When he’s walking the streets in his native South Africa, Ernie Els is a pretty big deal. The Big Easy has 74 professional golf victories including 19 on the PGA Tour and 28 on the European Tour.
But when he’s in Alabama, Els understands the pecking order. And while fans were excited to see Els and other members of the PGA Tour Champions as part of the Regions Tradition pro-am in Birmingham on Wednesday, Alabama football coach Nick Saban still commands the room’s attention.
Els and Saban went off at 9 a.m. CT on Wednesday at Greystone Golf & Country Club, ahead of other stars like Charles Barkley, Bo Jackson, Eddie George, Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and former Auburn coach and current U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville.
“Yeah, that is royalty right there. I’m from South Africa, so I’ve been coming to the U.S. many years and I kind of understand the culture here, especially in football culture,” Els said of Saban. “That is as high up the tree as you can go, Nick Saban. So it was a real treat to play with him and have a chat with him. Just to be around him was really special.”
And while Els hasn’t spent much time in state, he did take an Iron Bowl football game in while his nephew was attending Auburn. He admitted that playing Saban in Alabama was an unforgettable experience.
“It’s like some kind of a rock star, Elvis Presley walking around. People just want to be near him, they want to be close to him, they just want to touch and feel him,” Els said. “He’s the man around here, and rightfully so. Arguably—probably not even arguably—he’s the best coach in my lifetime. To have been paired with him and to rub shoulders with him was great. It was a good time.”
And while the masses huddled around Saban, the talk of the pro-am was Barkley, who displayed a new-and-improved swing that eliminated much of the herky-jerky motion the former NBA star has been known for on the golf course.
— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) May 5, 2021
Barkley piped his first drive, looking the part of a seasoned vet in the process.
“Stan Utley got me fixed, man,” Barkley said.
Late last year, Barkley spoke with Golfweek‘s Adam Schupak and indicated that too many cooks had made for an explosion in his kitchen.
“I used to be a good player until I took too many lessons from too many different people. Now I’ve got 10 people talking to me at a time when I’m trying to swing the golf club,” Barkley said in November. “I’m really trying to get out of it. I’m working with Stan Utley now and I’m playing better than I have in 20 years. But I’ve tried everything, including hypnosis. I’ll never believe in it again. I woke up with the same sh–y swing.”
Barkley was helped by some soft greens and fairways as the area saw significant rains on Tuesday.
Els, for one, was impressed with the grounds on Wednesday, as the senior circuit’s best players worked in anticipation of this week’s event, the first major on the PGA Tour Champions’ 2021 calendar.
“I think the course held up unbelievably. I mean, yesterday we had six inches of rain. I really didn’t even think we would play this morning, but they’ve done well, the superintendents have done well. The greens are running beautifully,” Els said. “So I think we’re in for a good week. It’s still going to be very soft. We’re probably going to have the ball in hand probably the first maybe two rounds and then see how it goes. Really happy to see the course being playable.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/05/05/golf-charles-barkley-nick-saban-ernie-els/