How Louis, 'the uncut diamond', was polished in England
Major drought goes on for Westwood et al but at least the Open winner's game was honed on these shores
Tuesday 20 July 2010
After winning in the fashion of the world No 1, Louis Oosthuizen can now go on to become the world No 1. That was the declaration delivered from the Open champion's coach yesterday. And the good news for any golf fan still aggrieved at again watching the Claret Jug head overseas is that Pete Cowen is British. Just like all of the South African's backroom staff.
Yes, the 27-year-old's seven-stroke demolition at St Andrews may well have been born in the gust-ridden fairways of the Southern Cape, but it was certainly sculpted in England. If Cowen is to be believed the moulding is not yet done – and neither is the domination of his rivals.
As a Yorkshireman, Cowen is not prone to wild statement, but as a Yorkshireman is he inclined to stick up for his boys? He has heard, or at the very least is pre-empting, the whispers of Oosthuizen's magnificence being a "fluke" and wants to put the doubters right. "This isn't a one-hit wonder," said the former Tour pro. "Not a chance. He can play. I've been telling people for a long time he's special. The caddies know. J P [Fitzgerald], Rory's caddie, says he could be the best in the world."
As everyone else is saying that McIlroy will be the one soon topping the world order, that is one hell of a claim from one hell of a source. Cowen's own validity as a judge can hardly be questioned either. He just happens to look after the world No 3, Lee Westwood, and Graeme McDowell. As the Ulsterman lifted the US Open title last month, that makes Cowen "two and O" – as they like to say in America – for the last two majors. So much for English golf boasting none of the big four crowns from the last 14 years.
Oosthuizen's agent yesterday credited Cowen with "doing an unbelievable job with Louis' swing". Chubby Chandler is from Bolton and manages Westwood, Darren Clarke and Ernie Els. Another former Tour winner, Chandler has a keen eye for talent and just as keen an eye for a rich breeding ground of talent. He saw a pot of golfing gold in the Rainbow Nation and in 2002 brought across three South African teenagers. He had no hesitation in sending Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Oosthuizen directly to Cowen. To say the teacher was chuffed with the referral would be the most grotesque of understatements.
"South Africa always seems to produce great players and I think that is because the climate allows them to play 12 months a year," he explained. "They can wear T-shirts, not waterproofs and jumpers, so their swings aren't inhibited and they can hit it a long way. The three of them were all fantastic players – uncut diamonds if you like that just needed polishing."
Cowen went to work and it was only a few years before Schwartzel and Sterne started winning. The gappy-toothed lad they called Shrek was a different ogre entirely. "Louis had the most natural talent," said Cowen. "But he is hyper-mobile in his body so he tended to lose control of his swing which made him hit or miss. We just had to stabilise it a bit and improve his bunker play and chipping without losing his natural flair. But the other two looked as if they were overtaking him, probably because it didn't look like he had the desire. If he ever gets real desire as well, he is going to win as much as he wants to."
Of course, golf is not as simple as all that. Sometimes your weakness can be your strength and Cowell recognises that his pupil's laid-back attitude was vital in his staggering rendition of the impervious front-runner in the final round at the Old Course. Cowen revealed there were other times in this most pressurised week when this horizontal persona would come in handy.
"He says he used to have a temper before he got married and had his little girl but in eight years working with him I've never heard him swear," said Cowen. "He doesn't get flustered. On Friday he was at the range at 5.30am for a 6.40 tee-off. There was no sign of his caddie or bag. When Zack [Rasego] eventually turned up at 6.10, having overslept, Louis never batted an eyelid. I can think of a lot of players who would have gone ape, but Louis just went through a few wedges, irons, woods and driver and said, 'Off we go'. He was five shots clear at the end of that round."
Golfing folklore now has it that Oosthuizen was not only able to hang on to that advantage but actually lengthened it to a winning Open margin only bettered by Tiger Woods in the last 73 years. His skills were never doubted; his temperament had been. Where before he had appeared flaky in the final stages, now he was unflappable. The reason why has its roots in Warrington.
Despite winning his first European Tour title in March, Oosthuizen had hit a low patch. A woeful showing at the US Open summed up his major mediocrity – eight events, seven missed cuts. Chandler went to another regular contact for the answer. Dr Karl Morris, a mind doctor, had worked extensively with Clarke.
"Chubby rang me up a month ago after the US Open," said Dr Morris. "They were concerned about his concentration so we sat down together and talked about it. The problem was that Louis was concentrating in the wrong places – his routine was all over the place. We decided a red dot on his glove was going to be his trigger point to switch into a zen-like state. Last week was the first time he tried it. Before every shot he looked down at it. I spoke to Louis this morning and he was kind enough to say it had been a big help."
It was a tactic Dr Morris had previously employed to spread joy around his nation. "We used somethi ng similar with Michael Vaughan [another Chandler client] during the 2005 Ashes series," he said. "The trigger point for his routine was to look at the logo on his glove just before the bowler ran in. Batting is similar to golf in a way because you have to be able to switch on and switch off. Switching off is very important and we stressed that it was important to enjoy himself on the course."
This accounts for the laughter on Sunday afternoon. Usually that is left to the hours after the glory, but Oosthuizen giggled early. Not that he has yet completely exhausted the joy. After going to bed at 3am, Oosthuizen awoke with his seven-month daughter lying on one side and the Claret Jug on the other. He immediately texted Chandler. "Man oh man," it read. A little later he was on the Swilcan Bridge with the Jug, posing for the obligatory snaps for posterity. Then it was back to the media centre for yet more questions. "I'm too stupid to think about it and let it affect me," he said, when asked whether the pressure would get to him. Shrek was plainly warming to the attention.
By then, Els had sent his message of congratulations to the first major winner from the Ernie Els Foundation and made a pledge on his young friend's behalf: "His life will change – he won't," he said. As evidence Oosthuizen will honour the commitment he made a few weeks ago to play in the Scandinavian Open and travel to Sweden tomorrow. Such regular Tour stops got him here and he is not planning to forsake them just yet. He plans to resist taking the normal major-winner's course of an immediate decamp to America.
And all the while the experts from Bolton, Rotherham and Warrington nodded. Chandler, in particular, was in his element as he celebrated his first major. "No, he wasn't my first choice from my camp, he wasn't even first choice South African," he said. "But I did have a good feeling for Louis. He can play those little knockdown shots. He's from Mossel Bay. It's so windy there, the seagulls walk." A fine joke that was just like a fine champion – made in England.
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