When I watched Ernie Els win the Honda Classic last year, I was extremely happy for my friend. When he revealed during a post-tournament interview that his son, Ben, who was five at the time, was autistic, I was touched.
Since I have a nephew who has a form of autism, I knew exactly what he was now sharing with the world. It was a most courageous act.
I thought about what Ernie said for a while, and decided I needed to help. I came up with the idea of a pro-am charity golf tournament, and the name “Els For Autism” clicked in my mind.
I went to Ernie and his wife, Liezl, with my idea. Ernie’s eyes lit up—and he said, “Let’s do it.”
We then took a few months to decide on when to hold the tournament, where it would be played, and how it would be arranged. Last fall we agreed it would take place at PGA National, the home of the Honda Classic. After all, it was where Ernie and I had played in a pro-am the year before, where Ernie had won his trophy and where he told the world about Ben. We decided the Els for Autism pro-am would take place on Monday, March 23. The rest, as they say, is history.
We split the responsibilities. Ernie would get the PGA pros, and I would set up the teams. We agreed to keep the event small the first year, and use it as a learning experience to build our future plans for pro-ams to come.
Ernie assembled a stunning group of some of the biggest names in golf: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd, Tim Clark, Luke Donald, Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, and Justin Rose.
I was able to get 21 teams, basically comprised of my good golfing buddies. You can view pictures from the day here on this site, and you’ll read all about the details of the tournament in the June Cigar Aficionado.
Everyone had great fun and the weather was fantastic (but playing in a three-club wind is very challenging.) We raised well over half a million dollars for charity, and all the players said to me after the tournament, “count me in for next year.”
Ernie and I smiled a lot during that day. You can count me in for next year, too.