ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Hardly anyone knew Louis Oosthuizen, much less how to pronounce his name. Not many will forget the performance he delivered at the home of golf to capture the British Open on Sunday.
A week after the World Cup ended, South Africa had more reason to celebrate, this from a most unlikely source. Oosthuizen, a 27-year-old who had only made one cut in his previous eight majors, blew away the field at St. Andrews for a victory that looked as easy as when Tiger Woods first won here a decade ago.
Oosthuizen made only two bogeys over the final 35 holes in a strong wind that swept across the Old Course. He led over the final 48 holes and closed with a 1-under 71 for a seven-shot victory over Lee Westwood of England.
Oosthuizen could not think of a more special venue to capture his first major. He just had no idea it would be this easy.
He never let anyone get within three shots of him in the final round, and he answered that brief challenge from Paul Casey by knocking in a 50-foot eagle putt on the par-4 ninth green to restore his cushion. Casey’s hopes ended with a triple bogey into the gorse three holes later, and Oosthuizen spent the final hour soaking up an atmosphere unlike any other in golf.
“That eagle on nine, that got me started,” Oosthuizen said. “It was a big change on 12 when Paul made triple and I made birdie. All of a sudden, it was mine to throw away.”
He finished at 16-under 272 and became the first player since Tony Lema in 1964 to win his first major at St. Andrews. With the fifth victory of his career, Oosthuizen moved to No. 15 in the world. And as a sign just how global golf has become, it’s the second time this decade that the four major championship trophies reside on four continents.
“Nobody was going to stop him,” said Casey, whose adventures in the gorse sent him to a 75 and a tie for third with Rory McIlroy (68) and Henrik Stenson (71). “He didn’t miss a shot today. I don’t know if he missed one all week. That was four days of tremendous golf. He didn’t flinch today.”
No, there was only that gap-tooth smile that earned him the nickname “Shrek” from his friends. And there was amazement across his face when he cradled the oldest trophy in golf, a silver claret jug with his name etched alongside Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, and the other South African winners – Gary Player, Bobby Locke and Ernie Els, his mentor.
Without the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation in South Africa, Oosthuizen, the son of a farmer, could not have afforded the travel required to reach the game’s highest level.
Some 45 miles (70 kilometers) away, Player was returning from a golf outing and listening to every shot on the radio, proud as can be. He saw the potential during a practice round they played at the Masters this year.
Player called Oosthuizen on Sunday morning and gave him a pep talk.
“I told him he’s got to realize that lots of people are hitting bad shots,” Player said, not know how few of those the kid would hit. “And I told them the crowd was naturally going to show a bias. But I reminded him when I played Arnold Palmer in 1961 at the Masters, only my wife and my dog was pulling for me. I told him he’s got to get in there and be more determined to win.”
Oosthuizen was relaxed as could be, putting his arm around caddie Zack Rasego after hitting off the 18th tee and walking over the Swilcan Bridge, thousands of fans packed into the grandstands, along the road and peering out the shop windows.
The timing could not have been better for a South African to claim a major – that’s five majors for the Springboks since 2001. Not only is the country still buzzing, Sunday was the 92nd birthday of Nelson Mandela.
“It’s a proud moment for us, especially with the Old Man, winning on his birthday,” Rosega said. “Winning at St. Andrews, it’s unbelievable. He deserves what he’s just done.”
The 150th anniversary of golf’s oldest championship was memorable in so many ways.
It began with Rory McIlroy tying the major championship record with a 63 in some of the calmest conditions at the Old Course. It ended with someone other than Woods hoisting the claret jug in front of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse.
Woods tapped in on the final hole and removed his cap to salute the gallery, just as he did the last two Opens at St. Andrews. Only this time, the tournament was still two hours from finishing. Woods made two double bogeys on his way to a 72 and tied for 23rd.
It was his seventh tournament of the year without a victory, matching the longest drought of his career.
“I’m not going to win all of them,” Woods said after his worst 72-hole finish in a major in six years. “I’ve lost a lot more than I’ve won.”
No way he was going to win this one. Neither was anyone else.
Oosthuizen might have been nervous, but it didn’t show. Charl Schwartzel, his best friend from their junior golf days in South Africa, ran into him on Saturday and said Oosthuizen was showing him comedy videos on his phone.
“This was about an hour before he teed off,” Schwartzel said.
If anyone showed nerves, it was Casey. With the warm applause from a British gallery that had not seen one of its own holding a claret jug in 11 years, he hit wedge to 4 feet below the hole at No. 1 to send a message. The birdie putt caught the right lip, however, and it took until the sixth hole before Casey could make a birdie.
He wasn’t alone. Of the final 10 players to tee off, only Retief Goosen made a birdie on any of the opening five holes.
Oosthuizen plodded along with pars.
“He’s doing all the things he needs to do,” said Woods, who has more experience than anyone playing from ahead in a major. “He’s being consistent, putting all the pressure on Paul to come get him. He doesn’t need to go out there and shoot a low round today.”
Oosthuizen went 24 consecutive holes without a bogey until his streak ended on the par-3 eighth hole by missing a 6-foot par putt. That trimmed his lead to three, and Casey hit driver onto the par-4 ninth green.
Whatever momentum he had didn’t last long. Oosthuizen also drove the ninth green and holed his 50-foot eagle putt to restore the lead to four shots, same as when he started. And this Open effectively ended three holes later.
Casey drove into the gorse bushes left of the 12th, took a drop back toward the seventh fairway, came up short of the green and wound up making a triple bogey, dropping him eight shots behind.
Oosthuizen spent the final hour with a big grin on his face, although he started out that way, too.
The biggest smile came on the 18th green, with a hug for Rasego, and an embrace with wife Nel-Mare and seven-month-old daughter Jana. It will be years before the child can appreciate the magnitude of this moment.
“I will say, ‘That’s the day Daddy makes us the proudest,”’ his wife said. “And we’ll never forget it.”