Why is Oosthuizen playing Deere?
The reigning British Open champion has never played in the John Deere Classic — until now.
Instead of tuning up for his title defense next week at Royal St. George’s by playing at the Barclays Scottish Open, Louis Oosthuizen will tee it up this week at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill.
Because he grew up on a farm. Really.
"Being a farm boy, it was one of my big dreams, and I bought myself a nice John Deere tractor for my farm back in (Mossel Bay) South Africa," the 27-year-old South African said when asked how he spent his winnings after raising the Claret Jug with a dominating seven-stroke victory last July at St. Andrews.
"John Deere is very close to my heart. (The tractor) is for me to drive around on, and I made sure there was enough space for my little daughter, Jana, to sit beside me. We’re going to have a lot of fun."
Officials of the John Deere Classic took notice when they read that, and tournament director Clair Peterson took a scouting trip to the Shell Houston Open the week before the Masters to see about the chances of Oosthuizen coming to Illinois.
Oosthuizen expressed interest in the tournament but said what he really wanted was to tour the factory at John Deere World Headquarters in Moline, Ill., a few miles from the golf course.
Peterson came home without a promise from Oosty and was trying not to be overly optimistic, so he was pleasantly surprised along with everyone else when the Open champion committed to play in the tournament on June 9.
"This is an honor, and we’re extremely excited," Peterson said. "It’s the first time in the 41-year history of our event that a reigning British Open champion has competed in the John Deere Classic before defending his title, and we couldn’t be happier.
"His participation, and reason for coming, is bound to bring more attention to a unique and very special event on the PGA Tour schedule. We are absolutely elated that it worked out the way it has."
Also helping Oosthuizen make his decision to play this week in the United States is the chartered jet John Deere officials reserve for players headed for the Open Championship on Sunday night.
The plane leaves from Quad Cities a few hours after the final putt drops and will get the golfers to Sandwich, England, on Monday morning. Any player qualified for the Open can buy three seats for $1,250 each, the extras for a caddie, wife, agent or whomever, with the money going to the John Deere Classic’s charity fund.
"It’s safe to say that without the jet, the defending British Open champion is highly unlikely to play in the John Deere Classic," Peterson said. "It’d be nice to make it an annual tradition."
Oosthuizen’s game hasn’t been what he would have liked since winning his first major title, in part because he was out for two months because of an ankle injury he sustained when he stepped in a pothole on a hunting trip back home in South Africa late least year.
However, he captured the Africa Open in January for his eighth victory as a professional, and after a slow start in his first season with PGA Tour membership he seemed to turn it around at the US Open.
After two consecutive top-20 finishes, he missed the cut in the Masters and The Players Championship, but at Congressional three weeks ago he shot 4-under-par 67 in the final round to tie for ninth.
"It was one of my best finishes in a major," said the South African, who missed the cut in the other three Grand Slam events last year and didn’t have another top-10 until the one at Congressional.
"I’m glad I found this sort of form four weeks before (his title defense in the Open). Before I came (to Congressional), I played Royal St. Georges. And I just need to keep the game sharp."
Oosthuizen and his pal Charl Schwartzel, who won the Masters, are the latest major champions to come out of the dynamic junior program in South Africa, which also produced Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman to follow in the footsteps of Gary Player and Bobby Locke.
There are others who have made a mark on the PGA Tour, including David Frost, Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatini, Fulton Allem, and rising stars such as James Kampte, Thomas Aiken, George Coetzee and Branden Grace.
"We’ve got a very good (national) junior foundation," said Oosthuizen said, who started out in Els’ Fancourt program. "All of us that have gone through it, have gone through the amateur ranks, have played amateur tournaments overseas. It helps just to do a bit of the traveling and everything, just to get used to what it will be like when you turn professional.
"South Africa is a big sporting country. We’ve got rugby, cricket, football, golf, tennis, you’ve got everything. I think it’s just a bit in our blood, really, loving to be in a situation where you can win."
Once Oosthuizen showed he could to that, they couldn’t keep him down on the farm.