Luiten makes a name for himself on Thursday
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. –- Joost was on the loose for 14 holes. He was 8 under, juiced up if you will, high on adrenaline and so high on the PGA Championship leaderboard he was ahead by two strokes. People were wondering just who Joost Luiten is, how was he leading the season’s final major championship, what’s with the two black gloves and, of course, how is his name pronounced?
2012 PGA Championship: Round 1
Check out photos from the first round of the PGA Championship at Kiawah's Ocean Course.
Apparently the 26-year-old Dutchman, in just his third major and first in America, was also nervous. In the span of four closing holes, he went from two strokes up to two behind. Evoking memory of Adam Scott at Royal Lytham, he bogeyed his last four holes, the first two on three-putts, and quickly transformed from protagonist to something of an afterthought.
“You can’t deny that you get nervous when you start playing so well in a major and take a big lead,” said Luiten, in his fourth full season on the PGA European Tour, where his lone victory came last November in Malaysia.
It appears he might have used up his 15 minutes on those first 14 holes. We have seen this movie before: Little-known professional–young and talented in this case–shoots to the top of a major board and then retreats at some point. Luiten’s point just came early, and the short game was the culprit.
Luiten is from Bleiswijk, The Netherlands. That is not the only eye-chart or spelling-bee element in his background. While his birth certificate reads “Joost Luiten,” according to his father Nico, his passport says “Willibrordus Adrianus Maria Luiten.”
As for Joost, it is a male Dutch first name. Holland’s woods are full of Joosts. Joost de Soete, the 16th century field marshal. Joost Banckert, the vice admiral. Joost van den Vondel, the playwright. Joost van Sasse, 18th century copper engraver. And politico Joosts surnamed Eerdmans and Lagendijk.
Back home, the name is pronounced “Yost.” But as Luiten has traveled around to different countries playing golf, people have come to call him Joost, which sounds like “juiced.”
“Everybody calls me Joost,” he said after the opening 4-under 68 at the Kiawah Island Ocean Course. “If they’re not from Holland, they call me Joost.”
And which does he prefer?
“I’m used to Joost now on Tour,” he said, a smile forming in the middle of his goatee. “So let’s go with that.”
Let’s also say the kid has some talent. Seven years ago, he won the German and Spanish Amateurs, beating Rory McIlroy in the latter. The next year, he led his country to victory in the Eisenhower Trophy by going six under on the final five holes. Soon after playing his way on to the developmental Challenge Tour, he nearly won the European Tour’s 2007 KLM (formerly Dutch) Open.
So he has skills. Skills that translated to seven top 10s and a standing of 24th in Europe’s Race to Dubai last year. Skills that have made him the highest ranked Dutch golfer, currently at 99th, a perch that got him into the PGA and his third stateside event.
Luiten was propelled into golf fulltime because of a ski jumping accident in Germany at age 10. In a training camp, he faced a 120-meter drop from top to bottom, on mats instead of snow because of summer. He landed off line and ended up some 60 meters into grass, battered and broken. He suffered a fractured elbow, nose and knee and a concussion. He woke up in an ambulance on the way to a German hospital he called home for a week.
Recovery lasted three months and made golf seem a lot safer. In Europe now, he’s known as a tenacious up-and-comer and one of that tour’s slowest players, having been fined each year.
But here in the low country, the car buff who owns a Porsche and Audi was known for his fast start. Putting was the primary reason. Wearing two rain gloves because the moisture caused by high heat and humidity, he made three birdies and an eagle on his first seven holes for minus 5. On his second nine, the front, he tacked on birdies from 18, 1 and 7 feet on Nos. 2, 4 and 5, got to 8 under and led by two strokes.
This was exhilarating stuff, particularly for his parents, making their first trip to the United States. Father Nico, wearing a distinctive white beard, makes indoor house plants for large companies back home (ficus is his favorite). He couldn’t help but smile nonstop as his youngest of his four sons planted the seeds of a remarkable round on the South Carolina coast.
But then the young Luiten’s short game failed him, and perhaps the heat got to him. He three-putted from 40 feet at No. 6, where he knocked the first 6 feet by. He three-putted the seventh from 18, lipping out a 3-foot comebacker. Just left on No. 8, he putted up a fringy ramp and over the right side of the green and had to make a 5-footer to save bogey. Then he overshot the ninth green and stubbed a chip.
“To finish with four straight bogeys is not a good feeling,” Luiten said. “But I can’t complain. If someone said I’d shoot 4 under, I’d have signed for it before the round. It’s all good experience.”
The lesson he took away, particularly because of the pair of three-putts, was this: Lag. Don’t ram.
“Instead of lagging close I was trying to make birdies,” he said. “I was too aggressive, but I was in birdie mode. When you are thinking like that, all you want to do is try to make more birdies. I should have really lagged them to the hole and made pars.
“That’s just experience. You need to learn those things.”
Particularly when you’re juiced like your name.