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Confessions of a Weekend Golfer: Playing with Ernie Els, Gary Player and Johann Rupert

Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Kurt Russell, May/June 2006

(Editor's note. Three issues ago, I wrote about my experience of playing golf with Tiger Woods at the Buick Open, entitled "My Day with Tiger." The article struck a chord with readers of Cigar Aficionado, many of whom are avid weekend golfers. The idea of an average golfer playing with the world's greatest pros is a welcome fantasy to many. With this article, I share another one of these cherished experiences. This time I played with two great players who have won a total of 12 majors, Ernie Els and Gary Player. I hope you enjoy the second installment of this series. —MRS)

When the e-mail arrives confirming I have a date to play with Ernie Els, one of the world's greatest golfers, at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida, one of America's most prestigious golf courses, well, naturally, I am pleased. Are you kidding? I am in seventh heaven. My feet don't touch the ground. To put it simply, I am euphoric.

(From left) Johann Rupert, Gary Player, Marvin R. Shanken and Ernie Els
As the day approaches the field is set. I am in a daze. Ernie Els (formerly number one in the world and the winner of three majors) and Marvin R. Shanken are playing a match against Gary Player and Johann Rupert. Gary, as any golf fan knows, is truly one of the greatest to ever play the game and is the winner of nine majors, including a career Grand Slam. Johann I would describe as a quasi-pro golf nut, more passionate than even I am and that's saying a lot. On workdays, his title is officially the CEO of Richemont, an internationally known luxury goods company with multiple brands, led by Cartier.

Thursday, March 9

Johann Rupert
The night before the big match, a group of us meet for dinner at Café Chardonnay, a wonderful restaurant 10 minutes from The Bear's Club, where I had a practice round earlier that day with a good friend to help get the winter cobwebs out.

During dinner, Ernie and I sit politely getting to know each other. We have met briefly the past winter at the Wine Spectator's New York Wine Experience, which he was attending as the producer of a fine South African wine called Engelbrecht-Els. Ernie and I are shocked to hear rumblings from one of tomorrow's opponents, Johann Rupert, about the outcome of our pending match. It is the first evidence of what is commonly known in the sports world as "trash talking." Spirits are high and getting higher as we wash down magnums of Gaja Barbaresco, Sori Tilden, 1993.

But Ernie and I are committed to acting like gentlemen no matter how hard Johann (a good friend of Ernie's for many years) tries to taunt us. I am comforted when Ernie whispers in my ear, "Don't worry, Marvin, tomorrow will be ours." I turn to Ernie and say, "Ernie, I have my faith in you." The trash talking continues throughout the dinner. We have many belly laughs.

My fear for tomorrow's match is not unfounded. My round with Tiger at the Buick Open had been the worst golf of my life. I was overcome by the pressure of the moment as I was being watched by more than 5,000 spectators—an experience I was not prepared for.

I say to Ernie, "My hope is tomorrow I can win at least one hole to say I helped our team." (God, please, one hole?) Ernie reassures me that everything will be fine.

Friday, March 10

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