ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The leader of the 139th Open Championship is nicknamed Shrek, speaks softly, smiles profusely and has no intentions of handing out vuvuzelas to the crowds this weekend at St. Andrews.
On the count of three, let’s all take a deep breath and thank Louis Oosthuizen.
The gap-toothed South African shot 5-under 67 on the Old Course Friday for a 12-under 132 total. He leads by three shots over Rory McIlory, who had 63 Thursday and had yet to arrive at St. Andrews as Oosthuizen was rolling in a birdie on No. 18, his seventh of the day. It will be just the second time Oosthuizen will play on the weekend in nine career major championship appearances.
If you were one of the many casual fans in the U.S. who awoke Friday morning, turned on the TV and saw a mouthful of vowels atop the leaderboard and thought – Really? Louis Oosthuizen? – you weren’t alone.
“I really had never heard of him,” said Jeff Overton, who was paired with Oosthuizen for Rounds 1 and 2. “I knew he was a good player, though, because I looked up his world ranking and it was up there.”
For the record, that’s “Louie West-how-zen,” ranked 54th in the world, born Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen, a 27-year-old from Mossel Bay, South Africa, son of a farmer, who grew up playing tennis and switched to golf as a 10-year-old. When Oosthuizen started to excel as a junior golfer, his parents were unable to fund his budding golf career. Enter the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, which Oosthuizen joined as a 17-year-old, and received coaching and travel expenses for three years until he turned pro.
“At that stage, things probably weren’t going well on the farm,” Oosthuizen said. “We heard of the foundation and got into it. You know, it was unbelievable.”
Oosthuizen turned professional in 2002, cut his teeth on the European Challenge Tour and eventually landed on the European Tour in 2004. He has won five times around the world, most recently in March at the Euro Tour’s Andalucia Open.
But this is the Open Championship.
“It’s probably the position anyone wants to be in – playing a major on the weekend,” Oosthuizen said. “I’m just having a lot of fun, really.”
Oosthuizen woke up Friday to 40 mph wind and heavy rain, but by the time he teed off at 6:41 a.m. in the day’s second group, the weather had subsided. He took the lead at 10 under after birdies on Nos. 5-7, then drove the green on the 386-yard, par-4 10th and two-putted for birdie. With the wind picking up, Oosthuizen played the back nine in even par.
“I think he hit inside me seven times in two rounds and has beat me by 10 shots,” Overton said. “He hit it great. He just kept making putts.”
Through 36 holes, Oosthuizen has missed just five greens, two fairways and is averaging nearly 325 yards off the tee. He left the Old Course with an ear-to-ear smile, eager to meet his wife of three years, Nel-Mare, and 7-month-old daughter, Jana, for lunch.
This weekend will be a new experience for Oosthuizen. He missed the cut this year at the Masters and the U.S. Open, and at last week’s Scottish Open. When he made the cut at the 2008 PGA Championship, he finished last among those playing on the weekend.
“I’m OK with people seeing my name on top of the leaderboard,” Oosthuizen said. “I think it’s very important to enjoy yourself on the golf course.”