In a manner oh-so typical of the man, Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen slipped almost unnoticed into contention on day two of the 104th Emirates Australian Open.
Perhaps only the 37-year old South African — better known as Louis — could create less of a stir en route to adding a five-under par 66 to his opening 68. Six birdies dotted his card as the former Open champion tip-toed his way to a 36-hole aggregate of 134, eight-under par.
That has always been Oosthuizen’s way, of course. While he owns what is perhaps the most-admired swing amongst the inhabitants of the game’s upper-class, the man who has recorded runner-up finishes in all four constituent parts of golf’s Grand Slam is so often under the radar.
His soft-spoken manner and innate modesty off the course contribute to that relative anonymity – he is not one to toot any musical instrument, never mind a trumpet — but life out of the limelight, as much as that is possible, has forever been his way.
Indeed, golf has never been everything to this father of three young girls. Just after he won the 2010 Open at St. Andrews by seven shots he splashed some cash. And what did he buy? A new tractor.
“Being a farm boy it was one of my big dreams and I bought myself a nice John Deere tractor for my farm back in South Africa,” said the then 27-year-old. “John Deere is very close to my heart. It's for me to drive around on and I made sure there was enough space for my little daughter Jana to sit beside me. We're going to have a lot of fun.”
Not doubt Oosthuizen had more of the same during his second circuit of The Australian, all 6585 metres of it. But, as ever, it was difficult to tell from his post-round comments. As ever, any discernible beat was more down than up.
“I’m in a good spot to go into the weekend,” he said. “A lot of golf is left, but this is a good start. I didn’t give myself loads of birdie opportunities. In fact, I missed quite a few chances. But I was rolling the ball nicely (on the greens) and hitting it decent. The greens are so good that anything inside 25-feet you feel like you’ve got a decent chance for birdie.”
As for what lies ahead, Oosthuizen lapsed into what experienced golf journalists typically label ‘pro-speak.’ Asked for his ‘mindset’ over the weekend to come, the South African went into auto-pilot.
“Nothing different, just go out and play and see how many birdies I can make,” was the somewhat predictable response.
One thing did get him a little more energised though. When the subject of next week’s Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne came up, Oosthuizen became almost animated, albeit understandably unforthcoming regarding his side’s strategies. Making his fourth appearance as part of the International squad in the biennial contest with the Americans, he will be one of the most experienced – and most important – members of the ‘home’ team.
It is all but impossible to imagine the perennial losers claiming the cup for only a second time without a significant contribution from Oosthuizen. In 2015 he emerged from his five matches with four-and-a-half points. And two years ago – amidst the carnage of his side’s depressingly convincing defeat – he saw off “Captain America,” Patrick Reed, in singles.
“It’s nice to play the week before and get the jet-lag out of the system and be ready for the Presidents Cup,” said Oosthuizen. “Two weeks in the same country is always nice, just to get a little bit acclimatised and feel the crowd and the vibe and everything. Next week will be brilliant with the Australian crowd behind us. It’s probably the best opportunity we’re going to get as home turf.
“I’ve been chatting with (non-playing captain) Ernie (Els) a lot about pairings. We’re all ready to go, all 12 of us. We’re ready to get to next week and start to play. It’s now just on us to get our games sharp. We know what’s going on, but obviously, that’s a secret.”
Cue the inevitably enigmatic — and distinctively gap-toothed — smile.