Ernie Els and the ASM Sports Group are opening international doors for talented young South Africans.
Els understands exactly the value of international opportunity for a sportsman or woman. And it’s why he’s extremely proud of the fact that the international sports scholarship programme he helped launch in 2018, and remains a partner in, has now grown to having provided sports scholarships to top American colleges for almost 300 young South Africans.
Els was one of the founding partners of the ASM Sports Group in 2018 along with Piet Pieters (who has 37 years of experience in the American sports market) and Chris Vidal (formerly a sports recruitment adviser to the International Olympic Committee, the World Golf Foundation and Team Great Britain).
Based in West Palm Beach in Florida, ASM has one very clear aim: to give talented young South African sportsmen and women opportunities to use their talent to gain a quality education in the American college system.
“I know exactly what international opportunities can mean and create for South African sportsmen and women,” says Els as he reflects on the rapid success of the ASM Sports Group.
“I was very fortunate early in my career to get the support I needed. In 1992, I won the South African Open. That got me into DP World Tour events and into The Open Championship, where I finished fifth that year. And two years later I won my first Major in the US Open. So, I know the difference international opportunity can make for a South African sportsman or woman.”
One of South Africa’s greatest sportsmen saw the value of this when he launched his Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation with a specific focus on providing underprivileged children with golf talent the opportunity to not only develop their game, but also to build a life through a quality education.
“I’m passionate about seeing South Africans succeed. It’s been the driving force behind our Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation in golf, and ASM has taken this even further. We now have almost 300 South Africans in scholarships in America. The fact that they are getting a world-class education at the same time as developing their sport is what really excites me about this initiative.”
For Els, the ASM Sports Group has taken this philosophy to the next level in all sports as it’s providing college opportunities for 1,576 students from 104 countries, including 295 South Africans, in the sports of golf, soccer, tennis, rugby, hockey, swimming, rowing, water polo and gymnastics.
It has already provided over $7.5 million per year in sports scholarships and has high-profile ambassadors such as multiple Major winner and former world No 1 golfer Els, Springbok Bryan Habana, former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, South African tennis great Johan Kriek, and other iconic international sports stars such as golfer Sir Nick Faldo, footballers Michael Owen and Enoch Showumni, England rugby player Alex Corbisiero, and David Beckham’s Major League Soccer club Inter Miami.
South African sprint sensation Phatutshedzo Shaun Maswanganyi is one of the success stories of the initiative. Currently a college student at the University of Houston, Maswanganyi is coached by athletic great Carl Lewis and has dominated the American college scene on his way to qualifying for the 100m and 200m at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 where the 21-year-old just missed out on a place in the 200m final by 0.08 seconds and finished sixth in the 100m semi-final in his first major international competition.
Leading South African amateur golfer Christiaan Maas has just been accepted to the University of Texas, while this country also has three women hockey players currently on scholarships at the prestigious Ivy League universities of Yale, Brown and Princeton.
“Every student is evaluated by our team according to their sport and academic accomplishments,” explains Pieters. “We have a worldwide network of recruiting agents, many of whom went through the college system themselves so have an intimate knowledge of this system.
“We then provide these students and their families with realistic feedback as to what they can expect in terms of financial sponsorship as well as the type of university they would be best suited for. The level and value of each sponsorship is exactly proportionate to the student’s academic and sports potential and we take great care in placing the students where we believe they have the best chance of excelling at their level and where they will reap the maximum benefits.”
The doorway to international opportunity has long been a key development factor for South African sport. It’s something one of the country’s most successful tennis stars, Wayne Ferreira, has also been able to appreciate.
“You can’t be a great tennis player only playing in South Africa. You need to be able to go and see what’s happening in Europe and the US,” said Ferreira.
“It’s very important for young players to go to where the tennis is and see what’s out there, and where they stand compared to everybody else and what they need to do to get to that level. That’s the hard part because you need to travel, and a lot of people can only do that with funding.”
Els and his team at the ASM Sports Group are hoping to meet this need.