ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – There are weird things going on here.
It was supposed to be Ernie Els in front of the cameras and microphones, reflecting on his flawless play, talking about how much another British Open victory would mean to him.
Instead the spotlight is shining on a relatively unknown countryman of Els, a 27-year-old graduate of the Ernie Els & Fancourt junior golf program in South Africa, a man with a name nobody can pronounce, a longshot golfer who missed the cut in this year’s first two major championships with rounds of 75-77 (Masters) and 77-74 (U.S. Open).
Here in the third major of the year, Louis Oosthuizen is leading by four strokes after three rounds. Go figure. If there is such a thing as horses for courses, nobody would have confused Oosthuizen with Seabiscuit heading into this British Open at St. Andrews.
Yet here he is, four ahead of Englishman Paul Casey and seven in front of German Martin Kaymer heading into Sunday’s final round.
In Saturday’s third round, when many golf fans seemed to be waiting for Oosthuizen to come unraveled, he three-putted the first green for a bogey but then rebounded to make 13 pars and 4 birdies the rest of the way.
Casey pulled within two strokes for much of the back nine, but the South African increased his margin to four with birdies at 16 and 18.
In South Africa and around the world, Oosthuizen the golfer has existed in the shadow of his two illustrious countrymen – Els, a three-time major champion, and Retief Goosen, who owns two major titles.
Now apparently it’s his turn. He won his first title on the PGA European Tour earlier this year at Andalucia in Spain, and he clearly enjoys his role as a giant killer.
“I don’t think anyone was thinking I was going to be up there,” he admitted. “I mean, no one can actually say my surname, so they don’t even know who I am out there.”
Let’s get it straight. Louis is pronounced Lou-e. Oosthuizen is pronounced Woost-hey-zen.
The world of golf can forget all that. Just call him Cool Hand Lou. He appears unflappable on the golf course.
“I lost my temper quite a bit four or five years ago on the course, and, you know, I got to the stage where I’m realizing it’s not helping me,” revealed Oosthuizen, who this week is reminding many observers of the stoic Goosen.
On the Sunday before the British Open, Oosthuizen was stung by a bumblebee on his right forearm.
“It swelled up a lot,” said Ping tour rep Chance Cozby. “It got really big, but Louis never panicked. He’s pretty cool.”
Added Oosthuizen with a laugh, “My forearm, the right one, looked a bit like (muscleman) Paul Casey at that stage. But it went down, and I don’t really feel anything. It just didn’t look too good, but it was fine.”
John Solheim, CEO of Ping, the golf equipment manufacturer that signed Oosthuizen to an endorsement contract, said, “He’s really a neat guy. We’ve been waiting for him to do something like this.”
Ping probably hasn’t been waiting for a Shrek impersonation, however. Oosthuizen’s nickname is Shrek, taken from the green ogre in the movie series. At one time, he even used a Shrek headcover on his driver.
Explaining that the nickname comes from a wide gap between two of his front teeth – similar to the ogre – Oosthuizen decided to dress in ogre green for Saturday’s third round.
It could have been worse.
“I’ve got a green and white pair of shoes, and I was planning on wearing that today,” he said. “But then I thought, being called an ogre, I didn’t want to look like one. I have a white hat with green Ping writing on it, as well. I’m actually very glad in a way I didn’t (wear) that.”
Okay, he’s not an ogre. He’s just a golfer from the South African mold. What is it about these South Africans and their smooth, lazy-looking but powerful golf swings?
Els, Goosen and Oosthuizen all have deceptively easy swings. They never appear to rush their backswings or downswings, although all three hit the ball a very long way.
For the first three rounds, Oosthuizen is averaging 319.33 yards in driving distance. Casey’s average is 314.5 yards.
Oosthuizen has hit 43 of 48 fairways (the Old Course at St. Andrews has only two par 3s, increasing the importance of driving accuracy). Casey has hit 39 fairways.
Can the British Open really produce a champion whose best finish in a major is 73rd (and last among those who made the cut) in the 2008 PGA Championship?
It appears so. For this event, at least, he seems to have combined the best features of Els (his swing), Goosen (his temperament) and Gary Player, the biggest of the South African golf legends (his competitiveness).
“Mr. Player did leave a message,” he said, “and, you know, I’m probably going to get a ring from him a bit later. Yeah, it’s always special hearing from him. What he’s done for golf in South Africa is unbelievable.”
Maybe Shrek will call, too. Weird things are happening here.