Ernie Els holding the U.S. Open trophy in 1997

South African golf star Ernie Els has returned to Congressional Country Club here in the Washington area this week, the site where he won his second U.S. Open title in 1997. Els has had many changes in both his personal and professional life since that victory. Away from the course, Els married his wife, Liezl, in 1998, and they now have two children, Samantha and Ben. He also started the Els for Autism campaign to fund research of the disease after his son was diagnosed. The Els Center of Excellence is a $30 million plan to combine The Renaissance Learning Center with a research facility. This center is a charter school for autistic children, and the research facility would focus on curing and preventing the disease in the future.

All of this helps put in perspective what Els does in between the ropes. He has 35 wins on the PGA and European tours since that ’97 U.S. Open victory, including the 2002 British Open championship at Muirfield in Scotland. Earlier this year, Els was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, as he nears what could be the back nine of an illustrious career. However, Els’s recent struggles are a part of why coming back to Congressional is giving him hope.

Since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March 2010, Els has just one victory worldwide, back home at the South Africa Open. Coming back to a course where he has prevailed in a major before just might help the 41-year-old get back on track. Patience is something he’s learned in all his years of professional golf. “The Big Easy,” Ernie’s unofficial nickname, will try to recapture his winning form with that patented, silky smooth swing of his. No matter what happens this weekend, Els will be known for his decorated career on and off the golf course, while maintaining the utmost class. A Sonny Side of Sports salute for Ernie Els!

Watch Ernie chipping in here at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club:

This blog post was written by VOA intern Nicholas Berault.