His languid swing long ago saw the 6ft 3in South African dubbed The Big Easy, but his route back to the top took a very unexpected turn this week when he boarded an economy flight from his London home to Castle Stuart for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
"It's the first time I've flown easyJet and it might not be the last," said the 42-year-old multi-millionaire. "It was a nice change from flying around in charters. They charged me £150, including my clubs. It's very easy and it's value for money. I've gone back to my roots. I loved it. People were looking at me and the players have given me a lot of stick. I won't say what they said to me, but they had a lot of fun at my expense.
"Everybody was so surprised to see me, but that's where we all started and some nice stories were told again about the old days when I played the European Tour full-time.
"We used to fly out from Heathrow on Tuesday mornings as a group and return on Sunday evenings with the caddies. There was a smoking session at the back of the plane in those days and some of the players would be there. The next day we would usually wake up with hangovers."
Els admitted that there have been times when those days were becoming a distant memory in every way.
A full decade has now elapsed since he won his only Open Championship and even then he admitted that he had needed to overcome a significant mental hurdle, since his two US Open victories had come when he was in his twenties. He proved at the Olympic Club last month, however, that he remains capable of mixing it with the next generation and he clearly enjoyed getting back to the mindset of the fearless days of his youth.
"There were times that I doubted I could get back there again, but I was really calm," he said. "I really felt like my old self, you know, in that situation. I did stumble coming in a bit on 16 and, obviously, 18, but for the most part I felt very in control and just let my game do the work like I used to. So that's the positive I'm taking out of it, that I really felt mentally and physically very at ease for once, which I haven't felt like in months."
His preparation for this event, which he has won twice in the past, has also been very relaxed as he spent three weeks at home since that US Open bid, confining his golf to playing at his local courses.
However, for all that this is doubling as links preparation for next week's Open Championship, he is not ruling out the possibility of making it a hat trick of Scottish Open wins.
"Obviously, playing tournament golf is a different level of sharpness you've got to be at and hopefully I can be there," he said. "I'm not necessarily writing myself off this week."
Whether he plays well or not, however, he will not be reading too much into his prospects for Lytham. "I think most of the years I've played the Open I've played the Scottish Open and I've done well in some of them and not so well in some of them," Els observed.
"Obviously, if you play well here this week it sets you up for a really great Open Championship. If you don't, you know what you've got to work on."