It’s hard to believe, but for the first time in more than a decade, the Open Championship fans won’t see the familiar figure of Neels Els walking with defending champion, Ernie Els, at Muirfield.
Instead – and at the Big Easy’s urging – Els will be walking the fairways of the Torrey Pines South Course in San Diego with his 15-year-old grandson, Jovan Rebula, hoping that history repeats itself.
Reigning Nomads SA Boys Under-17 champion Rebula tees it up this week alongside seven other South African juniors at the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego.
The George golfer will join Rosswell Sinclair (15), David Meyers (16), Otto van Buynder (14), Woo-Ju Son (12), Jaco Breedt (11), You-Yun Lui (10) and Kim Turget (9) in the largest international golf tournament in the world.
This year’s 46th edition has drawn 1,200 entries from 56 nations who compete in 11 divisions over 11 different courses and Rebula and Sinclair stand to gain invaluable experience before they tee it up in the seventh Italian International Under-16 Championship with compatriots Keegan de Lange and Kyle McClatchie this August.
In 1984, Neels Els watched as his 14-year-old son beat Phil Mickelson in the Boys 13-14 Division to win the championship. Throughout his career, Els has referred to that victory as “a major steppingstone in his golfing life”. Now, Rebula is hoping for some of the same success that launched Els’ career that produced four major championship titles and 66 professional victories worldwide.
Ahead of the 72-hole event, the young George golfer told Tod Leonard from the U-T San Diego that he is thrilled to have his grandfather with him.
“My grandfather always talks about the Junior World, so it means a lot to me that he is here,” said Rebula, who will be competing with Sinclair and Meyers in the 15-17 Boys Division competition at Torrey Pines South Course.
“I have the opportunity to do what my uncle did, and it would really mean something for me to win. He’s said this tournament kick-started his golfing career. It meant so much in getting the world to know about Ernie. It’d be nice to see if the world can start knowing me through the tournament if I perform well.”
Leonard also asked the 70-year-old Neels Els what the experience was like to watch his grandson tee it up in the same event his son won nearly 30 years ago.
“Extraordinary,” Els said. “I say thank you to a higher power because, for me, this is the ultimate gift.”