Oosthuizen completes memorable Open rout
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – If you’re asking yourself what in the name of Old Tom Morris just happened at the 150th anniversary of the Open Championship, you’re not alone.
The words “Louis Oosthuizen” sound more like the noise a sneeze might make than the name of a major champion. He likely could have strolled into the Jigger Inn next to the Old Course Hotel Monday night and ordered a pint without more than a few golf-crazed souls recognizing him. But there Oosthuizen was Sunday evening, sporting an ear-to-ear gap-toothed smile, kissing the Claret Jug as if he were the high-school geek who somehow scored a date with the prom queen.
The 27-year-old likely will have a full dance card now.
British Open (Final round)
Louis Oosthuizen silenced any doubters Sunday by picking up his first major championship.
Oosthuizen closed with a 1-under 71 at the Old Course for a 16-under 272 and seven-shot victory over Lee Westwood. Oosthuizen played nothing like a man who had made just one cut in eight previous major championships or like a man who was intimidated by the game’s grandest stage.
“To win an Open Championship is special,” said Oosthuizen, flashing that gap-toothed smile again, reminding everyone where his nickname “Shrek” was born. “But to win it here at St. Andrews, it’s something you dream about.”
While his victory did little to boost television ratings or send the enormous crowd that packed the Old Course into a frenzy, his journey to being crowned Champion Golfer of the Year is one worthy of repeating.
The son of a farmer, Oosthuizen grew up in a modest family where tennis was taught before golf. But by the time Oosthuizen was 10, his love and skill for golf grew. He honed his game at Mossel Bay Golf Club, which sits on the southern tip of South Africa, perched on the cliffs above the Indian Ocean. As the cost of travel and lessons became too much for his family to afford, Oosthuizen was accepted into countryman Ernie Els’ golf foundation, where he received the funding necessary to advance his budding talent.
As a 20-year-old, Oosthuizen shot 57 on the par-72, 6,500-yard Mossel Bay GC, a course where the constant wind helped him learn the shot-making ability required for links golf. He turned pro in 2002 and won four times in a four-year span on the South African Tour. However, he still wasn’t content with his progress on the course, failing to make cuts in major championships and break through with a victory against stronger competition on the European Tour.
“I lost my temper quite a bit four or five years ago on the course,” Oosthuizen said. “I got to the stage where I realized it’s not helping anything. It’s a matter of just enjoying yourself.”
The presence of wife Nel-Mare, whom he married in 2007, and 8-month-old daughter Jana have given Oosthuizen more perspective. He’s reminded of that bond every time he looks at his ball, stamped with “LN” on the side (for Louis and Nel-Mare), and marks it with a silver coin engraved with their wedding date. He now spends more free time hunting on his farm, which is next door to his parents’ house near Mossel Bay.
Oosthuizen won for the first time on the European Tour in March but missed the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open. He arrived at St. Andrews without much fanfare and still was an afterthought Thursday after carding a 65 that took a backseat to Rory McIlroy’s course record and 18-hole major championship-record-tying 63. By the time Oosthuizen left the course Friday after a 67, a stiff Scottish summer wind gusted as high as 40 mph, causing an hour wind delay and scores to skyrocket.
Oosthuizen stayed calm over the weekend, making only two bogeys over the final 35 holes and keeping his lead over the final 48.
He ripped driver on the home hole Sunday to the edge of the green, then three-putted for par and the victory. With Jana in her arm, Nel-Mare waltzed onto the green and kissed her husband. Moments later, he was smooching the Claret Jug.
“That was four days of tremendous golf,” said Paul Casey, who played alongside Oosthuizen in the final group, shot 75 and finished eight shots back. “He didn’t flinch today. His rhythm looked superb; he drove the ball beautifully; he was very calm. I’ve played with him many times, but that was a world-class performance.”
The Open Championship has been won recently by unheralded players Todd Hamilton (2004), Ben Curtis (2003) and Paul Lawrie (1999). Though Oosthuizen’s margin of victory was stunning, the fact that he won shouldn’t be a complete head-scratcher. He was ranked No. 54 in the world before the event, ahead of PGA Tour winners J.B. Holmes, Brian Gay, Heath Slocum and Davis Love III.
“I’ve played with Louie,” Phil Mickelson said Saturday afternoon. “He is a good ballstriker. He can really play. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he were to have a good weekend and win.”
There was one very important South African paying attention, too. Gary Player, who won three Open Championships, was renting a house 30 miles from St. Andrews and followed the final-round action by radio. He called Oosthuizen on Sunday morning and chatted with him in their native Afrikaans about seizing the moment.
“He was saying just to stay calm out there, have a lot of fun, and he said that the crowd was probably going to be on Paul’s side,” Oosthuizen said. “He told me the story when he played against Arnold Palmer when he won his first Masters (in 1961). He said, ‘They wanted to throw stuff at me.’ But he was so focused on beating him in Augusta. So you know, it meant a lot, him phoning me up.”
After an eye-popping performance at St. Andrews, it probably will be the first of many phone calls Oosthuizen gets.