Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen first poked fun at themselves and then poked a hole in the insufferably smug United States superiority complex with a 2&1 victory over the allegedly invincible Phil Mickelson-Keegan Bradley pairing in the opening salvoes of the 2013 Presidents Cup.
After having haircuts that would make a US Marine blush, the South African dream team pitched up on the first tee at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio for their match wearing outrageous wigs, drawing laughter from the crowds and their opponents, and then drawing the sting from the US combination most thought would be unbeatable, with a display of match play golf of the highest order.
“We played really well,” said Oosthuizen. “I think we did proper better ball. When he was out of the hole, I played well. When I was out of it, he hit some amazing shots.”
“We were nine‑under combined, so we played really good golf,” agreed Schwartzel. “I felt like my good shots were really very good today. I putted well, but then I also hit some poor shots and that’s where Louis came in and we really combined really well. That’s what you need to do in this format, and that’s where the two of us feel comfortable with each other.”
The International team seemed to be heading down a slippery slope to an early insurmountable deficit as the action got underway, and, at stages, the US led all six matches, with one occasionally being level.
Then Mother Nature intervened with an 88-minute weather delay. It was a break the International team needed.
“You could see everyone knew what they had to do and everyone was just waiting to actually take that breather,” Oosthuizen said. “Everyone is focused on what we want to achieve. It was a good time to just really get a little bit of a break to just realise that, you know, again, we have to go out there and take it from them.”
Which is exactly what the two South Africans did, beginning with a birdie by Oosthuizen on the par-five 11th. Two holes later, it was Schwartzel’s turn. He knocked in a 15-footer to match Bradley’s birdie. On the par-four 17th, Schwartzel again came through, sticking his approach shot to five feet to set up the final birdie of the day to close out the match.
With Graham DeLaet and Jason Day rallying for a 1-up victory of their own, Adam Scott chipped in for eagle on the par-five 15th, while his partner Hideki Matsuyama birdied the 18th after stuffing his approach to a foot. Trailing for all but three holes, the two carved out a half-point against Bill Haas and Webb Simpson.
“I think what we showed today is that there’s plenty of heart on this team,” Scott said. “I don’t think spirits were low when we sat in the team room in the break, but for everyone to go out and rally, some guys to pull out wins, other guys halves, and even the matches we lost came closer all of a sudden. I think we should take a lot out of that.”
It’s clear that Oosthuizen and Schwarztel will show that kind of heart throughout. “I think the guys are really up for it, and at least getting some points now just shows the guys that we are capable and just a little bit of self‑belief. It's really close. Tomorrow is going to be a big game for us with the foursomes,” said Schwartzel.
But there won’t be any more joking around. “That was just to get everyone’s nerves a bit settled,” said Oosthuizen. “It was just a fun thing we wanted to do, and I think we’ll keep our hair from now on.”
With reporting from www.presidentscup.com