2010 British Open: Louis Oosthuizen is making golf fans learn his name by taking charge at St. Andrews
ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND
Practically everybody on earth expects you to fold. All of the roars are for someone else, not you. You know what they're thinking: "Who is this guy, and how do you pronounce his name? What is he doing here, and why doesn't he get out of the way?"
So what do you do? You hold up.
Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen is something of an inconvenience in the British Open. No one can quite deliver the correct inflection in his name, or explain how the gap-toothed South African has managed to outscore all of the European Ryder Cup team, as well as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. All around him are more popular players -- the entire United Kingdom no doubt wishes he would move aside and let Englishmen Paul Casey and Lee Westwood have the glory. Everyone keeps talking about who the real leader is going into Sunday's final round at St. Andrews.
"I know nobody expected me to be up there," he said, after his 69 gave him at least a four-stroke lead by himself for the second straight day. "I mean, no one can even say my surname."
Here's how outwardly unpersuasive Oosthuizen is as a champion: In March, after he won the first European tour event of his career at the Open de Andalucia in Spain, he took his trophy with him to Malaga Airport and tried to carry it onboard a Monarch Airlines flight. Security declared it "a dangerous object" and made him leave it behind.
Nevertheless, there is something in Oosthuizen's demeanor here that suggests he could be a tough leader to crack. Up close he's got a burly build and a tough jaw, one that he could shave three times a day and it would still show dark stubble. He looks durable, and hungry. He's the son of a farmer, for whom nothing has come very easily -- his parents couldn't afford to pay his travel expenses, and he was fortunate to have the financial backing of countryman Ernie Els's youth foundation from the age of 17 until he went pro. He's a practiced all-weather player who grew up on wind-whipped Mossel Bay, South Africa, and he has handled everything St. Andrews can dish out, including pressure, unpredictable gusts, and a bee sting on his forearm during a practice round last weekend.
"I'm swinging it really nicely," he said. "I was happy with the way I managed myself."
But there is nothing hardscrabble about Oosthuizen's swing. In the past year he's become a more accomplished player than casual golf fans may realize: He's ranked 54th in the world this season, with seven top-20 finishes. He's got a sweetly compact motion that, at least so far, has been as reliable as a metronome. There's a stillness in his form that suggests the swing will hold up under pressure: There aren't a lot of parts to it, and nothing moves unless he commands it to. If galleries aren't fully cognizant of how good he is yet, insiders are, and so are his fellow players. You don't shoot three rounds of 69 or better and hold a multiple-stroke lead in the British Open at St Andrews for two consecutive days if you don't have some serious stroke.
"He's a good ball striker," Mickelson said. "He can really play. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if he were to play a good solid week and win."
But his attitude has been as important as his aptitude. More than anything, Oosthuizen has an unselfconsciousness that is serving him well as the stakes mount. When his abysmal previous record in major championships, missing seven of eight cuts, was pointed out, he just grinned. "It wasn't very great, was it?" he said. "It was a matter of not believing in myself, I think." But asked if he is surprised to find himself in this position, he said frankly, "Not really."
Which is not to say Oosthuizen is impervious to pressure: When he bogeyed the opening hole Saturday with a shaky three-putt, "a bit of nerves," he admitted, a collapse seemed inevitable, if not imminent. But he steadied himself with five straight pars, and as his round got progressively more confident, he had perhaps the most relaxed body language of any of the leaders on the course.
He will need all the looseness he can muster in the final round, because he will be paired with native son Casey, and viewed as the spoiler by the galleries. "I'll get one or two claps, I hope," he said.
There are all kinds of precedents to suggest Oosthuizen probably can't win. Remember, just a month ago Dustin Johnson was swinging the club like an angel and had a three-shot lead going into the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. It was gone by the time he reached the fourth tee. On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to think Oosthuizen can do it. No one else in the top seven on this leader board has ever won a major, either. There have been unheralded leaders before, but few with such an pretty swing and unflappable disposition.