Walking off the final tee, his ball safely on the green and his victory assured, South African Louis Oosthuizen grinned and exchanged slaps on the back with his caddie and countryman, Zack Rasego. They chatted in Afrikaans, sharing a private moment, their homeland’s history as irrelevant as the difference in the colors of their skin.
On Nelson Mandela’s ninety-second birthday, this “rainbow team,” as Rasego described the pair to the New York Times, enjoyed the best walk in golf: down the 18th fairway at the Old Course, across the Swilcan Bridge and through the Valley of Sin, with a seven-shot lead and his name all but engraved on the Claret Jug.
Oosthuizen had seized the tournament lead on the seventh hole on Friday, and finished his round before the worst of the windy weather that sent balls skittering and scores soaring. It’s not unusual for a little-known player to take the 36-hole lead in a major championship. It’s very unusual for him to keep it.
His three-under 69 on Saturday left him four strokes ahead of Paul Casey, the Englishman he’d be paired with on Sunday. It was Casey’s first experience playing in the final twosome at a major, though he contended at two Masters and one U.S. Open before fading on Sunday each time. Oosthuizen, for his part, had missed the cut at seven of his eight majors, the only 72-hole finish coming at the 2008 PGA, where he finished dead last, 26 over par.
Yet it was Oosthuiven who was smiling and casual as the round began, so much so that Tom Weiskopf wondered on the ESPN telecast if he was mentally ready for the challenge. We’ve grown so used to Tiger grimness that it’s discordant to see someone approach a championship differently.
Casey, focused and tight, missed a four-footer for birdie at the first hole that would have put some pressure on the leader. When Casey bogeyed the second hole, Oosthuizen’s lead was five, and the script for the day was pretty much set. The challenge from below never came; the two-man battle was reduced to one, Oosthuizen against himself, against his own improbability.
When he did slip, making bogey on eight, he followed immediately with an eagle on the short par-four ninth. Any last hope for Casey was extinguished when he drove into the unplayable gorse on 12, taking a triple bogey while Oosthuizen made birdie. The four-shot swing pushed the lead to eight, and the South African could start thinking about his victory speech.
“Louis was in a different league,” Casey said afterwards. “You know, that softens my disappointment slightly, because it was a tremendous performance. Hats off to him.”
Five of the last six major championships have been won by first-time major winners. The five represent four different continents.
As the world grows smaller, the golf world gets bigger.
Since the beginning of May, PGA Tour events have been captured by two golfers from Northern Ireland, two from South Africa, two from England, and two from Australia. At St. Andrews, the best American showing came from Sean O’Hair and Nick Watney, who tied for sixth behind two South Africans, two Englishmen, and a Swede. Tiger Woods, still number one in the world rankings, finished behind all of those as well as two other Englishmen, one German, three Spaniards, another South African, and another Swede. He also trailed the low amateur, who tied for fourteenth: Korea’s Jin Jiang, the first Asian player to win the British Amateur Championship.
There are great golfers from all over the world who are capable of doing wonderful things on the biggest stage the game can offer. If they lack anything, it’s the confidence to realize they have such greatness in them.
They’ve got a fine example to point to from now on.
“I don’t think anybody was thinking I was going to be up there,” Oosthuizen said on Saturday. “Nobody can actually say my surname, so they don’t even know who I am out there.”
For the record, it’s WUHST-high-zen. And they all know now.