Little-known South African takes the lead at the British Open

Little-known South African takes the lead at the British Open

Louis Oosthuizen followed up an opening-round 65 with a 67 on Friday at the British Open.
Fred Vuich/SI

Memo to Louis Oosthuizen’s landlord: he’s staying through Sunday. The 27-year-old South African, who has made just one cut in seven previous major championships, sat atop the leader board during the second round of the British Open in St. Andrews.

“I’ve booked a house until Sunday night,” said Oosthuizen, who shot 67 to stand at 12-under-par. “So this year, I was planning on making the cut.”

A 73rd place finish at the 2008 PGA Championship is Oosthuizen’s previous best major finish, a record that includes missing the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open this year.

The 27-year-old South African spent a lot of time flashing his gap-toothed David Letterman grin after six birdies and one bogey on Friday, a strong encore to an opening round 65 that came during tough conditions on Thursday afternoon. Most of the first-round leaders, including Rory Mcllroy (who shot 63), played in windless, almost balmy conditions during the morning.

“Today was by far tougher than yesterday,” Oosthuizen said. “From the second hole to the seventh hole was really tough. The wind was still up when I got to 10 and it started raining again. Then the wind just dropped completely and from 14 we had the last five holes downwind, which is a huge difference.”

Oosthuizen — full name Lodewicus Theodorus — is familiar with the Old Course from playing the Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour and said he is taking his strategy from Tiger Woods in 2000 by avoiding a run-in with the perilous pot bunkers that litter the course.

“I’m trying to take the bunkers completely out of play,” he said. “If you go in a bunker, that’s a bogey or a very good par. I’m trying not to take them on.”

Oosthuizen won earlier this year on the European Tour, and like many up-and-coming South African golfers, owes thanks to Ernie Els for even being here. Els helped pay Oosthuizen’s travel expenses and tournament fees as a junior golfer through his South Africa foundation. “My dad was a farmer and at that stage things probably weren’t going that great on the farm. [Els’] foundation had just started and I got into it,” Oosthuizen said. “It was just unbelievable. I was in the foundation for three years, until I turned pro in 2002.”

Having Els as a mentor only adds to already high expectations, thanks to South Africa’s impressive record in the majors, from Gary Player and Bobby Locke to Trevor Immelman and Retief Goosen. Oosthuizen knows the same is expected from his generation. “It’s just a big sport in South Africa and I think they’ll just always expect that from us,” Oosthuizen said.

They might just get their wish, perhaps as soon as Sunday.

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