One of the South Africans is a giant of a man with a perfect golf swing. The other, not so tall, but he’s also got a perfect golf swing. And they’ve both held the Claret Jug aloft in celebration of winning the Open Championship.
While fans might love it to happen, they’re perhaps a little less bullish about the chances of Ernie Els winning it a third time than they are about the chances of Louis Oosthuizen winning it a second.
Not that Els would be that unlikely a winner. He’s played The Open three times at Royal Troon Golf Club, and came desperately close to winning it the last time it was held there, when Todd Hamilton beat him in a four-hole play-off in 2004.
“I got so close and to come away with nothing was bitterly disappointing,” says Els. “But looking back, I feel there was a lot to be proud of in my performance that week. I broke 70 all four days, shooting 10-under par on one of the game’s most challenging courses, and I’d tied for the Open. It didn’t go my way, but I gave it my best shot and hats off to Todd on his win.”
Oosthuizen, on the other hand, has never played an Open at Troon. But he knows what winning requires in the conditions which are unique to links golf in Scotland. “It takes a lot of patience, a bit of the luck of the draw on the first two days – I hope we’re getting good weather,” he says.
“But it’s just finding your way around a golf course, depending on what the weather is like. The Open Championship is all about weather. I played the back nine on Tuesday, and it was perfect out there. Then you can score low. You can make birdies and you can make good scores. But you can have days like Monday with that strong wind, it changes the golf course quite a lot.”
He went so close to a second Open Championship when he lost in a four-hole play-off to Zach Johnson at St Andrews last year. That tournament brought some stern weather challenges, so he has already sized up what is required at Troon. “With the prevailing wind the way they say it will be, the front nine is your scoring nine, and then hold on to a good score on the back nine,” he says.
“It all depends on how strong the wind is, but the back nine is tough. Most of the shots are with the wind into your face and it’s playing long so you’re going to have to play really well to have opportunities for birdies. You’ll take pars coming in.”
He’s comfortable that his game has what it takes for the task ahead. “I’m feeling good. I’m getting there,” he said. “I arrived on Saturday and I’ve had a few rounds around here already and I’m looking forward to the week starting. Wednesday will be very relaxed. I’ll just do a few little things.”
And, as Els did in 2004, he wants to have a go at ending the American domination of The Open Championship at Troon. Arnold Palmer won there in 1962, Tom Weiskopf in 1973, Tom Watson in 1982, Mark Calcavecchia in 1989, Justin Leonard in 1997 and Hamilton in 2004.
“If I win, it’s going to end it!” he laughed “But if it’s your week, then it’s your week. If you’re crowned the champion golfer, then you deserve it, because it’s always a great test.”