Commentary

Oosthuizen thinking big with Open lead

Originally Published: July 16, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- "Ladies and gentlemen," began the news conference moderator in her soft Scottish accent, "we're joined by Peter Oosterhausen, who scored 5-under 67 for a 12-under-par total to be atop the leaderboard. Fantastic round today. How do you feel about your position going into the weekend?"

Uh, his first name isn't Peter, it's Louis (as in, Louie). And his last name isn't Oosterhausen, it's Oosthuizen (as in, well, I'll get to that in a moment). And if you must know, his friends call him "Shrek."

"And you can't choose your friends, so what can I say?" said Oosthuizen.

Well, you can say an absolute, total unknown -- at least, to anybody in the States -- is leading the Open Championship. You can say that until Friday he had played in eight majors and missed seven cuts, including his previous three Opens. And you can say that as far as unknowns go, you wouldn't mind seeing someone like the 27-year-old Oosthuizen win one of the biggies.

The truth is, just about nobody -- moderators, media, fans -- got his name right at first. It's pronounced, "West-hi-zen." Asked him myself. But that's what happens when you appear virtually out of nowhere, shoot 65 the first day, 67 the second day and force most of the golf world to sprint to their laptops and Google your bio.

Some of Oosthuizen's story you couldn't make up if you tried. Then again, you couldn't make up a 65-67, either.

He was born Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen in Mossel Bay, South Africa. (All of a sudden, "Louis" sounds pretty good.) His father is a farmer who never could have afforded the cost of golf-related travel and instruction for his then-teenage son. But Louis caught a life-changing break when he was accepted into the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, which basically footed the bill for his development as a golfer.

"He's such a good mentor and probably without him -- those three years I've been in the foundation -- I wouldn't have been here," said Oosthuizen of his countryman Els, who has three majors titles, including an Open championship.

Louis Oosthuizen
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty ImagesIn his eight major championship appearances prior to St. Andrews, South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen missed the cut seven times.

He definitely wouldn't have been at this year's Masters had he not won the Open de Andalucia in March. Of course, the kicker is that when he arrived at the Malaga (Spain) Airport with his Open de Andalucia trophy, the airlines wouldn't let him carry it on the plane. Officials said it was a "dangerous object."

And he recently traded his Mercedes SUV for a BMW SUV, only to arrive home and realize the vehicle didn't fit through his garage doors. So he bought new garage doors.

We might not know him, but Oosthuizen isn't a golf stiff. He's the No. 54-ranked player in the world and is 22nd on the European Tour money list. In 2002 he shot a 14-under-par 57 at Mossel Bay Golf Club and said he was more nervous then.

But the Old Course isn't the same as his home course back in South Africa. Oosthuizen got a Friday morning tee time, which meant he also got rain, wind, sun, cold, humidity -- all in the same round. Oosthuizen doesn't do well in the rain. Wind, yes. He loves playing in the wind. Rain, not so much.

But Friday, even when the raindrops were as big as terriers, Oosthuizen kept sinking birdies, seven of them, to be exact. Now nothing seems to bother him, including sole ownership of the Open lead. When someone asked if Oosthuizen would allow himself a "I'm leading the Open right now!" moment, he didn't hesitate.

"Everybody would probably," he said. "Why not? So I'm going to have fun with it."

I like this guy. How many sons-of-farmers have led an Open? How many people shrug when their SUVs don't fit? How many people can laugh off a nickname of "Shrek."

"It's the gap in the teeth," he said, smiling.

[+] EnlargeShrek
Warren Little/Getty ImagesLouis Oosthuizen used to have a headcover with the movie character "Shrek" on it. His caddie convinced him to ditch it.

Really? Try calling Tom Watson that and see what happens. Even Oosthuizen's caddie, Zack Rasego, can't stand the nickname. He pleaded with Oosthuizen to ditch the Shrek headcover. It was bringing bad luck, said Rasego. So Shrek is gone.

Maybe he had a feeling about this week, or maybe he couldn't get his deposit back, but Oosthuizen arrived in St. Andrews with a room reserved until Sunday night. For a guy who had never made an Open cut, that's confidence.

"St. Andrews is where it all started and ... I think it's everyone's dream to win the Open Championship," he said. "But to win it at St. Andrews is just -- [you] never really think it'll happen."

That's what nobodies Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton might have thought too. And they went back-to-back with Claret Jugs in 2003 and 2004.

Strange, bizarre, wonderful things happen at the Open Championship. Thankfully, Oosthuizen is one of them.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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