Posted: 13th June 2016
‘I’m jumping out of my skin at the possibility to work with Peter Matkovich and his entire team!. I’m privileged to be able to tap into not only his brain, but also partner with the entire Matkovich Group, which is one of the most complete golf company’s I have ever come across. Obviously I look forward to sharing my thoughts with all of them on this journey,’ Oosthuizen said in the lead-up to this year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon. Peter Matkovich is one of the giants of course design, having overseen more than 50 world-class courses under his eye in Southern Africa and Mauritius, including Arabella, De Zalze, Steenberg, Pinnacle Point, Silver Lakes, San Lameer, (All SA) Heritage and Avalon (Both in Mauritius).Uniquely most of these course have also been constructed, maintained and the clubs managed by the Matkovich group.
He is equally upbeat about the partnership with Oosthuizen. ‘I’m tremendously excited. Firstly, Louis is as nice a person as his golf is good. With that comes a very humble man. He obviously has opinions but is humble enough to say he has a lot to learn about this business, which is wonderful to negotiate. It’s an early phase and it’s a process he will go through before he can stand up and say, “I am a designer”. I think the biggest plus that we offer though is that my design associate Louis van der Walt needs a Louis Oosthuizen to stand with him. We are looking at the next 10 to 15 years here and the future of our brand.
‘Louis plays all over the world and all the time he is seeing something new and different that we could incorporate into our designs. This will give us an opportunity to be more global because Louis is a global golfer. One course globally such as Asia or a links course would be incredible exposure for us.
‘When Louis and I shook hands on the deal, he said, “Well, you better teach me all you know about golf course design”. I said to him, “That’s easy. But the deal is you’ve got to fix my golf swing which will be a real challenge, because I’m the only failed student that Ben Hogan has ever had”.’
And what might one see from the Oosthuizen signature? ‘Golf courses are not always about length,’ Oosthuizen says. ‘In recent years there has almost been an obsession with length and the advances in equipment has been a contributing factor in this. Because of technology, golf courses and course designers have had to adapt. But for me, I’d prefer to be more strategic.
Oosthuizen, it must be said, is in no hurry to hang up the clubs and focus increasingly more on the business side of things, although he is aware that he has to start somewhere. ‘It might be true that you ask whether or not I’m a little on the young side  to be going into this new phase of my career. The short answer is probably ”yes”, although I’m going to be learning from the best. It’s exciting to be able to watch how Peter goes about things. I definitely want to leave my fingerprints on the golf courses that I’m involved with though. My preference is for holes that make the golfer think, they don’t have to be overly long. An example is the 12th hole at Augusta. It’s not a long hole [155 yards] but so much is down to club selection. With the bunkers placed as they are, it’s important to land your ball on the green, and that can be anything from a seven- to a nine-iron in Masters week, depending on the wind. I also like the seventh at TPC Sawgrass, another example where strategy and club selection goes a long ay in determining what number you’re going to put up.’ It’s not surprising that Oosthuizen has started the next phase of his career at Nkonyeni Residential Golf Estate in Swaziland. Southern Africa is in his blood and South African soil is under his fingernails.
After winning The Open Championship by seven shots in 2010 at St Andrews, with one of the great front-running performances in the modern era, Oosthuizen treated himself to a John Deere tractor for the farm he owns in Albertinia.
'You can ask him anything about John Deere,' says his, father, Piet, who himself bought his first Model A tractor in 1957. 'Louis is on the computer every day, and he knows every spec of every piece of John Deere equipment. He loves it.'
Then, after winning a car at the Volvo Champions pro-am at Durban CC three years ago, Oosthuizen spoke to the organisers and traded the vehicle in for an excavator for the farm. 'I've been nagging my wife for a few years that I wanted something for the farm as there are a few stumps and things I need to get rid of. So I'm going to play around with it and might dig out a few bunkers,’ he reasoned.
Oosthuizen, who is a product of the Ernie Els Foundation, and turned professional aged 19 back in 2002, is these days comfortably nestled inside the world's top 20. He has a home in the United States and although you can take the boy out of the bush, you can't take the bush out of the boy. When asked to name his favourite place in the world, he hovered. 'It's between Albertinia and Mossel Bay,' he said. Seriously? 'Seriously'. His favourite meal? 'Chops and a braai broodjie.' Rugby team? 'The Stormers.' There can be no mistaking his South Africanism and it would come as no surprise if he removed his trousers and one found the country's flag burned into his bum with a cattle prod.
