(Reuters) - Ernie Els is dreaming of holding aloft the South African flag at the opening ceremony when golf returns to the Olympics in Brazil in 2016, he said at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
The South African, who has won four major championships and more than 60 titles around the world, will be 46 when the sport returns to the Games fold in Rio de Janeiro following a 112-year absence.
“I would love to be on the team representing South Africa at the Olympics,” said Els after finishing down the field in 39th position at the European Tour’s season-ending event in the Middle East.
“If it comes off it would be the extra special bit of icing on my career. Presently there’s really no opportunity other than the World Cup for a South African golfer to directly represent his country.
“It would be unbelievable to be part of the team. If I qualify, and I hope I do because when next year comes around that will become a burning goal of mine, I may even allow myself the thought of carrying the South African flag into the stadium.”
Els has struggled to make an impact on the world stage this year, slipping from 27th to 57th in the rankings after failing to win on the European Tour or U.S. PGA Tour.
Sixty players will line up in both the men’s and women’s 72-hole strokeplay tournaments in Brazil.
Golfers in the top 15 of the rankings will automatically be eligible although no more than four players from any one country can compete.
Officials will also make space for at least one male and one female player from Brazil and are committed to having at least one golfer from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
“I never thought when I started playing this game that I would be standing here talking of playing in the Olympics but I’m really getting excited at being on the same international stage as those stars of track and field,” said Els.
“It would be wonderful just to spend time with them in the environment of an Olympic Games.”
The Florida-based Els won the British Open in 2002 and 2012 and the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997.
Editing by Justin Palmer