ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The name on his passport – Lodewicus Theodorus – sounds like it belongs in a Wagner opera.
His nickname among friends – Shrek – is not much better.
Louis Oosthuizen found a better way to make a name for himself Friday at St. Andrews, where he carefully navigated the Old Course through light wind and short spells of rain for a 5-under 67 to take the early lead in the British Open.
A long putt through the Valley of Sin on the 18th hole, and the birdie putt from just inside 15 feet that followed, put the 27-year-old South African at 12-under 132. He was three shots clear of Rory McIlroy, who had to face increasing wind in the afternoon.
“It’s probably the position anyone wants to be in playing a major on the weekend,” Oosthuizen said.
It’s a position he doesn’t know very well.
Oosthuizen (WUHST’-hy-zen) had played eight majors when he arrived at St. Andrews. He missed the cut in seven of them, the exception coming in the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, where he finished last.
“It wasn’t very great, was it?” said Oosthuizen, flashing the gap-tooth grin that earned him the Shrek moniker. “It was a matter of not believing in myself, I think. Everyone around here is telling me, ‘You’ve got the shots, you’re playing well.’ And again, that win earlier this season just got my mind set in a different way.”
He won his first European Tour event in Spain this spring, his fourth victory worldwide.
The South African most would have expected atop the leaderboard was Ernie Els, and in a way, Els was a part of this. If not for the Ernie Els Foundation in South Africa, Oosthuizen might not be at St. Andrews, or anywhere in golf.
Oosthuizen comes from a tennis-mad family, but quickly switched to golf when he put a club in his hand. The trouble came with finances, for the travel required to develop his game proved to be too much for the son of a farmer. That was about the time the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation began to identify young South Africans from families of limited resources.
He was 17 when he began with the foundation, leaving when he turned pro.
“It was unbelievable what he did for me, traveling around the country, helping with expenses, things like that,” Oosthuizen said. “He’s such a good mentor. And probably without him, those three years I’ve been in his foundation, I wouldn’t have been here.”
Els identified talent, all right.
Oosthuizen teamed with Charl Schwartzel to win the 2000 World Junior Team Championship. Two years later on his home course at Mossel Bay Club along the famed Garden Route, he shot a 57.
That was great pressure knowing what was at stake, even though he was playing with friends. Oosthuizen needed to birdie one of the last three holes for a 59, and instead he chipped in for eagle on the 17th and birdied the last.
Now comes more pressure, and he appears up for it.
“I like the way he’s playing right now,” said his longtime caddie, Zach Rasego, who talks strategy on every tee in Afrikaans with Oosthuizen. “He doesn’t get frustrated by anything.”
The start of his back nine could have gone different directions.
Oosthuizen drove the par-4 10th green for a two-putt birdie, only to three-putt the next green for a bogey. After a chip-and-putt birdie on the 12th, he came up woefully short on the 13th and couldn’t get up-and-down for par.
He never looked flustered. And he never gave up on his plan.
Oosthuizen can bash it out there with the best of them, yet even with a breeze at his back, he laid back in the fairway on the 15th and 16th holes, playing longer irons into the green.
“I’m trying to take the bunkers completely out of play,” he said. “Seeing Tiger … I don’t think he went in one bunker. To me, if you go in a bunker, that’s a bogey or it’s going to be a very good par. So I’ve got that strategy.”