National Post from July 21- 2011
VANCOUVER — A journeyman hockey player was more popular than one of the greatest golfers from the last 20 years. Hey, it’s Canada.
South African Ernie Els, a three-time major winner who spent 15 years ranked among the top-10[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]
players in the world, stepped off the 18th green at Shaughnessy Golf Club Thursday after his best round in North America in months and was nearly trampled by reporters assembling around caddie Dan Quinn.
“I think he had 12 guys around him and I had one guy around me,” Els, 41, said with a smile later in the interview room. “He’s a hockey player in this country. He’s a good friend of mine.
“I watch hockey like any other fan. The greatest [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][hockey] fights on Youtube … we’ve watched those many times over a couple of beers. I haven’t seen him in any of those fights. I’m from South Africa and I’m a rugby fan. He reckons hockey players are tougher than rugby players, so we have big arguments.”
But there really isn’t much argument on that one: Els would crush Quinn in a fight.
The shifty centre from Ottawa was terrific with the puck, but not so good in the dressing room.
Quinn played for eight NHL teams, three of them twice, before retiring in 1996 at age 31 after the Pittsburgh Penguins released him. He finished with 685 points in 805 games. His temp job as Els’ caddie has brought him back to Vancouver for the first time since he quit playing.
While hockey coaches couldn’t seem to get rid of Quinn soon enough, a lot of teammates liked him. Quinn was often friends with the biggest stars on his team. In Vancouver, he befriended Trevor Linden. In Pittsburgh, it was Mario Lemieux.
Quinn’s sociability no doubt helps his real estate career in Jupiter, Florida, where he met Els through the friendship of their daughters. Quinn, 46, and Els, 41, play out of the same golf club. Quinn is almost as good with a putter as he was with a hockey stick. Their families get together for barbeques and birthday parties.
Last year, Quinn caddied for Els full-time on the PGA Tour. And with Els in a slump this season, Quinn is back on his bag this week.
“I worked with him last year at the Match Play Championship, which was in Tucson, and we watched a tonne of Olympics,” Quinn said. “I drove him nuts with the curling, but he was definitely hoping and pulling for Canada when it was Canada-US in the gold-medal [hockey] game. He’s gone to hockey games, but he’s religious about rugby, soccer … and cricket.
“We get on; it’s just one of those things. You get chemistry and you get along with each other. He’s the leader out there and I’m just trying to do my thing. It’s fun when it’s under par. I take it very serious. It gives me the [competitive] juices like when I played, and for that I’m always grateful when I get a chance to do it.”
Els was one of the early leaders with a 2-under-par 68 amid the beautiful trees and menacing rough of Shaughnessy. Although he was 25th at the Scottish Open two weeks ago, Els hadn’t broken 70 on this side of the Atlantic since the start of April, which was seven tournaments ago.
His world ranking has slipped to 25th, but Els is still young enough and good enough to win majors and challenge again for No. 1 in the world. He won the U.S. Open in 1994 and ’97 and the British Open in 2002.
But Els, who has 44 wins on the European and PGA tours, has finished second or third in a major 11 times.
Like Quinn, he probably hasn’t gotten as much out of his talent as he should. But his style of game — more than his recent form — gives him a chance this week.
“I feel the art form of driving has gone out the window; technology has taken over so much,” Els said. “I remember when I was in my 20s, Nick Price was almost where I’m sitting now and he was moaning about the length of the young guys. I guess I’m saying the same thing now. That is just the cycle. [But] you’ve still got to get it on the fairway and make your putts. The game hasn’t changed that much.”
Els is a global player and proud of it. The Canadian Open means something to him, even if it took an endorsement deal with RBC to get him to our national championship.
It means something to Quinn, too.
“When I look back on my career, it was two poor years [in Vancouver],” Quinn said. “Not poor — I played well my first year — but I let a great opportunity with a great, young team get away from me. I can’t get over how big the city’s grown and the energy and the vibe.
“I wish I would have played [Shaughnessy] when I was living here. It’s set up beautifully. The rough is up, the greens are perfect and the condition is great. This very much more looks like a U.S. Open, except it’s Canadian. I just love being out here. Getting a chance to do the Canadian Open and being Canadian is a great thrill.”