Skip to main content

Son's autism gives golf ace Ernie Els a grand ambition

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
April 26, 2012 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Ernie Els is most famous for his golfing exploits, but as his career reaches its twilight years he is focusing on a cause dear to his heart. Ernie Els is most famous for his golfing exploits, but as his career reaches its twilight years he is focusing on a cause dear to his heart.
HIDE CAPTION
Close to home
A playful dad
Learning from the best
Ben diagnosed
South African roots
A family's love
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former world No. 1 Ernie Els is throwing his support behind ambitious autism center
  • The South African golfer hopes the foundation in Florida will be the best in the world
  • He is inspired by his son Ben, who was diagnosed with autism as a four-year-old
  • Two-time U.S Open winner still needs to raise $5 million to reach his $30 million target

(CNN) -- For a man dubbed "The Big Easy," Ernie Els isn't putting his feet up anytime soon.

One of the most successful golfers in the world, the 42-year-old boasts an incredible three major championship crowns and nearly 70 wins in a stellar career spanning 22 years.

But far from basking in his golfing glory, the South African is throwing his weight -- and his millions -- behind an important cause close to his heart.

The former world No. 1's son Ben was diagnosed with autism five years ago, and Els plans to open a world-leading research and education center -- "something the world's never seen before."

Ernie Els gets the word out on autism

"We have one child in our family with autism. I've seen families with three kids with autism and I want to tell you it must be one of the hardest things in the world because just to do your normal, everyday life stuff must be almost impossible," he told CNN.

Off course with Ernie Els
Fifteen-year-old Lydia Ko is the youngest LPGA Tour winner in history courtesy of her win at the Canadian Women's Open. She was just 14 when she triumphed at the the New South Wales Open in January 2012, becoming the youngest player to win a professional tournament. She clinched the U.S. Amateur Championship two weeks ago. Fifteen-year-old Lydia Ko is the youngest LPGA Tour winner in history courtesy of her win at the Canadian Women's Open. She was just 14 when she triumphed at the the New South Wales Open in January 2012, becoming the youngest player to win a professional tournament. She clinched the U.S. Amateur Championship two weeks ago.
History maker
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
Golf\'s young prodigies Golf's young prodigies

"He's nine years old and he's not speaking yet. He goes to a very good school in Florida. That's another thing that's lacking around the world, is education for autistic children. That's why we moved from England to go to Florida for proper treatment for him."

Until recently, Els had remained private about his family life. Now he's using his status -- winning the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and the British Open in 2002 -- to help fund the Els for Autism Foundation in Florida.

Since 2009, he has been hosting golf tournaments to raise money for his dream center. It will be based in the U.S. but it is hoped its programs and research will help autistic children around the world.

Els has so far raised around $25 million towards the project, but is still $5 million short of his target for construction.

And the man who topped the European Tour's money list in 1993 and 1994, and is nicknamed for his six-foot-three-inch frame and seemingly effortless golf swing, hasn't limited his enterprises to autism research.

Giving it back: Els' off-course passions

Els' golf foundation, now in its 13th year, was established to help under-privileged kids take up a sport unaffordable to most in his native South Africa.

He also contributes to the economy of the Cape region where he grew up, investing in a wine and restaurant business plus an award-winning golf resort that he helped design.

So while Els has spent most of his life carving a name for himself as one of the best golfers in the world, he says he now wants to be remembered for dedicating the rest of it to autism research.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
It's a big dilemma: Be with your wife for the birth of your first child, or stay at work and try to earn $11 million. For Billy Horschel, it's a no-brainer.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 1140 GMT (1940 HKT)
She's just 19 but Hyo Joo Kim is already showing she's ready for the big time after recording the lowest ever round at a major championship.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Masters champion Bubba Watson says winning the $10 million FedEx Cup jackpot would bring forward his retirement from the game.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 1131 GMT (1931 HKT)
EVIAN-LES-BAINS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 15: A view of the 14th green during the third round of The Evian Championship at the Evian Resort Golf Club on September 15, 2013 in Evian-les-Bains, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
The world's top women golfers will be chasing a $3.25 million prize purse at one of the most stunning courses on the LPGA Tour.
September 3, 2014 -- Updated 1219 GMT (2019 HKT)
Tom Watson selects Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson as his wildcard picks for the Ryder Cup contest with Europe.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
Ian Poulter kept Europe clinging on in their Ryder Cup battle with the United States in Chicago.
Ian Poulter, who has constantly haunted the U.S. in Ryder Cup golf, is back after being chosen as a wildcard by European captain Paul McGinley.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
Tiger Woods has split with his longtime coach Sean Foley after not winning a major during their four-year tenure.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
Success just keeps on coming for Rory McIlroy, but the world No. 1 is already targeting more titles following his second PGA Championship win.
August 8, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
From Seve's "spine-shivering" moment to Jack Nicklaus' "perfect explosion," David Cannon has captured many of golf's defining images.
August 7, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
They came home as casualties of war -- physically shattered and mentally broken. But golf is proving to be an unlikely salvation for U.S. veterans.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
You are the one hitting the shots, but the man standing over your shoulder could hold the key to your golfing destiny.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
PINEHURST, NC - JUNE 10: Rory McIlroy (R) of Northern Ireland talks with his dad Gerry McIlroy (L) during a practice round prior to the start of the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Course No. 2 on June 10, 2014 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
He has been there for all three of his son's major wins, but the latest triumph may well have been the sweetest yet for Rory McIlroy's father.
ADVERTISEMENT