It was bright and shiny, and Louis Oosthuizen wanted to get his hands on it. But he had to ask his brother first. The 50cc red Honda motorbike that his brother bought from their grandfather was a fixture on their family farm in Gouritsmond near Mossel Bay in the Western Cape.
“That bike was a legend on the farm,” says Oosthuizen. “It was old and slow. But I tell you, you could leave it standing for weeks and then get on it and it would start first time.
“The petrol cable broke and we couldn’t get a new one for it because the bike was so old. So my brother and I took a rope and we connected it to the accelerator and ran it over the handlebars. Sometimes it would stick and then things would get a bit scary on that bike. But it was great fun.”
Suddenly, the prospect of being stuck on the back of a rapidly accelerating motorbike barreling down a dusty farm road explains why to Oosthuizen, the terrors of the Road Hole seemed tame by comparison. But the truth is that for those looking into the eyes of the reigning Open champion wondering where the nerve comes from, wondering how he remained so composed, how it was that Paul Casey should approach him on the putting green before the final round and start a conversation rather than the other way around – the answer lies in his Afrikaans upbringing and the strong bonds of a farming family.
“I love being on the farm,” he says, having also just bought a farm right next door to his father’s, and a brand new John Deere tractor he is equally excited to get behind the wheel of. “I have some land there which I want to cultivate. And I’ve also set aside about 30 hectares for a game farm. But really, the farm is there for me to relax and have fun when I come home.”
Although basing himself in Manchester, England, for ease of travel on the European Tour, Oosthuizen remains true to his South African roots. He regularly cooks his own potjiekos (a traditional South African stew) and makes his own biltong (jerky).
And when I spoke to him in Manchester just under a year ago, he told me how his biggest concern was being a good father to his then unborn child. This ranked before the fact that the pressure was on him to claim a maiden European Tour victory, which he did in March this year.
“Golf is definitely not everything to me,” he said then. “I’ve got my goals and I know exactly what I want to achieve.”
It’s from this background that a man as grounded as a cornfield was able to not only sustain himself through four of the most pressurized rounds in golf, but actually revel in it.
“One of the best things was a phone call from Greg Norman after the final round. He told me I was the first player to ever get him to watch a full 18 holes of live golf on television.”
Yes, Oosthuizen has always had a swing that could reach deep under par. Such as the 57 he posted at Mossel Bay Golf Club in 2002.
“I played with two of my friends and won 27 skins that day. They weren’t very happy with me,” he recalled. “I made birdies at my first three holes and shot 29 on the front nine. I hit it close on 13 but missed the eagle putt. Then on 14 I hit it in the bush and thought, ‘Okay, that’s it. It’s over.’ But I found my ball, made par, and then finished with three birdies and an eagle.” Then came a 59 on the same course a few years later.
And in the Sunshine Tour’s 2008 Telkom PGA Championship, Oosthuizen won by 14 shots with a score of 28-under-par 260, including rounds of 66, 63, 66 and 65. It remains the biggest 72-hole winning margin in the history of the Tour.
Then came St. Andrews.
But the true beauty of Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen lies in the fact that climbing behind the wheel of a new tractor brings him as much joy as winning the Open. It’s this grounding which suggests there are more majors to come from Oosthuizen, and which has also caught the eye of some of the game’s greats.
As he drove from the practice range to the Old Course’s first tee for that final round, Oosthuizen’s courtesy car was suddenly stopped. The door opened, a man stuck his head in and said, “Good luck, kid. I’m rooting for you.”
“For Tom Watson to do that was pretty special,” says Oosthuizen, who is fast realizing that “special” is where his life will be lived from now on.
South African Michael Vlismas co-wrote Gary player’s new book, “Don’t Choke: A Champions Guide to Winning Under Pressure.”