Louis Oosthuizen’s British Open victory is right out of a movie
At 6:30 Sunday night, a little guy named Louie waved his white cap, smiled his gap-toothed smile and walked up the most famous fairway in the world and into golfing lore.
Louis Oosthuizen, 27, of South Africa had won the British Open. Four days ago, those words would have brought everything from laughter to disbelief. He was on nobody’s radar. Now, he was in everybody’s heart.
In 1981, no more than 300 yards away on the West Sands of St. Andrews Bay, they had filmed the movie “Chariots of Fire.” Sunday, on a golf course designed to tease and torture, Oosthuizen made stirring music of his own.
The swing that was supposed to fall apart, as the better-known players took aim and the pressure built, stayed smooth and rhythmic. It was a perfect pendulum. Up, down and through. No variance in tempo. No hitch or twitch. It was pure silk, like watching Jamaal Wilkes play basketball in his prime.
Oosthuizen’s victory happened on a mellow Sunday that followed a blustery Thursday, Friday and Saturday and perfectly matched his temperament. His sweet personality seemed to deserve this sweet success, and it didn’t take long for the thousands surrounding his final walkup on the Old Course to understand the magnificence of what he had done and how he had handled himself while doing it.
They squeezed against the barricades along both sides, four and five deep. They packed the grandstand at the back of the 18th green, crowded into balconies in the buildings along the right side and filled the windows of the famous and venerable Rusacks Hotel. From a hundred yards away, they could see the smile. More so, they could see the scoreboard.
He was 16 under par and his closest competitor, England’s Lee Westwood, had putted out in the group before him and was nine under. Oosthuizen’s drive on the 357-yard closing par four had left him just below the green, maybe 30 yards away. To win, he needed to get down from there in nine.
Golf is like religion here, so there was nobody watching who didn’t understand the significance of 16 under par, of winning by seven shots, of doing so in a tournament that battered around bigger-name, more-successful golfers like driftwood on the beach. They may not have known much about Louis Oosthuizen, but they knew they were witnessing something for the ages.
As he had done all day, all tournament, he did everything correctly, right to the end. He lagged his first putt from the swale in front of the green, St. Andrews’ famed Valley of Sin, to about 10 feet, then hit it twice more for a closing par.
“I’m definitely not going to 10-putt,” he said later, laughing at himself, as usual.
When the last putt dropped and the storybook tale had become nonfiction, Oosthuizen hugged and kissed his wife of three years, Nel-Mare, and his daughter of seven months, Jana. Then he remembered Nelson Mandela’s birthday in his acceptance speech, patiently went through the ever-silly ceremony of posing for 250 photographers, all of whom stand in the same place and take the same pictures, and never stopped smiling.
For the moment, at least, golf had a new face, one much less grim than some others. It also is one that, with his gapped teeth, has drawn the nickname Shrek.
Those who watched him this week, watched him handle himself at the end, know he is the exact opposite of an ogre. His friends in South Africa gave him the label, and other tour pros, especially Westwood, have perpetuated it. Some might object. Not Louie.
“It’s fine,” he says.
He had gone from No. 89 in the world at the end of last year, to No. 54 coming into this tournament, to No. 15 now. His winning check was $1.29 million. Before this year, while he had done somewhat better on the European Tour and in events in South Africa, his total winnings on the PGA Tour were $26,300.
Oosthuizen is a grateful product of the Ernie Els Foundation, created by his fellow South African to help finance the early golf careers of those whose parents could not. Els, who didn’t make the cut here, was reached for comment about his prodigy and put the victory in further perspective.
“The world might know more about him now,” Els said, “but even before today, he had started his own foundation to help kids who are needy. Louis cares and is giving back.
“He is now the Open champion. His life will change. He won’t.”
In his news conference, he remembered to say all the right things, praising his playing partner, Paul Casey, for a good try; thanking South African legend Gary Player for an encouraging phone call Sunday morning; and being more grateful and self-effacing about his victory than the occasional arrogance that comes out on some Sundays in pro golf.
And then Oosthuizen outdid himself. Hours after his victory, he had champagne sent into the press room.
Expect a long, successful and well-publicized career for this young man.