Ernie Els Photo: EPA/Christiaan Kotze

It was very much a Big Easy (and Little Easy) family affair in the first round of the South African Open at Randpark on Thursday with 49-year-old Ernie Els shooting a handy five-under-par 66 on the Bushwillow course and his 21-year-old nephew Jovan Rebula, playing a few groups behind him, signing for a 67.

"We never have a bet as to who'll play the best but there's always bragging rights, so I guess today that belongs to Oom Ernie because he pipped me by one," chuckled Rebula, who sensationally won the British Amateur Championship at Royal Aberdeen in June this year. 

"But it was great to see Ernie's name on the leaderboard today; he really has been playing well and he was rolling in the putts.

"I guess I was also rock solid – five birdies and just one drop. Hardly any mistakes. It helped to have my dad (Dragan) on the bag caddying for me, my mom Carina (Ernie's sister and Dragan's wife) behind the ropes, and also my grandad (Neels Els, Ernie's father) keeping tabs on my score. 

"It was a happy, family day out there with a few birdies thrown in." 

Eleven birdies between uncle and nephew, to be precise. Pretty good going for starters on day one. 

Jovan, of course, is still an amateur and currently enrolled in his third year of study at Auburn University in Alabama in America where he is majoring in business and psychology and – not surprisingly – playing college golf to a very high level.

Els may have won four Majors and 70 tournaments across the world as a professional but never the Amateur Championship. 

In fact, Rebula is only the second South African after Bobby Cole in 1966 to have achieved this feat and it earned him a spot in The Open Championship this year, the Masters next April (where Ernie will be his mentor and chief cheerleader) as well as the US Open in June.

Rebula may be the Little Easy but he's not so little – almost as tall as Ernie who struck a purple patch Thursday with four straight birdies from Bushwillow's par-4 seventh hole, holding long putts as both No 8 and No 9 to pick up shots and a shorter one at the 10th.

"He's certainly got a silky touch going for him right now," observed Neels Els, who is watching his son trying to win a sixth SA Open. 

And while Ernie may be turning 50 next year, don't count him out as a winner just yet. 

He's just coming off four straight under-par cuts on the 2018/2019 PGA Tour, and two in a row on the European Tour. And the putter's hot. 

African News Agency (ANA)