After Louis Oosthuizen had won the British Open last year, he was asked what he planned to do with his earnings. “Buy myself a nice John Deere 6000 Series tractor,” he said, and you could have said a prayer in the sudden silence that fell over the media center at St. Andrews.
No cay in the Indian Ocean, no personal yacht, or something exquisite, like a Jaguar roadster.
And that wasn’t all. “I want one with enough space for my little daughter Jana to ride beside me,” he said. No mention of a space for his claret jug filled with freshened water. Just a seating place for himself and his daughter, by this time two years old.
That was the prelude to what has become a matter of quite newsworthy proportions around East Moline, Ill., where the John Deere Company is located, and near to where the John Deere Classic, an annual stop on the PGA Tour, is played. That, though, is just the beginning of the story.
Ludewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen, as Louis was christened, grew up on the seacoast town of Moussel Bay in South Africa, the son of a farmer.
His father did his farming with John Deere equipment, and Louis spent much of his youth on a John Deere tractor. He found his way around the farm on the family tractor, but in time, found his way to golf through the Ernie Els Foundation.
“What he did for me was unbelievable,” he said, “helping me with expenses, and things like that,” speaking of Ernie and his golfing mission.
But Louis never roved far from his roots. All these years, he said, he’d always dreamed of owning one of those John Deere tractors. Then he decided he’d like to know more about where they came from, and how they were manufactured. So, this year he will be the first winner of the Open to tune up his defense of the title playing in the John Deere Classic. He’ll fly in, tour the factory where the tractors are made — about two miles from the golf course at Silvis, Ill., where the John Deere tournament is played — and fly out from Quad-Cities Airport to Kent, England, for his defense of the Open at Royal St. George.
Oh, it has been done before, but Todd Hamilton, who’d won the Open at Troon in 2004, had played in the John Deere Classic the following year, but he was virtually a next door neighbor, still is — and he has never won since, anywhere. For Louis Oosthuizen, this is an inter-continental mission to the birthplace of his tractor. Then, to the defense of his Open championship at Sandwich.
Farming isn’t his life’s work any more, more his pastime, and his pleasure. Few, if any, professional golfers would take an 8,000-mile journey, or thereabouts, to play in a tournament because that’s where his tractor was born. (And remember, that tractor seat has to be large enough to acommodate his daughter at his side.) To make this a living fairy tale, all Louis has to do is win the John Deere Classic next week. Expecting him to win the Open again, well, that’s carrying it much too far. That hasn’t happened since Lee Trevino in 1971-72, and besides, Trevino never owned a tractor.
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.