By taking the Saudis’ money, Louis Oosthuizen has put his family and life in retirement as a farmer ahead of golf, writes GARY LEMKE.
At the age of 39, Louis Oosthuizen reached a fork in life’s road. The road to the left was paved with dollars and the sign pointed ‘Money’. The road to the right was paved in gold and the sign read, ‘More money’. Louis ventured right.
“I’m pushing 40, you know,” he said a few months ago in conversation as to what happens next in his career, and in life. Louis has never shied away when asked what the three most important things to him are: “Golf, family, farming – not necessarily in that order,” he would always answer. We can now probably safely say that the order is “Family, farming, golf”.
Last year Louis said: “Honestly, I thought this time in my career I’d probably be more wanting to farm. But I sort of got that second push in the game. I really feel like I can still win a Major. It’s keeping me up there and focused to work a little more. I’m getting closer. When it’s time and I feel I can’t compete, I’ll hang it up and enjoy life.”
You have to guess that in the past couple of months his decision has been accelerated and he’s well on the way to enjoying his life even more. He doesn’t want to play on the Champions Tour (seniors) when he turns 50 and an offer to dip his hands into the bottomless money pit that belongs to a tainted regime was too good to ignore.
The secret has been out for a while but Louis, along with his great mate Charl Schwartzel, have been named in the field to tee up at the opening event of the LIV Golf Invitational Series and they are controversial, but entirely personal, decisions.
The logo of Louis’ long-time sponsors, UPS, was missing from his right chest at the recent PGA Championship, which is a clear indication of what they thought at UPS headquarters. That’s despite the company themselves still doing business in Saudi Arabia, a sign of hypocrisy if ever there was one.
Although virtually every golfer in the men’s top 100 was approached to take the Saudi dollars, and risk alienation from the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and even locker-room buddies, only some 15 of them reportedly agreed to cash in. The biggest fish landed was former world No 1 Dustin Johnson. But that still means that 85% of the locker room turned it down.
One of those to say no was 15-time Major champion Tiger Woods.
“I understand different viewpoints, but I believe in legacies. I believe in Major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s plenty of money out here. But it’s just like any other sport. You have to go out there and earn it … it’s just not guaranteed up front.”
South Africa’s greatest-ever golfer, Gary Player, told me in February: “I have earned a lot of money in golf. But, if you had to ask me whether I could keep the money or keep my [nine regular and nine seniors] Major titles I’d choose to give back the money and keep my Majors. Winning a Major gives you a life that money can’t buy.”
Perhaps, with the likes of Tiger and Player it is easy to say that when they are already billionaires, but what about those who are at the bottom of the food chain, like world No 1,094 Robert Garrigus? It’s a no-brainer for him. What about Lee Westwood, now 49? Tough to say no.
But what of Louis Oosthuizen, who has become rich beyond his wildest dreams playing on the PGA Tour for the past 20 years? Does he really have to risk his legacy and climb into bed with the Saudis at the age of 39?
When I asked Louis if he’d got anything extravagant last Christmas – it’s always an important time for the Oosthuizen family, with his wife and three young daughters – he replied: “No, I splashed out on the farm last year, that was enough of a present.”
He was referring to an 86-acre ranch in Ocala, Florida, to which he relocated the family from Palm Beach Gardens.
“I’ll probably keep a few cattle just to keep me busy. It will be nice to have the open fields.”
Louis has made his decision to take the money and he will also be on WhatsApp groups with former US president Donald Trump, whose two courses – Bedminster and Doral – are on the eight-event LIV Golf Invitational Series schedule, beginning next month in London. There’s a significant sign-on fee to join the Saudi breakaway, as well as $225 million in prize money.
The small matter of who will televise the series and what happens to the golfers playing in it – the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have made noises about suspending those who have defied them – is still unclear. Lawyers the world over are putting their phones on charge, waiting for the call.
Louis and Charl will still be welcomed and feted in every golf club he steps foot into in South Africa, you can be sure of that. Greetings of “Goeiemôre Louis,” and “Morning Louis” will ring out from members from Mossel Bay to Royal Johannesburg. He remains a national sporting hero.
Fellow SA cricketers have turned their back on playing for their country and chased the Kolpak pounds and the earth didn’t tilt on its axis. So, why will it be different here for Oosthuizen and Schwartzel, even if that’s not the case universally? Lionel Messi left his boyhood club Barcelona to join PSG. Cristiano Ronaldo joined Man United for the money. Loyalty is given to the highest paymaster at the time. The world returned to normal and so it will with sentiment around Louis.
Some will still feel that ‘DJ’, Louis and Charl are urinating all over golf’s history, traditions and integrity, as Tiger alluded to. But, many will argue that for Louis and Charl it’s their decision and good for them that they can earn the money, regardless of it being provided by a regime with an indefensible human rights record.
South Africans tend to have a trigger movement that puts them on the back foot, before going on the attack to find off any perceived verbal bouncer or criticism. Louis and Charl will have an army of fans defending their decision, with a lot of ‘whaboutery’.
Ultimately, though, it is their decision and they have put his family and life in retirement ahead of golf’s traditions. Which is fine. If it means he has to become personal buddies with his Saudi paymasters and Trump, that’s fine too.
But just don’t say that this is about growing the game of golf. It’s not about the golf at all.