Commentary

Welcome to the major winners club

Originally Published: August 5, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AKRON, Ohio -- Every type of beverage imaginable has been consumed from the Claret Jug in celebration of winning golf's oldest championship, and Louis Oosthuizen is well aware of that tradition and history.

Yet after winning The Open Championship at St. Andrews last month, the South African looks at the trophy in a different manner, figuring it is best to refrain from pouring any kind of liquid into it.

[+] EnlargeLouis Oosthuizen
AP Photo/Tony DejakIn the first round at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the 2010 British Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen carded a 2-over 72 at Firestone Country Club.

"The Jug, to me, is very holy ground," Oosthuizen said. "I haven't drank anything out of it. I don't know if I will."

Oosthuizen, 27, knew the Claret Jug's backstory, but he had little clue what was in store for him as a major champion.

Had he qualified for this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in some manner other than winning one of golf's four biggest tournaments, he'd likely be on the Firestone Country Club South course as an anonymous pro, playing along in peaceful bliss.

That is unlikely to be the case for some time, if ever.

"It's way bigger," he said. "I think you've got this picture in your mind what it's going to be like after a major win, and I think it was 10 times what I expected, 10 times more.

"I never had so many phones calls from anyone, media … especially back in South Africa. I thought I was going to have a few days off and I didn't. It was a good reaction. It was nice seeing everyone. I didn't think that many people watched golf, really."

If Oosthuizen is looking for sympathy, he is unlikely to get any from Graeme McDowell.

The U.S. Open champion from Northern Ireland is dealing with the same major championship shock.

"It's been overwhelming," McDowell, said McDowell, who shot a 66 in the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational -- tied for second, two strokes behind leader Bubba Watson -- where he's never finished better than a tie for 45th.

McDowell referenced a quote he remembered from Michael Campbell, who won the 2005 U.S. Open.

"When you climb to the summit of Mount Everest, no one really ever sort of tells you how to get back down again," McDowell said. "A lot of people die on the way back down. It was a very interesting quote and a good analogy.

"It's quite incredible. It's a lot to deal with, no doubt about it. It has been much more physically and mentally tiring than I ever thought it would be. I've not really felt like myself on the golf course."

McDowell, 31, said he struggled at The Open Championship with his focus. The aftermath of the U.S. Open was incredible, as he returned to Northern Ireland for festive gatherings a few days later, then tried to regroup for the J.P. McManus pro-am and the Scottish Open.

"The four weeks right after Pebble were four of the toughest weeks I've gone through as a player," he said. "Certainly there were a few champagne swings at Loch Lomond [in the Scottish Open] for sure."

McDowell said he's seeking the counsel of three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, who quipped, "Welcome to my world," when told of McDowell's struggles.

"I'd just like to get insight into the things that they had going on in their lives afterward: how they dealt with it; the mistakes they made; did they play too much, too little; how long did it take before they felt ready to go again," McDowell said.

Part of the shock for both Oosthuizen and McDowell was their relative lack of success in relation to winning such big tournaments.

Although both players were accomplished golfers with high world rankings, neither had a particularly stellar résumé in terms of victories.

McDowell had five European Tour titles, with one coming just two weeks before the U.S. Open at the Wales Open. Oosthuizen's biggest claim to fame was his association with the Ernie Els Foundation in South Africa. His lone European Tour victory had come earlier this year.

"The people that know him well know how good [Oosthuizen] is," said Pete Cowen, a longtime England-based instructor who works with both Oosthuizen and McDowell. "We all said he was definitely not achieving what his talent should achieve. But he's only 27. Some mature a little bit later. That maturity for Louis has come with marriage and a child. He's a massive family man, and he has a strong belief that what will happen, will happen. And when you have a chance, you take it.

Cowen said he saw a similar development from McDowell, too.

"[McDowell] had said, 'I've been playing well. I've got a big one in me,'" Cowen said. "I don't think he realized what it takes afterwards to be a major champion. The press, the adulation from people … it's been massive.

"But I asked him, 'What would you rather have: this or no major? It's the price you have to pay. You'd be open to getting it a few more times.'"

Certainly neither player is complaining.

But unlike the past, their statuses will be tracked at an event such as this WGC tournament. In his round Thursday, Oosthuizen finished bogey-bogey to shoot a 2-over 72.

There will be pressure to live up to the greatness they showed, demands for interviews and autographs, and financial perks that will involve more of their time, perhaps taking away from their ability to practice and perform.

Getting back to golf, between the ropes, might be the easy part.

"I think off the golf course my mind is probably going to go all over the place thinking about a lot of things," Oosthuizen said. "You're always going to have that in the back of your head that you've won a major and you can do well in them.

"But once you're on the golf course … this is a funny game. I'll just try to have fun out there."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE