LOCH LOMOND // Ernie Els has found wealth and erected a graceful persona by knocking a little white ball around various parts of the planet, but the exacting nature of life has no regard for a person's position within the loftier regions of golf, or society. The South African player admitted as much yesterday as he concluded preparations that he hopes will end with him landing a third Barclays Scottish Open title on Sunday night.
Ahead of the start of the tournament, Els spoke about how he manages to travel the world, while handling the continuing demands of raising his five-year-old autistic son Ben. Els, who is married to Liezl and also has a daugher, Samantha, started to display an "Autism Speaks" badge on his bag earlier this year after the condition of his son was brought into the public forum. He has three major titles to his name from the US and British Open, and will try to add a fourth at next week's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, but golf is no longer his main priority.
"Family life is number one as you know but for a long time there, golf was absolutely number one. Your priorities change a little bit, and that's why we want to spend a bit more time in the US," said Els. "They have got a good system there for kids with Ben's situation, and it is going to be good there. It is what is it, and you cope with what you get in life, and I think that's what myself and my wife have been doing away from the golf course.
"You have your good days and bad days, but the whole focus should be on getting the best treatment for Ben." Els has a proud record at Loch Lomond over the years. He won the event in 2000 and 2003, and was third in 2004 and 2007 to underline his consistency at the event. He is a praiseworthy 77 under par for his last 28 rounds over the course. One gets the impression that he kind of likes this place, if not the constant threat of rain.
"I don't think there's too many places in the world that get more beautiful than here at Loch Lomond. The only problem will be the weather," he said. As usual there is a local favourite at such events, and the Scotsman Colin Montgomerie will occupy such a role this week as he chases a ninth successive appearance in the European Ryder Cup side against the US in September. "I'm exempt on this tour until I'm 52 in 2015, and I plan on playing on that time on this tour," said Montgomerie, who was married at Loch Lomond only three months ago.
"I was going to say I'm fit enough, but I never have been and, mentally, I have never been that way either. But I plan improving some way to get back into the top 50 in the world. That's the first goal. "I really looked forward to these two weeks of the year, with the Scottish and British Opens. "I also really look forward to the next month and a half before the selection process for the Ryder Cup finishes."