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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2011

‘Shrek' no longer under the radar at Augusta

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

AUGUSTA, Ga. — His full name is Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen, but you can call him Louis, pronounced as Louie, and you might know him as Shrek.

Of course, but for one remarkable tournament, you wouldn't know him at all.

Oosthuizen (WIST-haze-un, if you care to say it aloud) has played in 10 major championships as a professional golfer. He has missed cuts eight times and finished 73rd on another occasion.

And then there was last summer's British Open at storied St. Andrews where he lapped the field for a seven-shot victory.

He is visiting Augusta National for his third Masters this week, but there is no flying under the radar this time. He has always been recognizable with that gap in the middle of his top row of teeth and those prominent ears. That's how he got an ogre of a nickname. Now, he's recognized for having lifted the iconic claret jug.

"It seems like just yesterday to me," he said of last summer's British Open. "It means I go into a tournament [with] confidence and everything a lot higher, especially in the majors."

Fellow South Africans like Ernie Els and Trevor Immelman, both major champions, had seen that promise in Louis for a long time. Immelman said he wasn't surprised by what happened at St. Andrews, just surprised that it hadn't happened earlier.

It is thanks to Els, perhaps, that it happened at all.

Oosthuizen is the son of a dairy farmer in Mossel Bay, on South Africa's southeast coast. Times were rarely easy, and Louis, now 28, might be farming for a living himself if not for Els' foundation that funds amateur careers for promising South African junior golfers who lack resources.

While Louis learned to love the game while putting on sand-and-oil greens, he never found much reason to watch it, with one exception.

"The Masters was the one event … in South Africa it starts at 10 o'clock at night, and it's the one event I always watched," he said. "It looked so beautiful on television. You can imagine my feeling now walking the fairways."

He has a four-round track record at Augusta and has yet to match or better par. Armed with one of the game's prettiest swings, maybe that history will be rewritten this week or in future Masters weeks. Or maybe the British Open was simply a perfect marriage of wind player and wind.

What struck him most at the Old Course was the way "I was driving it that week off the tee. We play St. Andrews quite a lot on the European Tour, and, with the wind always blowing there, if you're not driving it well you find a lot of the bunkers, and you've got a hard day's work. That week, I went in one bunker. I think that just showed me how well I was driving it."

Augusta National, however, is a second-shot golf course, a placement course, both in the fairways and on the greens.

"You want to get your short game the best you can get it for this week," he agreed.

Oosthuizen's first-ever practice round here came in 2009 with Immelman, then the defending champion, and South African legend Gary Player, who owns three green jackets, the first of which was won 50 years ago this week.

Louis says his learning process continues every time he steps on this course. But yours' is nearly over. You could pick him out of a lineup now.

And, with constant practice and repetition, you might someday pronounce his name correctly too.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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