‘Ernie is a big name and running a great cause. That was my base, because golf is my sport and I wanted to help someone in the industry who is making a difference’ – Mike Usendorff.
According to the University of California’s School of Medicine one in 68 children is affected by autism or a related disorder. It is more prevalent than breast cancer or child diabetes.
‘Autism hits families hard and I’ll be fighting for the rest of my life to try and help others in the same situation,’ Ernie Els says on the landing page of the Els for Autism website. ‘I hope you’ll share an interest and join me in this fight.’
Mike Usendorff, a 23-year-old from Port Elizabeth, got on board by undertaking to play 180 holes in 10 hours to help raise funds for the cause. The NMMU BTech Marketing student was to attempt the marathon at Humewood Golf Club and spent weeks preparing.
‘I trained by playing speed golf at Humewood, trying to play 18 holes in 45 minutes. It’s very tough when it comes to the mental side, but I’ve also got to make sure I’ve stretched well and my body is ready. I’m going to get to holes and say “I’m done,” but knowing these kids are relying on me will be important,’ he said.
Els, whose son Ben is strongly affected by autism, established the Els for Autism Foundation in 2009 with his wife, Liezl. In 2011 they opened the doors of the Els Centre of Excellence, which gives children on the spectrum access to the best practices in education and therapy.
Usendorff spent time with Ben during a trip to the coast and was inspired by the youngster.
‘I played with Ernie’s son a few times in the water at Oubaai and it was touching to see how much he appreciated the smallest things in life. It was humbling to see such a bright kid take pleasure in the little things,’ he said.
The Port Elizabethan is following in his father’s footsteps. Dave Usendorff, who is the managing director at The Els Club, Copperleaf, once played 256 holes in one day at Woodhill Country Club to raise money for charity.
‘It started a while ago with my father and he’s given a lot back to the community. I’ve always wanted to play as many holes as I can for charity, but I also want people to admire the game of golf. Hopefully I can be the vehicle for that,’ said Mike.
The rules for the task are simple. Only five clubs may be used in an attempt to play 180 holes in 10 hours, from 7am until 5pm. Golf carts are allowed and there will be spotters on the course.
Usendorff wants to make it on to the NMMU team this year and compete at the University Sport South Africa Tournament, which will be held at Humewood in July. The university team will support him during the 180-hole ordeal.
‘It’s just myself playing, but it would’t be possible without my teammates from NMMU – they’re going to be driving me around and bringing food and water. They’re the ones who will motivate me when I start struggling,’ he said.
Usendorff has spent his life on the golf scene and used to hit balls with Brandon Stone in Centurion as a teenager. He completed his matric at Grey High School in PE and enrolled immediately at NMMU.
‘I often hear guys talking about golf in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban. I’m a PE boy and I want people to start saying “look at what those guys are doing for the growth of the sport.”’
The Els for Autism Foundation was an obvious candidate for the proceeds.
‘I wanted to get involved with a charity close to the golfing sector,’ explained Usendorff. ‘Ernie is a big name and running a great cause. That was my base, because golf is my sport and I wanted to help someone in the industry who is making a difference.’
The funds raised will be shared equally between the NMMU golf programme and the Els for Autism Foundation.
‘Over the years golf has been declining and this is my way of doing my part. Ernie and my father have done a lot for the community and golf development. I just feel like I can give a little bit back myself,’ Usendorff concluded.