Ahead of his second round at the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent, on Friday, it’s worth trying to get inside the head of first-round leader Louis Oosthuizen as he attempts to become ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’ for the second time.
Since Oosthuizen won his first Claret Jug at St Andrews in 2010, he has been runner-up no fewer than six times, most memorably in this year’s PGA Championship where he was edged by two strokes by a 51-year-old Phil Mickelson, and in the US Open where Jon Rahm memorably made to dramatic birdie putts in the last two holes to pip the South African by one.
“It depends if you lost it or someone else beat you,” he said after his opening six-under 64 on Thursday. “I think in both of those I was beaten by better golf at the end there. It takes a little while, but you have to get over it quickly, otherwise it’s going to hold you back from performing again. I try to take a few days and just try and forget about it and see if I can get myself ready for the next one.”
While there was a time when Oosthuizen seemed to have been satisfied with what he had achieved in his career, and whether he won another didn’t seem to bother him. That was simply not true: “As a sportsman, you want to win, so you’re always going to be disappointed when you get close and finish in second,” he said. “I don’t want to play if I am going to tee it up and don’t think I can win the tournament. If you have a chance to win the tournament, and you finish second, you’re always going to be disappointed.”
It was repeated disappointment that led to the position in which he now finds himself.
“I felt I was playing well enough to win tournaments but I wasn’t really playing well enough, in some sense,” he said. “I was doing the right things, but also not doing things well and finishing 20th, and 25th. And I felt I should be doing a lot better.
“So I gave myself a little push a couple of years ago, working quite a bit on my short game, and especially my putting. I always felt I had too many days with my putting where it was hot and cold and I couldn’t get any consistency. So I started working quite a bit on that. Last year, I got a better rhythm on my stroke and this year, I’ve putted beautifully so far. That definitely got me on the right path and it lifted the rest of my game. But I needed the results to get that second motivation for my career to really try and step it up.
“I haven’t got a specific putting coach. I’ve gone back to some of the things I did as an amateur, and I’ve looked at things I was doing in 2010, especially the week of the Open. A big thing was also sticking to the same putter – the same look, the same feel, and trying to get some sort of relationship going with my putter.
“I’ve got a bag of naughty putters there at home that I might just throw in a river someday. I went through a stage where I changed a lot of putters. Every week we were trying something. I realised quickly that there’s no way to find any consistency in putting if you do that. I found one that I really like the look of, and I sort of worked on it. There were tournaments where I felt my stroke wasn’t great, and I felt like I was working on a few things, and I would actually change that putter then for just on the round. I didn’t want to have any bad memories of that putter being not good on the day. Going through all of that and sticking with it has really helped me a lot.”
It’s more than just putting, however, as much as that’s such an important part of the game. Mentally, Oosthuizen has got to the point where he so clearly belongs. “I do get upset on shots if I hit bad shots and things like that, but I try and always be in the best mindset for the next shot and the next tournament or the next round,” he said. “I try and not think too much of mistakes that you make on the golf course. I try and focus on every time hitting the best shot that I can hit, and I feel that’s the only way you can sort of go forward in this game.”
There is a sharpness now, not only about his game, but about his focus, that augurs well for the rest of the week. “It gives me confidence going into majors knowing that I’m still competing in them and I’ve still got chances of winning,” he says. “But yeah, once the week starts, I need to get that out of my mind and just focus on every round and every shot.”