London, England (CNN) – Let’s get one thing straight: Louis Oosthuizen thoroughly deserved to win the British Open.
And those of us fortunate enough to experience the warmth of his reception from the fans as he paraded the replica Claret Jug were left in no doubt that over the week his blend of outstanding golf talent, endearing modesty and impressive mental strength had won over pretty much everyone around St. Andrews.
Some commentators bemoaned the lack of drama. The absence of even one challenger who could force questions into Oosthuizen’s mind on that final Sunday.
Others, like Colin Montgomerie, pointed out reasonably enough that it’s easier to defend than attack on the Old Course.
True enough, but also true enough of many of the greatest links courses. The man from windswept Mossel Bay knew when to go for the shot and when to respect the land and wind.
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Of course, on the Friday, some people were treated unfairly by the wind. An American player, talking to me after he’d been blown well beyond the cut mark, put it simply: “My Open finished the moment they made the draw on the first Sunday evening”.
But then, as we all know, golf, and links golf in particular, can often be cruelly unfair. And Oosthuizen wasn’t the only one to benefit –- he just had the skill, nerve and determination to make the most of it.
One hole he played last week will stay in my mind. On the Saturday, standing by the lengthened 17th, the Road Hole, I watched a great number of the world’s finest drive too safely away from the hotel and left into the thick rough, or take on the near-impossible with their second and find the bunker, the road or even out of bounds over the wall.
Not Oosthuizen. First he took on the shot with his driver, braving the hotel to find the right side of the fairway to give himself a better line in.
One misjudgment and he could have dropped three shots there and then.
Next, he played a clever, low running shot in to the green, taking Open-wrecking dangers out of the equation, relying on his ability to long-putt to save par. He walked off with a four. Very few others managed the same.
So what of the future? Could Louis go on to even greater things or will he slip back beyond the view of all but the keenest of golf fans?
Those around him firmly believe the former, and given that those around him include some of the world’s best players and judgers of talent I’m prepared to go with them.
All stress his technical ability. Many refer back to more low-level tournaments when he hit the front and stayed there. All stress his even temperament (something he admits he’s worked on after finally getting the message that anger on a golf course helps no-one but your opponent).
I had a chat after Oosthuizen’s victory with his manager, Chubby Chandler of ISM (and what a year they’re having, with their stable of Louis, Westwood, McIlroy, Els and Schwarzel all playing some great golf this season and picking up big checks).
Chubby is in no doubt that an Old Course Open is going to prove a springboard for his latest South African star, not a career peak.
He also revealed that, with the exception of a Ping deal expiring this year, he hadn’t believed other companies had been offering enough to justify tying Oosthuizen into contracts. His new Open Champion was free to listen to bids befitting his status. “Now we look like ****ing geniuses," he chuckled.
And so back to Sunday and the final touch. Louis Oosthuizen lifted the trophy in front of the R and A members and the thousands of spectators straining over the ropes of the first and 18th.
He moved to the microphone to say a few words. Perhaps it’s just my age, perhaps it’s just because I was on Robben Island a few weeks ago, but to hear, at the moment of his greatest triumph, a white South African pay tribute to Nelson Mandela on his 92nd birthday, to say “it felt a bit special out there thinking of him," made me think even more highly of our new Open Champion than I already did.
The young man deserved it.
Editor's note: Catch the next edition of Living Golf on CNN International for an in-depth analysis of this year's British Open.
absolutely right. louis looked like he was enjoying his golf, he enjoyed the challenge and wasn't found wanting. yeh, i wanted a european to win, but too many of them were walking around with long faces. (i exempt darren clarke and rory). it's about time (take note tiger) that golf should be fun, a stern examination yes, but at the end of the day fun. keep up the good work cnn. let's have some more 'inside the ropes' comments.