by Paul Newberry
Associated Press Writer
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP)—The South Africans have a new soundtrack of success. The drone of the vuvuzela has been succeeded by the skirl of the bagpipe.
One week after beaming in pride at its historic hosting of soccer’s World Cup, the nation torn apart by apartheid just a generation ago had another reason to stick out its chest: Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open in a dominating romp. On Nelson Mandela‘s 92nd birthday, no less.
|SHADES OF BAGGER VANCE—South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen celebrates on the 18th green with his caddie Zack Rasego after winning the British Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, July 18.
A White Afrikaner with a Black caddie on his bag crossed over the Swilcan Bridge, tapped in the last putt and lifted the claret jug.
Oosthuizen just wanted to celebrate the moment with family and friends. Others realized there was something more significant going on at the Old Course, another instance of sports transcending a societal divide.
“It’s fantastic,” said Gary Player, the most prominent golfer to come out of South Africa. “Wonderful things are happening to South Africa. I went back for the final match of the World Cup, and they did a way better job than people imagined.”
Of course, soccer’s biggest event won’t solve the everyday problems and racial tensions that still linger in South Africa. Nor will one man winning a golf tournament.
But there’s no denying the pride felt by those who cheered on Oosthuizen while waving the post-apartheid colors of their nation—red, blue, green, yellow and black—or wearing jackets and shirts bearing the words “Bafana Bafana,” the nickname of South Africa’s soccer team.
“It is a great event for all South Africans, especially because it is the birthday of Nelson Mandela,” said caddie Zack Rasego, who usually converses with Oosthuizen in Afrikaans, the language despised by Blacks during apartheid as a symbol of the ruling White minority. “It’s a great day for us.”
It was a great week for Oosthuizen, who started the week as such an unknown that the R&A felt compelled to put out a fact sheet with 11 things one needed to know about the 27-year-old from Mossel Bay. None of those tidbits was as compelling as his golf game, which was rock-solid for all four rounds and never gave anyone a chance to make it close. He led over the final 48 holes of the championship, closing with a 1-under 71 that left him at 16-under 272 overall.
No one else was within seven strokes.
“It felt a bit special out there,” he said.
Oosthuizen, who had made the cut only once in eight previous majors, claimed the lead for good way back in the second round. Some figured he was the beneficiary of a fortuitous tee time—in the morning, before the wind started gusting more than 40 mph—and would surely falter in the spotlight of the weekend.
Everyone waited for the collapse. It never came.
He turned in 13 pars and four birdies on Saturday, giving him a commanding four-stroke lead going into the finale. He started Sunday with seven more pars before his bogey-free streak finally ended with a 6-foot miss at No. 8. Again, everyone wondered if he might finally realize this was a position he’d never been in before. Oosthuizen drove the green at the par-4 ninth, a tempting 352 yards away, and rolled in a 50-foot putt for eagle.
“I needed one putt to really get my rhythm going,” he said. “And that eagle on 9, that got me started.”
Oosthuizen had only six bogeys all week, and the last of those was a short miss at the next-to-last hole when he was essentially on an extended walk up 18, reveling in the cheers of the crowd at every stop.
About all that did was cost him a chance to break the Open record for largest margin of victory in the modern era, an eight-stroke win last accomplished a decade ago by Tiger Woods at this very course. He missed a 10-footer for birdie at the easy closing hole, costing him a chance to share the mark.
What about Woods? He had romped to dominating wins at the last two Opens on the Old Course, but putting woes that followed an opening 67 ensured he was never much of a factor. He had changed putters before the week, then went back to the old one Sunday. It didn’t make much difference when he made a pair of double-bogeys on the front side, settling for a mundane 72 that left him 13 shots behind the winner.
“Actually, I’m driving it better than I have in years,” Woods said. “But I’m just not making the putts. It’s ironic that as soon as I start driving on a string, I miss everything. Maybe I should go back to spraying it all over the lot and make everything” on the green.
Joining Woods on the list of biggest Open routs was about the only thing that didn’t go right for the man dubbed “Shrek,” which is sure easier for most people to pronounce than his actual name: Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen. He didn’t seem too bothered as he hugged his wife and their 7-month-old daughter, then collected the claret jug that will be in his safekeeping for the next year.
Back in Oosthuizen’s homeland, they were coming up with a new nickname for their newest hero, who joined Player, Bobby Locke and Ernie Els as Open champions hailing from South Africa.
“We have the Big Easy,” said Dennis Bruyns, CEO of the Southern African PGA, referring to Els. “Now, we have the Ice Cool.”