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BISHER: Oosthuizen a deserving British Open champ

Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher

There is much more to the new British Open champion than his name, which, in reality is Ludewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen, but you can call him Louis Oosthuizen if you’re in a hurry.

And you pronounce it: “Oost-hugh-zen,” according to no one in particular. No, it’s not Tiger Woods. Somewhere along the way Eldrick has lost his game. He finished tied for 23rd.

Afrikaans is Oosthuizen’s family language, and the family originates in Mooselbaai, at the very southern tip end of the African continent, and there his father is a sheep farmer. Louis shouldn’t be as much a stranger to us as those telecasters made him from St. Andrews. He played in the Masters in April, third off the tee Thursday morning, and you have to be a player to be on Billy Payne’s invitations list. He didn’t make the cut.

You might have picked up on a nickname somebody hung on him — “Shrek,” after that weird creature in kids’ movies. That’s because Shrek has a gap in the middle of his upper dentures, and Louis has one, too. Not as pronounced, but quite a trademark. That gap, by the way, has an official name in dental lexicon. According to a close friend — who is close to dentists — that spacing is called a diastema, but you can call it as you see it.

It’s a rather curious habit of the British Open that it often times attracts winners from the rank and file, so to speak. Todd Hamilton is an American citizen, but he did most of his winning in Japan before he won The Open (a British preference) in 2004, when he took Ernie Els to a playoff at Troon.

Ben Curtis sort of blazed the trail the year before when he won at Royal St. George, and I mean he did come from out of nowhere. He ranked somewhere around 350 in the world, and he’d never won in this country. Paul Lawrie is a Scot who won in the clubhouse the year Jean Van de Velde waded to disaster at Carnoustie.

There was no such weirdness in the way Oosthuizen won at St. Andrews. He just sort of popped up on top of the leaderboard about mid-day Friday and stuck there. Usually, in a situation such as that, the player will fade away with the sunset and never be heard from again.

Not Louis. He finished the round at the top, and was still there at sundown Saturday, and graciously accepted the historic claret jug at Sunday sundown. Stewart Cink had returned the silver on arrival, so the jug now changes address from Gwinnett County to South Africa.

I do hope that Louis shares the trophy as generously as Stewart did among his neighbors and friends. And by the way, it will hold stuff other than claret, which may not be everybody’s favorite beverage.

It’s rare that you see a champion who performs and behaves in the manner of such a champion as Oosthuizen. Calm, gracious, good neighbor among fellow contestants, comes equipped with a handy smile in the best and worst of times. (That’s when that diastema came in for attention.) He does not come bulked up and full of fury. He is registered at 5-foot-10, about 160 pounds, or whatever that comes to in “stone.” If he’s that tall I’d be surprised, but that’s beside the point.

And it’s not that he just popped up out of a bag room, or will just as swiftly fade away. He has won before in his native country, and as his game developed, attracted the attention of Els and Els’ organization devoted to young players.

“It couldn’t have happened to me without (Els’ foundation),” Louis said, and he as well paid due respect to the revered Nelson Mandela, whose birthday was Sunday.

The home-standing British suffered in the name of the Union Jack, for once again Lee Westwood and Paul Casey fell on their swords.

But the rest of the world once more sends a young man schooled in sportsmanship and good manners to the chambers of the Royal and Ancient, and the rest of us salute him and will keep our eyes on him.

May he continue to prosper.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.