned professional and launched one of the most globetrotting careers the golf world has seen since fellow South African and Hall of Fame member Gary Player began his barnstorming.

In 1994, he shot a scorching 66 to top Lauren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie at the brutal Oakmont Country Club to win his first U.S. Open. Ernie would add another at Congressional Country Club in 1997. His first Open Championship came at Muirfield in 2002, surviving a four man playoff to win the Claret Jug. Then in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, he triumphed again just shy of his 43rd birthday to win his fourth major.

The Southern Company’s charitable contribution includes a Payne Stewart sculpture by Bob Pack presented to the recipient, accompanied by an annual Payne Stewart Award Grant of $500,000 which supports several initiatives in Payne’s name and is distributed as follows: $100,000 to Payne and Tracey Stewart’s primary charity- The Stewart Family Foundation; $100,000 in Stewart’s name to the First Tee of the Ozarks in Missouri at Kids Across America: and $300,000 to a charity designated by the winner. Ernie has chosen Els for Autism and the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation.

In 2009, Ernie and Liezl established the Els for Autism Foundation after their son Ben, now 12,was diagnosed with autism. The Els have donated millions of their own money, and through dedicated fundraising they opened the first components of the Els Center of Excellence- a Lower School and Auditorium in Jupiter, Florida. The Center will serve local, national and international autism communities and is set to be a game-changing resource in the field.

The Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation’s mission is to identify young South Africans predominately from families with limited resources and provide them with educational and life-skill assistance and playing opportunities in order to produce successful, well-rounded young golfers. The 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen and multiple PGA Tour winner Brandon Grace are both graduates of the Foundation. Those who do not progress into the professional game are given the tools to reach their potential in whatever walk of life they pursue.

Ernie Els is the 18th recipient of the award, and he joins Sir Nick Faldo, 2014 recipient and other notables as Byron nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Congratulations to Mr. Ernie Els. Well Done!

Dave Daubert

Lehigh University graduate, Procter & Gamble retired. Previously a Managing Editor and Feature Writer for a regional golf monthly magazine for 11 years. Married to wife Carol and residing in Solivita, an active adult community in Central Florida

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