JUPITER — Ernie Els says it’s true.
He saw Donald Trump’s tee shot last weekend on the 7th hole at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach bounce twice, run to the flagstick, hit the stick and fall into the hole.
“We’re all looking at it and I’m like, ‘This stuff looks good,'” Els said Monday. “He bounced back and I put my contact lenses in. I saw him clearly.
“We throw our clubs in the air. You know, ‘it’s amazing.’ You play with the ex-president and he blows a hole in one. How many times does that happen? That’s what goes through your mind.
Ernie Els golfs with Donald Trump at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach
Els, who lives in Jupiter, and Trump were playing with pros Gene Sauers, Ken Duke and Mike Goodes on the course about five miles from Trump’s home in Palm Beach. Els said he birdied eight and Trump also birdied No. 15.
“He had a good day,” Els said. “He was in a really good mood. … We had dinner the night before. Normally I don’t play too much on weekends. (Trump) insisted I get my ass out and play.”
Trump’s version of his hole-in-one – the former president released a statement describing the shot – has been called into question. After all, he is a man about whom a book has been written called: Cheating Commander: How Golf Explains Trump.
On Monday, Els celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for the Stoops Family Foundation Adult Services Building at the Els Center of Excellence, which will serve adults with autism. He was then asked about Trump’s hole-in-one.
Ernie Els explains how Trump got the hole-in-one
Els confirmed the hole was 181 yards. Trump, he said, “crossed” the 5-iron, something Trump told Els he learned from Gary Player, the 86-year-old nine-time major champion who lives on the island of Jupiter .
“Gary told him to put his whole body in,” Els said, stepping forward as he mimicked a golf swing. “He went through with the shot. He hit him in the wind. I can hear him. I’m watching, I’m standing behind him.
“He’s going through it. He’s not really looking at it. He’s kind of heading for the cart…he’s driving his cart over the tee there. I think he took a kick.”
Els saw Trump pull the ball out of the hole. “He was pretty low-key.”
When Els heard some people wondering if this was another unsubstantiated claim by Trump, he said, “I saw that. It was amazing.”
Still, he said Trump was no different from other leaders he had golfed with.
“To be honest, I’ve played with many, many presidents and prime ministers, heads of state all over the world,” said Els, from South Africa. “I have yet to see one playing. In his defence, I haven’t seen many playing.
So he could beautify? “Yeah. Some of them pick up 3-footers. Why not?”
Els, 52, is a Hall of Famer, former world No. 1 and four-time major winner who currently plays on the PGA Tour Champions. He and his wife, Liezl, established the Els Center of Excellence in Jupiter. Els met Trump in 1997 at the PGA Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club outside of New York.
Els’ recognition report on the man who is said to have played more golf than any other president during his tenure:
“He hits the ball better than I’ve ever seen…I mean he’s 75. But he can really hit the ball. He makes good contact. He has a good swing.
“Like any amateur, you have to practice the short game. I keep talking to him about his chipping. He’s a really good putter. Back then he must have had a handicap of 4 or 5. Today he is probably a 10, 12.”