PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Louis Oosthuizen found the poem, the song, the fragrance that is Pebble Beach Golf Links so irresistible, he had to stop and take some pictures.
“I was out there, probably looked like a tourist taking all the pictures on my phone and forgot I was playing a practice round. But, yeah, that's what this place does to you,” he explained candidly, basking in the afterglow of his 5-under 66 that has him one shot behind England’s Justin Rose following the first round of the 2019 US Open.
You have to love Oosthuizen’s innocence. Despite having conquered the golf world in 2010 with a runaway victory at the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews, he still approaches the game with the fascination of a child, marveling gratefully at every new experience. Success hasn’t spoiled him at all.
You have to love his play – laser-beam irons and a magical short game. When he’s wild he makes hair-raising recoveries. And when he heats up like a microwave he can string birdies like beads on a necklace. You know all these players who make a big deal of shooting a 59? Try Louis’s 57 at Mossel Bay, his home course in South Africa. He had two eagles and 11 birdies.
And you have to love his pluck. Time after time, no matter how many golf misfortunes befall him, he still bounces back. Not many golfers in history carry the baggage of being runner-up in all four golf majors, especially since his initial success at St. Andrews.
How did Louis respond when asked what it felt like to join Craig Wood, Phil Mickelson, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus (who did it four times) in achieving the “career runner-up slam?" He turned it into a moment of incomparable hilarity as he Tweeted video of himself lip-synching Andra Day’s “I Will Rise Up” using his phone as a microphone. That’s the kind of humility and grace that makes every golf fan glad he actually won a Claret Jug.
He channeled that same humility in his post-round presser Thursday afternoon.
“I think just winning a major is already to me sacred enough," he said. "To be able to win a U.S. Open would be very magical to me. It would be I think something that anyone can dream of winning an Open and the U.S. Open.”
He’s off to a good start. Thursday marked the second time Louis Oosthuizen has opened a major golf championship with a 66 or lower. The other being 2010 at St. Andrews, where he ultimately won by seven shots. He’s tied with Aaron Wise, Xander Schauffele and Rickie Fowler, one shot behind Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open Champion at Merion. Scott Piercy and sectional qualifier Nate Lashley were at 4-under 67, while 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and past Open Championship winners Henrik Stenson and Francesco Molinari headline a large group at 68. Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and Woods carded 69 and 70, respectively.
Oosthuizen’s 5-under round included a hole-out eagle on his second hole of the day, the short par-4 11th.
“Yeah, 11, I'm not even sure anymore what the distance, I think it was about 110 yards or something," Oosthuizen guesstimated of his 95-yard shot. "I hit a decent line. You can't see the second shot where it lands. I just went on the reaction of the crowd that it was a good shot and obviously saw that they went nuts.
“I can't remember the last time I holed a shot from the fairway. I mean, it's -- when you have a sand wedge in your hand, you're thinking you'll really close. But to actually hole it, there's a lot of things that have to be right, the bounce on the green and everything. So there's obviously a little bit of luck involved. But I think we want to see it more as the perfect shot.”
It marks the third time in a major that Shrek, as he’s known to the Tour players and the fans, has holed out in a major. Sadly, the last two weren’t good omens. Louis gave us one of the great golf shots in history with his hole-out albatross at the par-5 second at Augusta in 2012, only to have Bubba Watson say, “Louis, hold my beer,” and hit a screaming hook from the woods on No. 10 in the sudden-death playoff to snatch the green jacket right out of Oosthuizen’s hands.
Then in 2015 at Chambers Bay, after a milquetoast start, he birdied five holes in a row, Nos. 12-16, in the final round including a miraculous hole-out of a wedge on 14. He closed with one final birdie at the 601-yard par-5 18th hole for a U.S. Open record back-nine of 29. In the majors, only Ian Baker-Finch has equaled that feat, firing a 29 on the front nine of Royal Birkdale in the 1991 Open Championship. Louis posted 4-under 276 for the tournament, but Jordan Spieth birdied 18 to nip him at the post.
One of the great iron players in the game, Louis’s been called a “human Iron Byron,” and his name is perennially a fixture on major championship leader boards.
“When you get around holes like 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and then you finish off with 17 and 18, it's just different to any other venue that you really ever play," Oosthuizen said. "I think Pebble to me is probably one of my favorite, if not the -- my favorite venue for a U.S. Open. You're not going to beat the scenery and everything about this golf course, and it's just the weather we're having at the moment, it makes this week really special.”
Wait a minute! The weather? It’s cold and misty! He won a British Open though, so he must feel right at home.