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.
A week after the World Cup ended, South Africa had more reason to celebrate yesterday, 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 (WUHST’-hy-zen) 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.
For all the craze about those vuvuzelas, the sweetest sound for Oosthuizen turned out to be the skirl of a bagpipe.
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 — Player, Bobby Locke and Ernie Els, his mentor.
Without the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation in South Africa, the son of a farmer could not have afforded the travel required to reach the game’s highest level.
Some 45 miles 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 yesterday 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 knowing 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, yesterday 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."