Blog 37 - Oosthuizen Wins the Open

oosthuizen200But I definitely remember being awfully impressed. I think it was the 2004 Open at Royal Troon which Todd Hamilton won. I was at the practice ground on the Tuesday or Wednesday and began watching the small South African with the strange name, partly because there were only two or three other players on the range at the time, but mostly because he had the sort of swing you could watch all day.
As he demonstrated yesterday, Oosthuizen swings a wedge as he does a driver regardless of how much pressure he's under. His tempo is the same whichever club he's using. There is no 'hit' at the ball; he sweeps through it on such a solid base it would take a lot more than the Old Course's 40mph gusts to throw him off balance. He was fortunate to miss the worst of Friday's weather, but it blew hard enough at other times for anyone with suspect technique or a lack of composure to falter badly.
But it takes more than a good swing to win a major championship. If sound technique really was the only factor that determined the outcome of majors, Ernie Els might not have lost one since 1993.
Great putting is also essential, obviously, as are determination, confidence, good judgement and good health (plus the good fortune of having none of your equally capable competitors playing at their best). And you don't necessarily see those qualities, especially in someone as mild-mannered as Oosthuizen. Thinking of St Andrews's recent champions - the 27-year-old Afrikaner clearly isn't the swashbuckling matador Seve Ballesteros was, nor is he the cold, blinkered Nick Faldo-like automaton. He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve like Tiger Woods and he couldn't be less like John Daly if he tried. In fact, Oosthuizen appears to deal with the twin imposters, triumph and disaster, better than most - not that he had much disaster to deal with at St Andrews.
So what does all this 'thinking-off-the-top-of-my-head' amateurish psychology actually mean? Does Oosthuizen now work his way to the world number one spot by way of half a dozen more majors over the next five years, or will we be asking whatever happened to that Lewis Oostyhousing guy the next time the Open is played at the Old Course?
Who knows? It could go either way. Remember two years ago, we all wondered how many majors fellow South African Trevor Immelman would go on to win following his victory at Augusta National. He's not done much since, but he's 30-years-old and still swings like Ben Hogan. So if his determination, confidence, good judgement and health all reappear at the right time, he could very well add a second major to his résumé. And what about other talents from the Rainbow Nation - Tim Clark, Charl Schwartzel, and Richard Sterne? Might they win multiple majors?
They could, but in the modern game players' chances of winning one, much less two, are far lower than they once were simply because there are so many qualified applicants. If not Oosthuizen then perhaps Paul Casey, Sean O'Hair, Robert Allenby, Thongchai Jaidee, JB Holmes, Steve Marino, Liang Wen-Chong, Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker, or even a Frenchman by the name of Gregory Havret who began the year 297th in the world but came within a shot of forcing a playoff at the US Open.
I heard it said yesterday that with so many 'non-superstar' players winning one major championship (since Woods won the 2008 US Open, nine majors have been played and there have been eight different winners) it diminshes the prestige and distinction of the Grand Slam events. Frankly, I've never heard so much nonsense, but I do see why Louis Oosthuizen winning the Open by seven shots might not have the same appeal for the casual golf observer as Woods beating Phil Mickelson in a playoff. Apparently ESPN are likely to announce the worst ratings for the Open Championship in 28 years. But as a committed golf fanatic, I found Oosthuizen's brilliant display utterly absorbing.
Personally, I hope Oosty (no, hang on, we can't call him that because Peter Oosterhuis has that taken, so Louie it is) does go on to further success because I've no problem with good-natured, sweet-swinging, suitably-respectful family men winning the game's biggest tournaments.

More thoughts from the Old Course:
openflags250Despite concerns that tampering with the Old Course might be sacrilegious, the new tee at the 17th seemed to work extremely well. For starters it looked really cool wedged in behind the road which used to run behind the tee. But far more importantly, it helped restore the Road Hole's reputation. Though still extremely challenging, most of the world's top players had begun hitting a 3-wood off the tee to avoid running out of fairway. And with a medium or even short iron in their hands, most could then loft the ball into the middle of the green without giving much thought to the Road Hole Bunker or, indeed, the road behind the green (okay, it was never that simple, but it was headed in that direction - in 2000 the stroke average for the hole was 4.71. In 2005, it was 4.63). That was no good at all, obviously. Far better to see players having to hit a gutsy drive over the railway sheds to leave a medium or long iron to the green - a shot requiring supreme precision. With just 16 birdies all week and 68 double-bogeys, the slide in the hole's stroke average was halted. 4.67 is still lower than 2000's average, but 'better' than the 4.3 or 4.4 it might have been had the hole not been lengthened.  Most of the players voiced their approval, including Tom Watson who 'concurred' with the R&A for making the change.
But the question now is; how many more times are the R&A going to have to move that tee back in order to maintain the challenge of the hole? The Old Course measured 6,933 yards when Faldo won there in 1990. Last week it was 7,305 yards. The distance the modern ball flies is a huge problem that the game's ruling bodies are allowing to get out of hand (if they haven't done so entirely already). Golf courses can't get longer indefinitely. There's only so much planet and only so much of it that non-golfers will allow us to use. Bifurcation (one rule for pros another for amateurs) is a controversial subject in golf and not one many people are willing to consider given how long we have all used the same gear. But the change would surely be justified now. Allow us amateurs to keep using our multi-layer, urethane-covered balls, but create a lighter, less explosive ball unique to the professional tours that doesn't fly quite so far and that doesn't necessitate new back tees every time the professionals return.

Apparently, criticism was levelled against the Old Course by some in the media for lending itself to runaway winners (Woods won by eight strokes in 2000 and five in 2005. Oosthuizen won by seven) and therefore less exciting finishes...Really? That's more absurd than the line about the majors losing their eminence because different players are winning them. I mean seriously, how would you deliberately set up a course to produce a runaway winner?

Why do bookies still list Phil Mickelson among the pre-tournament favorites at the Open? He's now played in it 17 times but has only one top-ten finish and an average position of 51.4.

How come no one seemed to have a problem pronouncing (or made a big deal of) Oosthuizen's name at the two Masters, one US Open, two PGA Championships, four WGC CA Championships, three WGC HSBC Championships, or one WGC Accenture Matchplay Championship he has played in?

Meanwhile in Washington State...
Well played Tyler Wong who finished tied for 21st at the Rosauers Open Invitational in Spokane at the weekend. Tyler, an assistant at Sudden Valley, shot three 69s over the 6,255-yard Indian Canyon course for a 54-hole total of 207, -6. As was the case at the Washington Open Invitational earlier this season, less than brilliant putting prevented him from going any lower. 'I hit the ball well but didn't make any putts,' he says. 'I didn't three-putt the entire tournament, but I only made two outside of ten feet.'
Except for the holes on which he made those two long(er)-range putts, Tyler's birdies came at Par 5 holes that he reached in two. 'But it was an enjoyable week nonetheless,' he added. 'It's a great golf course that was in excellent shape, and the weather was great too. Most players who have played in the Rosauers think it's one of the best PGA sectional events in the US.'

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