Johannesburg – Louis Oosthuizen says his planned comeback to competitive golf in next week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland is very much on track.
“Ja, after initially just chipping and putting, in the last week or so I’ve been playing my first full rounds of golf following what was a complete lay-off for six to seven weeks,” says the 30-year-old who since having to withdraw from the British Open midway through the championship at Muirfield in July because of the debilitating effects of a number of injuries, has been in rehab, resting at home on his southern Cape farm, doing bike-work and working closely with a physio in a bid to heal and strengthen his body.
When “King Louis” – that’s a nickname he inherited after famously winning the 2010 British Open at St Andrews – captured the European Tour’s Volvo Golf Champions in dramatic fashion (he shot a final round 66 to make up a five-shot deficit) at Durban Country Club in January this year, he moved to a career-high fourth in the world. With a calm demeanour under pressure and a golf swing that is the envy of his fellow professionals, the sky looked to be the limit for him in 2013.
But for the next six months recurring neck, back and hip injuries – along with a particularly troublesome TSL muscle problem in his left leg – took a fearsome toll. He had to withdraw from the US Open and when the same thing happened at the British Open, it was the final straw. He needed a long rest.
“I knew to properly heal I had to give it six or seven weeks. I didn’t want to rush a comeback and now, for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling really relaxed. Swinging the club didn’t bother me too much but walking was a big issue because of my leg. I do still feel the leg a little bit but I really do think I’m ready again,” says Louis, who because of a loss of form due to the injuries, has dropped to 21st in the rankings.
“The week after the Dunhill it’s the Presidents Cup and, as a first-timer in the International Team, I desperately want to play in that. But I’ve told Nick Price (team captain) that the Dunhill Links will be the big test. It’s always a thrill for me to go back to St Andrews after winning there. And of course we play Carnoustie and Kingsbarns as well as the Old Course. The turf on those courses is firm and quite hard and it’ll be the gauge to see if I’m okay. If I’m not 100 percent, I’ll have no hesitation in telling Nick and he’ll call in a replacement.
“In the meantime, the Dunhill is a fantastic tournament. It’s competitive but also a lot of fun with the separate pro-am event. My partner this year is Chubby Chandler (head of ISM which Louis is part of) while my good friend Charl Schwartzel is, I think, with tournament host Johann Rupert. If all goes well, it’s going to be blast.”
Looking ahead to the Presidents Cup, Oosthuizen is under no illusions about the strength of the 12-man United States team, which contains six players ranked among the top 10 in the world. “In fact, looking back over the years, this is probably one of the strongest American teams ever – Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup.
“But, being underdogs, us Internationals won’t be under too much pressure and that can be a good thing. And to have Nick as captain is such a positive because he’s so inspirational. He says he’s going to put a big emphasis on team spirit. We’ve got a fairly young team, but the guys have really been playing well ... Adam (Scott), Jason (Day), Charl, Richard (Sterne), Brendon (de Jonge), Graham (Delaet), and then having in the side a guy like Ernie with all his experience is a huge plus. So I believe we’re up for the challenge.
“Nick has been phoning us, and he’s not the kind of captain who says ‘you WILL play with that guy in the foursomes, no argument’. Rather, he asks for our opinion and that’s a good thing.”
The positive side of being away from golf for seven weeks is that Louis has been able to spend quality time with his wife Nel-Mare, and their three young daughters – Jana, Sophie and 12-week-old Emma. Oosthuizen enjoys family life immensely although he does admit, with a chuckle, that being outnumbered three to one on a female-to-male ratio can be “quite crazy”. There will have been a calming aspect to the break though and, as six-times Open champion Harry Vardon observed: “For this game you need, above all things, to be in a tranquil frame of mind.”
Oosthuizen is famous for his Open victory, for his albatross two at Augusta National’s par-5 second hole in the final round of the 2012 Masters on his way to a runner-up finish (Bubba Watson’s miracle ‘banana shot’ out of the trees in the sudden-death play-off blew Louis’ his chances of a Green Jacket), for shooting 57 in a skins game at his home club, Mossel Bay, in 2002, and – a lesser known fact – a 59 just a week later on the same course.
He’s also a fine human being, humble and a man who enjoys life on the farm. It will be remembered that after his Open triumph he used some of his prize-money to buy a tractor, and when a swanky Volvo V40 was what the sponsors had on offer for the pros for winning the pro-am in the Volvo Golf Champions in January, after Louis did win he asked to swap the car for a Volvo Compact Excavator and got his wish.
What the next farm implement will be, who knows, but King Louis’ golf swing is anything but agricultural and, hopefully, as injury-free he will continue to make South African golf fans proud on the fairways of the world. – The Star