I messaged a good friend who works in the sports journalism world Thursday and asked him to give me 10 PGA Tour players off the top of his head. His list included none other than Ernie Els, the 40-year-old South African.
It didn't surprise me that Ernie made the cut. He's a guy that has won some big events, has been around for a while and, as The Golf Channel showed on Thursday, where Els posted a nice 2-under 70 on the South Course at Torrey Pines, is still worthy of a ton of coverage.
The question here isn't about who Els is, it is what he is. With one PGA Tour win to his name since 2004, is Ernie still a superstar in golf?
He sure made his mark in the previous millennium, winning two U.S. Opens in the '90s only to follow that up with a British in 2002. He has a golf swing that makes regular golfers a level of envious only found when middle age women are checking out near a copy of Cosmopolitan. All these facts are very, very true, but I think it is safe to assume that Ernie is far from a superstar in this game. That label has come and gone for Easy.
What might hold more truth than that, however, is the fact that since Todd Hamilton and his rescue club chipping took down Els in a playoff at Royal Troon in '04, the Big Easy hasn't been the same, and even as he trounced around Torrey Pines on Thursday, a course he regarded earlier in the week as "a beast," you could not only hear his frustration (check his verbal reaction after his second shot into 17), but his mannerism are just not that of a guy expecting to go low.
Maybe it is one of the big problems with golf right now. We as fans are way more accepting of the "old" guys than the young crop of talent overtaking the tour. The Golf Channel knows this (surprise!), and understands that the demographic that is watching golf on a Thursday is more inclined to know who Ernie Els is than, say, Alex Prugh.
The scary thing is, when Ernie (And Tiger, and Phil) leave, we're going to be forced to like these other guys, and like ex's, you can't love someone new when you're always thinking of your old flame.