Louis Oosthuizen: His Past, Performance, and Potential for the PGA Tour in 2011

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2010

Louis Oosthuizen: His Past, Performance, and Potential For The PGA Tour in 2011

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    The burden of winning is the expectation that follows, and even haunts, the winner. However, after Louis Oosthuizen stormed through the British Open field at St. Andrews and claimed a shocking seven-stroke victory, he appeared neither flustered nor frazzled, but instead totally unflappable.

    Louis, nicknamed “Shrek” (which is much easier to say, and remember, than his often mispronounced last name), began 2010 as a relatively unknown South African golfer who’d risen through the ranks of the Ernie Els Academy. He was catapulted to stardom after a luminous year highlighted by seven top-10’s on the European Tour and the coveted victory at the British Open.

    Along with rising stars Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell, Oosthuizen’s consistently solid performance throughout the season helped define 2010 as the year in which Americans faltered to the international players’ level of excellence.

    Now that "Shrek" has declared that he will play as a full-time member of the PGA Tour in 2011, the 28-year-old South African has the potential to become a commanding presence on the most competitive Tour worldwide. But how will “Shrek” adapt to the ruthless and intense dog-eat-dog culture of the PGA Tour?

Stats Don't Lie

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    Don’t believe Louis has what it takes to hack it on the PGA Tour?

    Louis made serious, effective adjustments in his game from 2009 to 2010 that produced tangible results. Whereas Louis was ranked No.16 in Stroke Average in 2009 on the European Tour, he ranked number seven in 2010, averaging a 70.31.

    How about this for a leap—he went from 161st in Driving Accuracy in 2009 to 37th in 2010, hitting the fairway 65% of the time.

    He also averaged just under 30 PPR (Putts Per Round), which paired his pinpoint iron accuracy improved his versatility. He may not have had the consistency of a player like Matt Kuchar—23 of 26 cuts with 11 top-10 finishes—but as his physical game was constantly evolving, so too was his mental game, which allowed him to develop an intimidating presence every time he teed up in 2010.

King Louis: the British Open Champ

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    Oosthuizen brought his unassuming, unsuspecting, and underappreciated game to the mecca of the golf world, St. Andrews in Scotland, for the 139th British Open. After a nearly flawless opening round 67, Shrek was immediately judged as one of those ‘never-heard-of’ players who had luck on his side on the first day, but would never last the excruciating bout with major championship pressure.

    However, he defied the odds, rose to the occasion, and put on a clinic. He shot four consecutive under-par rounds, highlighted by almost super-human driving accuracy, a dominant level of precision with his irons, and unrivaled touch on and around the greens.

    One of the most potent forces on Oosthuizen’s side was undoubtedly his comfort and firm grasp of the severe winds and firm greens of St. Andrews. Having grown up in Mossel Bay, South Africa, the arduous conditions of the Scottish isle resembled home for Oosthuizen. While other players attempted to manipulate their swings for low shots under the swirling breeze, or struggled to maintain their concentration on the putting greens in the howling winds, Oosthuizen just played his game and it led to a surprising, but truly deserving, victory.

A Solid Performance Throughout 2010

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    Maybe we should’ve seen Louis Oosthuizen coming, considering in his first six events of the season he finished outside of the top-15 just once.

    “Shrek” earned an impressive fifth at the Abu Dhabi Championship, fourth at the Trophee Hassan II tournament, and then captured his first European Tour victory at the Open de Andalucia de Golf, where he shot four rounds in the 60s.

    After his luminous victory at the British Open, Oosthuizen proved that he was no fluke winner.  He followed up with a fourth place finish at the Nordea Scandinavian Masters, and then ninth at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Most recently, he finished 13th at the Dubai World Championship, which featured one of the most star-studded, competitive fields of the season.

Mechanical Masterpiece

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    If you examine his swing closely, you’ll recognize that Oosthuizen fluidly transfers his weight as well as any: Woods, Mickelson, Westwood, or Els.

    On his takeaway, he draws his club backward, ensuring that he’s extending instead of just reaching with his arms. He’s almost at perfect position at the top of his swing, with the club parallel, and then he explodes into his impact position, straightening his left leg while just slightly bending his right knee.

    His upper body moves in sync with his lower body. Also, notice how his head hangs back even after impact, a sign of how intent he is on not rushing, but maintaining his mechanics while powerful through the ball. Also, just after impact, he balances the momentum of his body as his arms have once more become an extension of the club, completely stretched out.

Potential For 2011

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    Louis has the potential to have a huge impact on the PGA Tour in 2011 because similar to guys like Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, he’s got serious depth off the tee.

    Over the last three seasons, Oosthuizen has consistently driven the ball 295-yards on average. Interestingly, between 2004 and 2006, he averaged a little over 300 yards but refined his swing a bit to emphasize accuracy instead of extreme length, which was a crucial, beneficial adjustment.

    His power off the tee will be to his advantage when he competes on the longer, more difficult courses that demand both length and accuracy off the tee. Expect for him to shine early in the season at Torrey Pines for the Farmer’s Insurance Open, Riviera Country Club for the Northern Trust Open, and then at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Also, “Shrek” may be the guy to put your money on when the US Open heads to the massive and treacherous Congressional Country Club.

    But the true sign of any champion is undeniably how he performs on the greens. While Oosthuizen has proven a reliable putter, his putting will be the game-changer in whether or not he settles into the pack of average joe's on Tour, or will shine above the rest.