There is a certain reluctance amongst American pundits to take Louis Oosthuizen seriously enough, and the 2010 Open champion changed that with a 53-foot eagle putt on the 18th on Saturday as he surged to the lead of the US Open Championship at Torrey Pines in San Diego, California.
He carded a one-under-par 70 in the third round, and he shares the lead with unheralded Mackenzie Hughes of Canada and journeyman American Russell Henley. At five-under, they have a two-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy and the 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, with Scottie Scheffler and fellow-American Matthew Wolff in a share of sixth a further shot back.
While the pundits might still be unconvinced, the fans greeted his eagle with the acclaim it – and he – deserved. “It’s great to hear the cheers when you hit good shots,” he said. “That’s why we play the game, to have reactions like that on 18, and to have people watching us. It’s great having the crowd back. Definitely if you’re playing well, you feed off the crowd a lot with energy. Those reactions don’t happen all the time, and it’s great to hear the crowds.”
It’s understandable that American crowds will be rooting for the likes of DeChambeau, Scheffler, Wolff, Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa and Brooks Koepka. But Oosthuizen’s major championship record of five runner-up finishes is bound to take a turn for the better sooner or later.
“I’m definitely a lot more patient than I was when I was young,” he said. “I think I was too dumb really when I won the Open to get nervous and to know what was going on. I was playing great golf in 2010, and I love St Andrews.
“Playing it five years later I was a little bit more cautious around the golf course knowing where you shouldn’t go and how to play the course. So you definitely grow playing major championships. The more you play, the more you learn something about how you play in those tournaments.”
His record of runner-up finishes is an unenviable one, but it’s one that consumes him. “The two that really hurt were the play-offs,” he said of the loss to Bubba Watson in the Masters and to Zach Johnson in the Open. “That’s so close to winning. I lost to a great golf shot in 2012 at Augusta, and in 2015 I probably had an opportunity. I missed a short putt on the 17th in the play-off. Those ones take a little longer to get over. You know, the other ones, they’re just good weeks and good results. Could have been better but I’m taking more positive out of it than anything else.”
There will be a steeliness about his game when he tees off on Sunday at 9.55pm South African time with Hughes. “I never want to get down on myself when I play a round at a major,” he said, “and if I make a bogey, I try and fight back as hard as I can to get a birdie somewhere, just knowing everyone is going to find it tough out there.”
He’ll be watching closely to see how everyone else is coping too. “I always glance at the scoreboard,” he said. “I like to know what’s going on. Whether I play good or bad, I always want to know what’s going on. Not that it really changes the way I play, but sometimes coming down the last few holes, you can see if you need to be a little bit more aggressive or not.”
American pundits following their American favourites would do well to look at the scoreboards too. For Oosthuizen’s name.