First thought from Sunday’s British Open, or as it will be known in cynical press circles, the ‘Snoozer at St. Andrews:’
I’m no international linguist, but Oosthuizen might be Afrikaans for “The NHL All-Star Game will get higher TV ratings.”
Second thought from Sunday’s British Open, after a bit of snark removal:
Whoa, Nellie! That gap-toothed kid whose name nobody can spell or pronounce turned in one of the great performances in modern golf history.
Maybe Oosthuizen is Afrikaans for, “Tell me how my 7-shot win at the home of golf tastes. Boom!”
The driver’s license says his name is Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen, but his 16-under, 65-67-69-71 turn around St. Andrews says something more succinct: Champion Golfer of the Year, spotting the field six strokes, too.
What Louis Oosthuizen performed was such a thorough dismantling of the world’s best players, he left only two camps of observers.
Camp A composed of golf fans who were utterly bored by the lack of drama, and got more goose bumps from those Scottish-accented mini-movie trailers ESPN ran than from the golf. Their spokesman is a guy like the legendary Dan Jenkins, who tweeted after the Open: “Help for the headline writers: It’s Oosthuizen in a zzzzzzzz …”
Camp B is composed of golf fans who were blown away by a guy we’ve never heard of doing his best Tiger Woods (Pre-Escalade-Into-A-Tree Era) impression for all to witness. Their hero is five-time Open champ Tom Watson, who chucked aside the “No Cheering in the Press Box” rule and gave Oosthuizen a standing ‘O’ from ESPN’s sky box.
I see Camp A’s point. It was pretty tough to fire up for a Sunday morning from St. Andrews when the only pertinent question was, ‘Will there be a streaker on 18? And will she be advertising for Golden Palace?’
But being the sap I am, I eventually moved over to Watson’s camp. Give me a loving wife, an adorable baby and a black caddie, Zack Regosa, from the underprivileged neighborhoods of South Africa who’s been with him seven years – all together in Scotland on Nelson Mandela Day in their home country, supporting the son of a sheep farmer who couldn’t afford golf clubs as a junior until Ernie Els’ foundation paid for them, and who appeared as humbled and awed by it all as the rest of us.
Plus, Oosthuizen was polite enough to remove his sunglasses for the walk up the 18th hole. Nice move, that.
And even though you’ve never heard of Louis Oosthuizen – what, you weren’t watching him at the Masters Par-3 in April? Or win on the European Tour in Spain earlier this year? – we can’t call this effort another “Open Fluke,” tempting as it might be.
Todd Hamilton, a Japan Tour regular who had one PGA Tour win, chipping his way past Ernie Els at Troon in 2004: closer to a fluke.
But Oosthuizen was actually ranked 54th in the world coming in to St. Andrews. For perspective, Ryo Ishikawa is 51st, J.B. Holmes (a U.S. Ryder Cupper) is 55th and Ricky Barnes is 62nd. So the new Open champion holds company with names you know.
Then again, the fluke argument is strengthened by the fact that Oosthuizen had played eight previous majors, and only made the cut once. Even at that, he finished 73rd at the ’08 PGA at Oakland Hills.
But he’s only 27, and maybe now just finding himself. The golf swing is ridiculously good; ESPN’s cadre of major champions in the booth – Watson, Curtis Strange, Paul Azinger and Tom Weiskopf – fell over themselves praising his technical purity, and incredible distance for a man of average (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) build.
Another argument in defense of Looie O’s brilliance: How often have we seen so-called “no names” fade on the weekends at majors? Always, the argument goes, a Sunday at a major will take a greenhorn and grind him into dust, as I was just saying to my good friend, Dustin Johnson, over a beer at The Tap Room in Pebble Beach.
(Actually, Dustin Johnson deserves a tip of the cap for his post-Pebble comeback at St. Andrews. A tie-14th is quite admirable, given the potential for lifelong scar tissue.)
But Oosthuizen only seemed to grow stronger in the moment. His Friday 67 was widely derided as a lucky break, getting 18 holes in before St. Andrews turned into Candlestick Park and blew so hard, the R&A had to stop play for an hour.
