As much as Louis Oosthuizen admires Ernie Els and the standard he set for South African golfers, this is not the time to join the Big Easy as a footnote in history.
Els, the four-time major champion whose foundation provided a path for Oosthuizen and so many other juniors from his home country, holds a unique record as the only player to be runner-up in three straight major championships.
Oosthuizen would rather be linked with Els as a two-time British Open champion. He’s more interested in another silver claret jug, not another silver medal.
”Just need to try and get one better,” Oosthuizen said Wednesday at Royal St. George’s, the English links hosting the British Open for the 15th time.
Oosthuizen has had so many close calls in the majors since winning at St. Andrews in 2010 that he is being known as much for his runner-up finishes as possessing a swing so fundamentally pure that it has been the envy of golf.
He already has the Grand Slam of silver medals – losing in a playoff at the Masters in 2012, twice finishing one shot behind in the U.S. Open, two more runner-up finishes in the PGA Championship, and a playoff loss in his return to St. Andrews in 2015.
He was three shots behind Phil Mickelson in this year’s PGA Championship when he put his third shot into the water on the 13th hole and made triple bogey, effectively ending his chance.
The U.S. Open that followed was particularly painful. Oosthuizen had a one-shot lead until Jon Rahm birdied his last two holes with tough putts, and Oosthuizen put his tee shot into a hazard on the 17th. With a birdie on the final hole, he finished one shot behind.
”You’re always going to be disappointed when you get close and finish in second,” Oosthuizen said Wednesday. ”I don’t think there’s one of us out here that goes out at the beginning of the week and says, `I’ll take second.”’
Oosthuizen is not the only player who has gone back-to-back majors finishing second. It has happened 24 times dating to Willie Park Sr. in consecutive years when the British Open was the only major.
It’s not even the first time for Oosthuizen, who was a runner-up to Jordan Spieth in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and lost in the three-man playoff at the British Open a month later when Zach Johnson won.
All he knows is to keep trying and hope it falls his way.
”I think if it was a case where I completely collapsed the last four or five holes or something like that, it would be something I would look into a lot more,” Oosthuizen said.
Just not now. His putter went cold on the weekend at Kiawah Island and he was chasing Mickelson on the back nine when he hit a bad shot when he had no margin for error. As for Torrey Pines?
”Yeah, I hit an errant shot on 17. I took it on off the tee, but I was in it the whole time,” Oosthuizen said. ”I feel in the occasion of the U.S. Open – and I only saw the two putts Jon Rahm made later on – you have those tournaments where it’s meant to be for him.
”He made two massive putts on 17 and 18, and it was just not my time.”
Oosthuizen will be among the featured groups when the British Open starts Thursday, playing alongside Rahm and defending champion Shane Lowry.
Oosthuizen has gone nearly three years without winning, dating to the South African Open to close out 2018. That bothers him as much as his runner-up finishes, and he would love to take care of both those matters at Royal St. George’s.
He has won 12 times around the world. He has finished second 22 times. He is used to disappointment, and it lingers a little more when it’s a major, especially when the close calls start to pile up.
”You’ve just got to get that tournament behind you and get to the next one and see if you can prepare better and play better,” he said. ”And go one spot better.”