Which is why there is an irritation in his voice when the suggestion is put to him that his withdrawing from the Rio Olympics was not thought through. After all, it’s the first time golf will be represented in the Games for more than a century, and Oosthuizen was a shoo-in to represent Team South African with Branden Grace. However, Oosthuizen withdrew, citing scheduling reasons, opening the door to his friend Charl Schwartzel to compete. He too pulled out, which means that Grace will now be joined by Jaco van Zyl in Rio.
It’s a decision that didn’t go down well with the greatest golfer South Africa has produced, Gary Player. ‘I am sad and disappointed that several top players have withdrawn from the Olympic Games in Rio. Not just South Africans. I would have given anything to play in the Olympics. Players today make so much and should be giving back. The Olympics is one way they can do that since there is no prize money.’
However, Oosthuizen remains adamant that it had everything to do with a punishing schedule and the need to look after his body. ‘I factored the Olympics into my plans for 2016 and I was looking forward to going to Rio. But, earlier this year I played in seven out of eight weeks and it took a toll on my body – it was too much golf. I needed to rest. So, when I sat down and looked at things for the rest of the year, I came to the conclusion that the Olympics was a week I could take a breather. The FedEx Cup schedule is also hectic after the Olympics, so based on how my body responded earlier this year, and looking at what lies ahead, I felt it in my best interests to try get some rest over the Olympics. ‘No one can say I’m not patriotic. I represent South Africa every week that I’m on tour, wherever I go in the world. I fly the flag proudly, I’m a really proud South African. The same applies to Charl and Branden.’
Oosthuizen’s priorities are his family, his farm and golf – in that order. And this year life has changed a bit. 'My wife, Nel-Mare, and I have been married for nine years and we have three beautiful daughters. We used to all go on tour together, and this was still the case until last August when Jana started school, so this year it's a bit different and I’ve been doing most of the weeks on my own. So, when you factor in the family and my golf schedule, along with the toll it takes on my body, then I’m sure you’ll see where I’m coming from with regards to the Olympics. I have a family to provide for and that’s my priority in life.’ The 33-year-old opened 2016 with a bang, winning the Perth International on his first-ever visit to Australia, before a runners-up finish behind world No1 Jason Day in the WGC Dell Match Play lifted him to No11 in the rankings. He then tied for 15th in the Masters and tied 28th in The Players Championship – the fifth Major – and headed into the US Open suffering a little bit in confidence.
‘I feel like I’m playing well, striking the ball nicely. But, I’ve struggled on the greens, especially the bent grass greens. I haven’t been able to see the line and get the speed right, so I’ve left a lot of shots out there. But I’m looking forward to The Open, excited to go back to Royal Troon after playing my first Open there in 2004.
‘The Open on those links courses is all about shot-making, staying calm and making the right decisions under pressure. It will again be a nice challenge and one that I’m relishing.’
In the future I’m going to have to carefully look at my schedules. Obviously the important ones are the Majors and the big tournaments that count. I’ve won the one Major and finished runner-up in three others – two which have gone to a play-off – so I feel that I still have a lot to achieve in the years ahead, while managing my body. Obviously, that was an influence into me going into course designing as well. In five, six, seven years’ time I hopefully will be able to put more time into my family and daughters who are getting older and I would like to spend as much quality time as I can with them in the years ahead.’ Oosthuizen will continue globetrotting, but Mossel Bay and Albertinia is where the heart is.
It was at Mossel Bay Golf Course in December 2002 at the then 20-year-old shot a round of 57. Seven birdies on the front nine had him out in 29 and three birdies and two eagles had him standing on the par-four 18th tee after 54 shots. Another birdie later and he was signing for a 57.
'That was a great experience, but there was another occasion, also at Mossel Bay, when I shot a 59. That was tough,' he explained. 'I reached the 18th tee on 57 and knew I'd need an eagle-two to break 60. The wind was coming nicely over my right shoulder and it was 300m to the green, so I just went for it with my driver. The pin was cut front left and I'd left myself about 20 feet short. It was a Wednesday afternoon and the club members had heard I was on to break 60 and came out on to the balcony. Luckily the putt dropped!' When asked what he would do if he ever found himself in a position to shoot lower than, staring at, say, a three-foot putt for a 56, he laughed. 'There is no way I'd make that putt! I'd either two- or three-putt it. Imagine what would happen to that Louis 57 brand, all that hard work undone! Nah, that 57 was seriously a one-off. Apart from those two in the fifties, I think my lowest on the Tour has been a 62.' Those down in Mossel Bay reckon that Oosthuizen has put the place on the world map. Donald Trump might not be able to place his finger on it, but for Louis Oosthuizen there is simply no place like home.