When the 27-year-old Louis Oosthuizen held The Open Championship Claret Jug aloft, the first person he mentioned was Nelson Mandela, who was 92 Sunday.
Seven ahead of Lee Westwood as he left the 71st green, Oosthuizen had allowed his thoughts to stray to Mandela as he walked down the last fairway. He could afford that luxury for he knew by then that he had the title in the bag, his bag. “I wasn’t,” he said wryly, “about to 10-putt or anything.”
In fact, he had a finishing 4 to tack a 71 to earlier scores of 65, 67 and 69. On 272, he kept his seven-shot advantage over runner-up Westwood and finished eight clear of the trio of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey.
No one in his or her right mind would have expected Oosthuizen to win a major before any of the above. In his previous seven Open Championships, he had four times failed to qualify and thrice missed the cut.
Yet, over the week, no one was more deserving than he was. “He tackled everything that was thrown at him,” Westwood said.
With a couple of exceptions, most of what was thrown at him came from too far away to make any great impact.
He had dropped a shot at the short eighth to have his four-shot lead over Casey cut to three and Casey, by way of cashing in on the situation, had knocked his drive 10 yards from the flag at the 352 yards ninth. Gary Player had warned Oosthuizen that the crowd would be “on Paul’s side” and Oosthuizen would never have been more uncomfortably aware of that fact than he was then.
When the crowd’s cheers for the home player’s feat had died down, Oosthuizen went through his usual routine of looking down at the red spot he has on his glove by way of reminding himself to focus. That done, he proceeded to unleash a drive which was even better than Casey’s, one which finished no more than five yards from the hole.
He made an eagle, Casey a birdie.
The next significant happening came at the 12th, where Casey drove into the gorse en route to a triple-bogey 7. After that, Oosthuizen had no concerns other than with a handful of drives, notably those at the 14th, the 17th and the last.
He had no problem with the first two. Nerves came into play on the 18th tee and he toyed with the idea of hitting a 3-iron. However, he stuck with his driver and it did not let him down.
Oosthuizen may have thought of Mandela and of his own wife, Nel-Mare, and his baby daughter, Jana, as he made his way down golf’s most famous fairway but, at the same time, he was entirely conscious of the thousands of spectators, all of whom were viewing him as a thoroughly worthy winner.
There is another South African in that group in Bobby Locke, who won in 1957, but when Oosthuizen arranged champagne for the press, his name was being bracketed rather more with that of Tony Lema, “Champagne Tony,” who did the same when he won over the Old Course in 1964.
At various times over the week, Oosthuizen paid tribute to his parents, to the South African junior set-up and to Ernie Els. “But for being in his Foundation for three years,” he said on Friday night, “I would never have been here.” The Foundation had helped to pay bills in an amateur career in which he won the World Junior championship along with an Indian and an Irish Open amateur.
Though he had an on-course temper in younger days, he studied older, wiser players and realised that not too many of them wasted energy in that department. “I said to myself, the quicker I can get over it, the quicker I can win.”
His first victory on the PGA European Tour came in this year’s Andalucian Open. On that occasion, his trophy was taken away from him at Malaga Airport after Monarch Airlines had declared it “a dangerous object.”
Yesterday, his fellow professionals would have been wishing the airline had divested him of his putter as well.
Westwood himself was by no means disappointed with his performance in that he had been too far away to win. However, in talking of his increasing haul of top-three finishes in the majors, he said a rueful, “Hopefully one of these chances will turn into a trophy.”
Both Oosthuizen and Westwood play out of agent Chubby Chandler’s ISM stable. Earlier in the week Chandler confirmed that ISM had received a large capital infusion from a company based in Palm Beach, Fla. The Oosthuizen victory was just more good news. “He’s going to play all around the world and people will love him,” Chandler said when asked what the win would mean to Oosthuizen. “The trick is to say, ‘yes’ to the right ones.”
Meanwhile, when the 20-year-old Jin Jeong won the Amateur Championship at Muirfield, he putted Scotland’s James Byrne off the course as he holed 25-footers with a still greater regularity than many of his fellow amateurs were making their six-footers. At St. Andrews, Jeong did still more to make members of Melbourne’s Waverley Club – he has lived in Australia since he was 16 – feel proud. Though the amateur medal was already his after opening scores of 68 and 70, he was still chasing the Claret Jug and ended up in a share of 14th place. He is expected to turn professional after next year’s Masters.
Stenson, his Saturday playing companion, was hugely taken with what he saw of a young man.
“He’s got an extreme talent,” said the Swede.
It will be fun to see where it takes him.