x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Oosthuizen is sticking around at St Andrews

The South African with a habit of missing cuts at majors gets down to business and books extended stay in Scotland.

South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen plays a tee shot during his second round  at St Andrews in Scotland.
South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen plays a tee shot during his second round at St Andrews in Scotland.

Louis Oosthuizen could have been forgiven for making temporary accommodation plans at St Andrews rather than booking his rental house for the duration of the 150th anniversary British Open. The South African's record in major championships suggested he would be moving out before the serious weekend business gets under way this afternoon.

He laughed when quizzed on that subject in the same way as he light-heartedly dealt with the barrage of questions that tend to be fired at an unheralded player who storms into a commanding lead in such an important event. "I'm booked in until Sunday night, so yes, I was planning to make the cut this time," said Oosthuizen, who had only once previously completed all four rounds in one of the world's big four golf tournaments.

Oosthuizen, who missed six cuts out of seven and finished a lowly 73rd behind Padraig Harrington in what was the exception of the 2008 US PGA Championship, is good at self-deprecation. He has to be, possessing original forenames like Lodewicus Theodorus and bearing the nickname of "Shrek" after the less than handsome cartoon character. "My friends started calling me Shrek because of the gap between my teeth," he said, widening his smile to illustrate the point. "You can't always choose your friends. The other names are on my passport but I have been known as Louis right from the start."

Oosthuizen should need no introduction to golf enthusiasts in the Middle East having been the most consistent performer in last year's Desert Swing with second-place finishes in Abu Dhabi and Qatar and a seventh behind Rory McIlroy in Dubai. He admits, however, that he would like to raise his profile on the world stage. A splendid round of 67 yesterday to follow the 65 he posted on Thursday will have helped as he tops the leaderboard on 12-under par.

"I think my problem was not believing in myself," he said. "Everybody around me was saying 'you've got the shots, you're playing well', but I didn't take that advice. "I was very frustrated in the last four years because I knew I could win tournaments on the European Tour because I had won five in South Africa. But it just wouldn't happen. I came to the conclusion that I had to have more fun, enjoy myself more. There's a lot more to life than golf, you know."

A belated European breakthrough victory earlier this year at the Open de Andalucia in Spain changed his mindset, and he reflected: "I am reading it really nicely now and I'm looking forward to it from now on." Oosthuizen, 27, hails from a strong tennis background and his father was keen to continue the family tradition, but he stuck to his stubborn view that golf was the better option. The trouble came with finances, for the travel required to develop his game proved to be too much for the son of a farmer. That was about the time the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation began to identify young South Africans from families of limited resources.

He was 17 when he began with the foundation, leaving when he turned pro. "It was unbelievable what [Ernie] did for me, travelling around the country, helping with expenses, things like that," Oosthuizen said. "He's such a good mentor. And probably without him, those three years I've been in his foundation, I wouldn't have been here." The first signs of that decision being vindicated came in the world junior team championship of 2000 when he partnered Charl Schwartzel to a South African triumph. He followed that by shooting a spectacular 57 on his home course at Mossel Bay. Another low number looked on the cards yesterday as three birdies in a row from the par five fifth took him to the turn in 33 strokes on a wet but calm morning. However, he lost his momentum on the short 11th hole. He will hope to recapture it today.

wjohnson@thenational.ae