Golf: Els' big lesson sets up 'Radar Tel' for longer drives

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The Independent Online
TERRY TOOK out his new Titleist titanium driver and smacked the ball about 200 yards towards a target on the practice range. It flew as straight as an arrow. Ernie Els broke into applause. "That's good," the South African said. "Very good."

Els was genuinely imp-ressed. "You're hitting it further than I did when I was your age," he told a junior chorus line of kids. Twenty-four hours after helping South Africa to victory in the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews, Els was at Wentworth, running a kindergarten clinic.

The average age of a golfer in Britain is 43, although Justin Rose went someway towards lowering that figure by his extraordinary exploits in the Open at Royal Birkdale in July. Rose, then an 18-year-old amateur, finished joint fourth, prompting parents throughout the land to thrust sawn-off clubs into tiny hands. The rewards for the ultra successful are enormous.

"It is not a bad life," Els, who won pounds 100,000 on Sunday, told the stars of tomorrow. "By the time you start playing professionally the first prize in tournaments will be pounds 5m. You can win one and then retire."

Terry Nicholls can't wait. Aged 12 and weighing six and a half stone, he started playing golf 18 months ago. At the beginning of the year his handicap was 26. Now it is seven. Geoff Godfrey, the professional at Mitcham, calls him "Radar Tel" on account that he rarely misses a fairway. "I can't teach him anything else," Godfrey said. Terry, a member at Shirley Park, Croydon, recently won an Under-19 tournament. With his Adidas cap and shirt, he looks the part.

He has blown all his pocket money on his new driver costing pounds 260. When he is in a competition he pretends he is Els. "How often do you practise?" Radar Tel asks Ernie. "Most days," the world No 3 replied.

Hardly anybody practices as much as Radar Tel, according to his 14-year- old brother Steven, who plays off 30 and prefers football. "He goes to the golf club straight from school and changes in the car park," Steven said. "You can't keep him off the driving range. It's all he thinks about."

Els began playing at eight, pulling his Dad's trolley around a course in Johannesburg. By the time he was 13 he had won the world junior championship in San Diego. He has since won the US Open twice but, as he told his class yesterday, he has not won the two majors that are closest to his heart, the Masters and the Open. As to the latter he feels it is time it was played in Ireland - more specifically Northern Ireland, as he singled out two courses that, in his opinion, would be ideal venues for the Open: Royal Portrush and Royal County Down.

"You've got a head start," Els told his pupils. "You've got the fundamentals right but don't ever think you've got everything covered. Jack Nicklaus deserved nine out of 10 for his driving, seven out of 10 for his putting but he never had a four out of 10 in anything. Keep working but don't get too bogged down with technical advice."

Radar Tel could not wish for a better role model. "The Big Easy", as Els is referred to on tour, will be 29 on Saturday, by which time he should be in the semi-finals of the World Matchplay Championship at Wentworth, an event he won three times in a row before losing to Vijay Singh in the final 12 months ago.

Meanwhile, Radar Tel gives a television interview. "I don't play with too many 20-handicappers," he says. "They slow my game down."

Not everybody is impressed. "The flash little git," Terry Butcher, his grandfather and the man who introduced the prodigy to golf, said. "I'm going to give him a right rollicking."