Playing in the last group on Saturday, he carried little of the golf world’s thought. All eyes, instead, were on more likely heroes Paul Casey and Lee Westwood. And when Oosthuizen bogeyed his first hole on Saturday, those suspicions were all but confirmed.
Except for one thing: He did not drop a shot for the next 25 holes.
When he did bogey No. 8 on Sunday, it only meant his lead was down to three shots. The Saturday-Sunday bridge of no bogeys was where Oosthuizen won the Open, extending his lead like Jerry Rice used to extend distance between himself and a defensive back on a sprint down the sideline.
There is no other way to evaluate that than to praise a man who came face-to-face with his nerves, with the moment, with the possibility of outrageous success, and only smiled right back at it.
Taking a 4-shot lead on a Saturday night at a major, and actually extending it to a bigger win on Sunday evening? Why, that sounds suspiciously like the career game plan of the guy who finished tie-23rd, 13 shots back, at St. Andrews.
(And a good day to you, Mr. Tiger Woods, after you just went 0-for-3 at Augusta, Pebble and St. Andrews.)
Besides, Oosthuizen did what no others could do. He actually smelled the victory, and acted on it.
The group behind him contained some familiar names, Westwood and Casey among them. And coming off a week where England’s Ian Poulter declared that American golf was entering a generation gap and England’s players were ready to swoop in and fill that void, St. Andrews would have been a fine place to showcase such bravado.
Except for this: Poulter finished tie-60th. Westwood could not post a score in the 60s on the weekend. And Casey, in the final twosome with a chance to aggressively put heat on Oosthuizen, drove a ball into some gorse on No. 12, made a triple bogey, and shot 75.
So, for all of Poulter’s chirping, that group of Westwood-Casey-Poulter-Luke Donald-Justin Rose still has an aggregate total of zero career majors. Oh, and last time anybody checked, the Ryder Cup was still Kentucky Fried after Valhalla, resting Stateside.
There’s a phrase in America for what Poulter had to say: Big hat, no cattle.
Meanwhile, back to Looie O.
South Africa is a mighty place, despite its worldwide reputation for racial acrimony and insufferable crime and poverty. It just pulled off a successful World Cup, and now has crowned a native son a British Open champion – just as it had done for Oosthuizen’s predecessors, Bobby Locke, Gary Player and Els.
Countryman Retief Goosen has won two majors, and says the new Open champ is for real, noting that Oosthuizen’s golf swing is one of the best on tour. The counter-thought is that another young South African, Trevor Immelman, won the Masters in 2008, and has not won since.
It could be very well be true that for one week, Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen found 72 magical holes at one magical place, and will never be able to replicate it. Golf is littered with one-time major champs, mostly because it’s one of the hardest things to do in sports – win one major, let alone two.
But they say St. Andrews has a way of anointing. Prior to Oosthuizen, the list of winners, counting backwards chronologically, goes: Tiger (2005), Tiger (2000), John Daly (1995), Nick Faldo (1990), Seve Ballesteros (1984), Jack Nicklaus (1978) and Jack (1970).
You need oxygen just to read that list, that air is so thin. (Throw in a Bobby Jones in 1930 and a Sam Snead in 1946, if you want dessert.)
The last first-timer to win at St. Andrews was the charismatic Californian (Champagne) Tony Lema, who was a name in his own right in the 1960s before an untimely death in a plane accident at age 32. In a gesture that shows this kid knows his history, and was raised well, Oosthuizen paid tribute to his 1964 forebar by sending the press champagne at St. Andrews late on Sunday evening.
Into this roster steps Looie O. He drove it 319, on average. He hit 55 of 64 fairways, 86 percent. He was the guy nobody knew, and the guy who whipped the field so badly, he maybe made most of America turn their TV sets off.
But on a leader board filled with names everyone else would have picked to win a major – Westwood, Casey, McIlroy – this kid from South Africa was seven shots clear.
That’s not a fluke. That’s awesome.