No Waiting for Els, Who Heads Golf Hall of Fame Class; George H.W. Bush Is Part of Foursome and Second U.S. President Selected

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Byline: GARRY SMITS

Ernie Els said he's surprised to be going into the World Golf Hall of Fame next May, in his first year of eligibility, at the age of 40.

Should he be, after 66 worldwide victories and three major championships? Those are credentials that surpass many recent players to be enshrined at St. Augustine.

"It makes you feel very good about what you've done," Els said Wednesday during a news conference at the East Lake Golf Club, the site of this week's Tour Championship. "You'd like to think you could have done more and can still do more."

Els also will go into the Hall of Fame in good company, with two other major champions and the second U.S. president in as many induction ceremonies.

Joining Els will be former President George H.W. Bush, who enters through the lifetime achievement category, and Doug Ford and the late Jock Hutchison, through the veterans category.

Bush, who joins Dwight Eisenhower in reaching the Hall of Fame from the Oval Office, has been the honorary chairman of The First Tee since the initiative to grow golf began in 1997. Ford, 88 and a resident of Jupiter, won the Masters and the PGA Championship. Hutchison, a native of Scotland and a naturalized U.S. citizen, won a British Open and a PGA Championship.

Els burst onto the international golf scene when he won the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont at 24. He added another U.S. Open title in 1997 at Congressional and won the British Open in 2002 at Muirfield.

Els, dubbed "The Big Easy" for his effortless swing, remains among the top players in the world. He won at Doral and Bay Hill earlier this year to swell his PGA Tour victory count to 18 and enters this week's tournament, the final PGA Tour playoff, eighth on the FedEx Cup points list.

He was named on 66 percent of the ballots. Ford was the only other player to receive 50 percent or higher but got in through the veterans category anyway.

"It's a pretty big deal because obviously [Hall of Fame voters] thought of things in the right way, or I won the right tournaments," Els said. "It's obviously quite an honor to be voted in at 40."

Bush has been among the most avid golfers among U.S. presidents, legendary for the enthusiasm and the speed in which he plays rounds. …