Sweet-swinging Louis Oosthuizen hunts for first U.S. triumph in Players

Louis Oosthuizen-The Players Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports

Sweet-swinging Louis Oosthuizen hunts for first U.S. triumph in Players

PGA Tour

Sweet-swinging Louis Oosthuizen hunts for first U.S. triumph in Players

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – South African Louis Oosthuizen admires the melodic tempo of Adam Scott’s swing, loves to watch countryman Charl Schwartzel strike long irons, and barely can look when the World Nos. 1 and 2 are about to smash a driver.

“You know, it’s little things that I look at in swings that I really admire,” Oosthuizen said Friday, when a bogey-free and brilliant 66 moved him atop the leaderboard with Kyle Stanley at the PGA Tour’s The Players Championship. “And then just watching, I think, Rory (McIlroy, World No. 2) and Dustin (Johnson, World No. 1) hit drivers would drive anyone crazy – even me as a professional, because the speed they can do it at is unbelievable to watch.”

The rest of golf and the millions of people who play it? Well, many love to watch the sweet swing of Louis Oosthuizen, a man who’s fluid motion and intricate timing could be set to some great jazz music.

When, exactly, was the last time that Oosthuizen wasn’t pleased with his own swing? He smiled broadly. “Well, I wasn’t very happy yesterday,” he said.

6 birdies and no bogeys

That’s fine. Friday was a different story. Six birdies, including a nice one to finish his day at the par-5 ninth, and a couple of bogey threats that he erased with timely putts. All of a sudden, at a tournament in which the 2010 British Open champion has a pretty poor record – six starts, three missed cuts, a best finish of T-19 – he’s in terrific position to join an incredible roster of champions this weekend on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

For all he’s done around the globe, Oosthuizen, 34, who now makes his home in Palm Beach with his wife and children, would like to win here. He has never won in the U.S., quite surprisingly, and this would be quite a week to break through. Even if he doesn’t have the best history here.

“The history about the tournament, the golf course, everything about it, you see it as another major week of golf,” he said. “For being a professional, this is definitely one of the courses that you try and ‘up’ your game and just give it that little bit more for the week and try and win the championship.

“I think that enough is a lot of motivation. Doesn’t matter what your golf game looks like.”

Oosthuizen said his game feels as if it’s in pretty good shape, even if his best finish around the globe in eight 2017 starts is a third-place showing at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February. He’s been working on his putting when at home, trying to shake free for 30 minutes when he can to hone his stroke. On Friday, he hit 16 greens in regulation and made nearly 110 feet of putts.

Why hasn’t he fared better through the years on the Stadium Course? Well, for one, he knows it’s a very fickle place. In fact, he has said he has swung it quite well here some years without getting much in terms of a payoff.

“You know, you can get one or two awkward bounces or lies and get a flier out of the rough and quickly make a big number – you know, double bogey, triple bogey, whatever it might be,” he said. “And I think that’s where over the years you sort of learn to be patient around this golf course . . . Don’t try the hero shot all the time. A few times, maybe take the bogey. Don’t try and do the brave thing.

“But it’s a proper golf course. You need to be on top of your game mentally and out on the course.”

Oosthuizen owns 11 wins worldwide, counting victories in such locales as Scotland, Malaysia, Spain, Australia and Africa. He’d love to break his winless run in the U.S. this weekend.

No wins in the USA

“I’ve come close a few times,” he said, “and I’ve felt I’ve played really well. You know, so it’s something I don’t really want to think about, but you do now and then think about it.”

A postscript: On a week during which the PGA Tour announced a new, 10-year extension with FedEx Corp., title sponsor of the FedEx Cup regular season and FedEx Cup playoffs, there is a measure of awkwardness to seeing Oosthuizen atop the PGA Tour biggest tournament of the year. Why? Oosthuizen (and Lee Westwood) are sponsored by FedEx’s main competitor, UPS.

As part of the 10-year extension, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said earlier this week that the Tour will go to great lengths to protect its partners, which means players of the future won’t be sponsored by competitors of a company ponying up an estimated $650 million over 10 years.

That said, the Tour reviewed the current situations of Oosthuizen and Westwood and decided it would grandfather in the sponsorship deals that are in place. So it’s very possible that a “UPS guy” could be collecting 600 FedEx Cup points on Sunday night at Tour headquarters.

“I think it’s an awkward spot for me and Westwood,” Oosthuizen said, “because FedEx is great for all of us players, as well. You know, I think we were very happy with being grandfathered into the old procedures.”

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