British Open Offers Us a Red-Dot Special Winner: Scott Soshnick

The sport of golf is loaded with luxury brands. The just-completed British Open offered a counterbalance result: a red-dot special.

None of those big-name brands, or mini corporations, which is what top athletes are these days, is bigger than Tiger Woods, who was the favorite to not only win The Open Championship but to reignite his stalled chase of the career majors mark.

But a curious thing happened en route to the Claret Jug, which was awarded yesterday to a fellow who had broadcast journalists from here, there and everywhere -- except maybe South Africa, which has had a pretty good month -- scrambling for the European Tour’s pronunciation guide.

You see, at the outset no one at St. Andrews, no one walking the Old Course, no one watching at home, saw Louis Oosthuizen coming. After all, the 27-year-old arrived with a world ranking of 54. Certainly he wasn’t what you’d call someone to watch. Not even among the sleepers. Even when he started well few believed. Surely, he’d crack.

After all, the guy known to friends as Shrek because of the gap between his front teeth had never won a major tournament. Woods, meantime, had 14, four shy of Jack Nicklaus. He’s still four shy of Nicklaus, whose record, once sure to fall, has new life.

Wasn’t this the tournament where Woods was supposed to become Woods again? Didn’t Woods call St. Andrews, with its wide and forgiving fairways, his favorite course? Didn’t the world’s best golfer win two British Opens here, in 2000 and 2005, running away by a combined 13 strokes? Woods this year finished 13 strokes behind Oosthuizen, in a tie for 23rd place.

Putting Woes

“I did not putt well at all,” Woods said yesterday, telling reporters what they already knew. “You just can’t play and expect to win golf tournaments if you have nine or 10 three- putts for a week. No one can win doing that.”

Funny, but much of the pre-tournament news centered on you know who and his decision to change putters. Something about slower greens, he said.

Woods changed putters, all right. Then he changed back for the final round. Golf’s ultra-luxury brand looks a wee bit lost. He’s winless in his past seven majors, which is an eternity for this guy.

Perhaps golf’s main man, whose focus has gone from laser to lackluster since his personal life exploded, can learn a thing or two from Oosthuizen. So much of golf is about the brain, not the body, especially at St. Andrews, where the elements offer an intriguing element.

Woods just won’t admit there’s a correlation between his personal problems and his suspect strokes.

The Red Dot

Oosthuizen, meantime, recognizes his weakness. He knew the problems of the past were a byproduct of temperament, not talent. Oosthuizen had a penchant for losing focus, then strokes, then tournaments. He was done in by distraction. The mind would wander and, to no one’s surprise, so would the swing.

So he did something about it, something subtle. But it worked -- big time. It was just a reminder to stay in the moment, to focus on one shot, and then the next one, and then the next one. Forget the last one. It’s done.

Oosthuizen actually put a small red dot just above the thumb on the glove that covers his left hand. For a golfer it’s impossible to miss.

He’d stand over the ball, looking down. There it was, in his line of sight, a colorful reminder to clear his mind of clutter.

Focus on the shot.

No one was more accurate then Oosthuizen, who made the fairways his home. That’s a big reason why he won.

Oosthuizen finished with a four-round total of 16-under-par 272, seven shots clear of Lee Westwood.

Par-3 Winner

Truth be told, prior to the British Open all I knew about Oosthuizen, the son of a dairy farmer, was that he won the par-3 tournament at this year’s Masters Tournament.

Oosthuizen, who missed the 36-hole cut for weekend play at the Masters and U.S. Open, took the British Open lead in the second round. You can bet few thought he’d keep it through Sunday. He did.

“I’m proud of the way I held my nerves around the back nine,” said Oosthuizen, who earned $1.3 million for his trouble.

He should be proud. Oosthuizen played more like Woods than Woods has recently. Still, the winner saw a bigger picture.

Not only did South Africa host a successful World Cup, but now one of its own is a British Open champion -- and a gracious one at that.

Addressing the crowd, Oosthuizen in the biggest and best moment of his career wasn’t thinking of himself. He got around to golf, sure, but only after wishing former South African President Nelson Mandela a happy 92nd birthday.

Special, is the word Oosthuizen used.

It was more that that. It was a red-dot special.

(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

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