The magic continues with Ernie Els as he joins John Ashworth & Geoff Cunningham for a third time around, now as part of the Linksoul team. We caught up with John & Ernie during the AT&T Pro-Am up at Pebble Beach earlier this year.
Crazy story: We're walking toward the 14th green at Spyglass Hill that day, looking for Ernie during his practice round, we notice him on the fairway. As soon as we step up, see his shot go in the air, he holes it. Eagle from the fairway. Had to be a good sign...
Can you believe you guys have known each other for 26 years? How and where did you guys get together?
Ash: "I recall it was 1992 and I had heard about this phenomenal kid from South Africa named Ernie Els. Back in those days there was no social media, hell, the Golf Channel didn’t start until 1995. But, I remember reading his name or hearing about him because he had such a catchy name. I had never seen Ernie and had no idea how big he was or even what color hair he had, etc. But, the Ashworth brand was just catching fire, Fred had just won the Masters in April ’92 and things were rocking. Then, the Open Championship came around in July of ’92 and was held at Muirfield in Scotland. I got a call from Paul Gilbert our guy that ran Ashworth in the UK and he said this big kid from South Africa came into our stand and asked if he could wear Ashworth and of course I said by all means. The first time I ever met him in person I believe was the next year during the Westchester Classic in NY and we had our first photo shoot and met Liezl back before they were married."
Ernie: “Yeah, it’s crazy how the years fly by. John was there right at the start of my career, one of my earliest sponsors when I was managed by Sam Feldman. I loved the clothes and the whole vibe that John created with that brand. I remember Freddie, John Cook, Jim Nantz and me doing those cool photo shoots; they were good times and some great photos. We hit it off straight away, became good friends, stayed good friends. It was fun and, as I said, I loved the product.”
Ernie, you’ve know John along time and have now worn 3 seperate brands that he's been behind. What is it about his style that fits your style? How has your relationship been with John over the years?
Ernie: “With John you know the quality is always paramount. That’s what it’s all about for him, so that appeals to me straight away. I’ve always said I only ever want to partner with the best, whatever part of the business it is. And as you say, John and I obviously go way back. We’re friends, we trust each other, That’s the basis of all the best partnerships and why I’m happy to partner with Linksoul.”
John, you’ve seen Ernie mature throughout the years and have been able to dress him for the most part all along the ways and with three seperate brands, how does that make you feel?
Ash: "Makes me feel old [laughs]….....but seriously, it's been an honor and a privilege to have been associated with Ernie Els over the years, he's one of the best human beings you'll ever meet. And to be able to style him for many of those years has been a real treat. We all know his swing is one of the best of all time so it was a tremendous inspiration to have our clothes be a part of his process and a part of that rhythm. And now, to be reunited is beyond cool."
John, you’ve been involved with charity work over the years but can you believe what Ernie and his wife Liezl have accomplished with their work in raising money and awareness for autism?
Ash: "It’s incredible!! You never know when life will throw a curveball at you. After Ernie and Liezl realized that their son Ben had autism they knew they had to do something and focus their energy on helping people with autism. They created Els for Autism which has been an absolute game changer in the field of Autism. What they’ve done is amazing and I’m proud of them for the incredible work they have done in this field."
Ernie, you’ve obviously had an amazing golf career so far but I know John and the rest of us at Linksoul are equally if not more impressed at what you and your wife Liezl have accomplished with your ‘Els for Autism’ foundation. How do you put that into perspective?
Ernie: “Thanks. I have to give Liezl an enormous amount of credit for what we’ve accomplished with Els for Autism. Of course, I have the name and that helped get the ball rolling, creating some awareness and funding, but Liezl is the main driving force. The passion and commitment that she’s invested in the Foundation is incredible and I’m so proud of her. We’ve got a great team and a wonderful family of partners and sponsors behind us. Also, the Golf Challenge has got the public involved and they’ve jumped on board in their tens of thousands. It’s humbling to get that kind of support and it’s enabled us to have a huge positive impact on individuals and families on the spectrum, through opening the Center of Excellence. That seemed like a dream when we got started! So a lot has happened for sure in the 10 years since we established the Foundation, but it’s just the start. This is a lifetime’s passion for us.”
You both are world travelers in every sense, do you see the game of golf playing a role in bringing the world together? If so then how so?
Ash: "Absolutely! It’s all there, it’s all inside the game. Honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, etc. Golf simply put is truth. Plus in this crazy digital world where everyone is tethered to their phones the game of golf is an escape. And escape to the outdoors into fresh air and exercise and a fun game to play. I’ve spent my whole life in and around golf and a humble clothing maker for 30 years with the intent to make my friends look and feel good on or off the course. But the main calling has been the purpose of exposing the beauty and the virtues of the game so that more people would play and not for any sort of capitalistic money making ending but from the altruistic purpose of the world becoming a better place to live with happier people."
Ernie: “We all know we’ve got some big problems in the world and obviously they’re very complex, very difficult to resolve. None of us can pretend to know any of the answers. But I’ve always believed that sport, not just golf, has the power to achieve a lot of positive things. Look at the opportunities sport gives kids all around the world. We should celebrate that. Look at the Olympics, the Paralympics, the Invictus Games, Rugby World Cup, Football World Cup, all of those types of competition, they all celebrate sport and humanity. It unites people, it brings people together and it helps us see the things we share and not the things that divide us. Sport can be incredibly powerful when you think about it.”