Former world No.1 and four-time Major champion Ernie Els is looking forward to exploring the Pacific paradise of Fiji when he makes his debut at the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways at Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course from August 2-5 .
Els will make it a family affair when he travels to Fiji for the first time to play in the tournament tri-sanctioned by the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia, European Tour and Asian Tour.
“I’ve never been to Fiji so when I was contacted to see if I’d like to play I thought, Why not, it’s going to be late July and early August, should be nice and warm, so I may as well check out Fiji,” said Els.
“I’m really looking forward to it; I’m taking my daughter and my wife so we’re all really looking forward to the trip.”
A consummate professional, Els will be doing his research on the Vijay Singh-designed Natadola Bay course before teeing it up at the picturesque venue. He’s well aware of some of the challenges the gusting winds can present on several holes exposed to the Coral Sea.
“I’ll do some homework on the course in Fiji. Vijay has played there and Brandt Snedeker has played there. I did watch a little bit one year when the wind was blowing unbelievably,” recalls Els. “Hopefully the wind stays away a little bit but I’ll find some information on it before I get there and go through the course.”
The 48-year-old was recently named Captain of the International Team for next year’s Presidents Cup to be held at Royal Melbourne Golf Club from December 9-15. It has slightly changed how “The Big Easy” approaches tournaments he plays in, with one eye now on the performances of potential International Team members.
“It’s a little bit different now, my capacity as a player has changed a little bit, I’m getting closer to 50 and I’m a Presidents Cup Captain so I’m really looking around at players,” Els said of his new a role. “So I’m looking forward to changing my role from a player to a Presidents Cup Captain. I still love competing and I still love playing and I’m looking forward to giving you guys a good show in Fiji.”
Els and the International Team will have their work cut out for them to break the dominance Team USA has over the Presidents Cup.
In the 12 editions of the tournament, the US has won 10 times with the Internationals recording a victory in 1998 and a tie in 2003, Els a playing member of the Internationals on both those occasions.
“To topple the US is going to be an immense task, they’re in-form, they’ve won the Ryder Cup, they’ve won the Presidents Cup so they’re pretty confident,” added Els. “If you’ve watched the past couple of weeks, especially on the US Tour and last week at Wentworth, some of the International boys have really done well.”
The top-8 players (excluding those eligible for the European Ryder Cup team) from the Official World Golf Ranking at a nominated date will automatically qualify, leaving Els and his team to select four additional players to make up a squad of 12. He won’t be short of candidates to pick from should the form of eligible players across the golfing world hold up in time for the December 2019.
“Satoshi Kodaira won at Hilton Head and then we’ve had some really good finishes by Marc Leishman, obviously Jason Day has been off the charts winning and it seems like he’s ready to win a Major this year, Louis Oosthuizen is a top-5 player and Emiliano Grillo has played well.
“The core group of guys are starting to play well. We’re waiting for Hideki (Matsuyama) to come around and Adam Scott looks like he’s finding form. We’ve got eight players that have got to qualify then four picks, so I think I’m going to be in a healthy state come next year when we start making picks.
“We need to chip away at them, we’ve got four days next year to do that and the mission is to win 15-and-a-half points and we’ll be ready.”