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Just The Sports: Giving Louis Oosthuizen His Due

Just The Sports

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Giving Louis Oosthuizen His Due

While South African Louis Oosthuizen was winning the 139th edition of the Open Championship in runaway fashion, numerous storylines about him emerged. A few of them were the correct pronunciation of his last name, that Shrek is his nickname, and that even though he hailed from a nation that from 1948 to 1994 was run of a system of legal racial segregation, he elected to use a black man for his caddy. Those storylines may have impressed the more superficial sports follower, but they left out the most important fact about Oosthuizen's seven stroke victory.

Since 1892, when the Open Championship changed its format to a four-round, seventy- two hole tournament, Oosthuizen turned in the second most dominant performance ever seen by a winner. I judged the level of dominance in victories by calculating how many standard deviations below average the winners were because golf is a sport where the lowest score is the best. Using this metric allowed me to correct for dilution where the tournament fields might have been weaker and the data set would be more spread out, thus making the wins not as noteworthy since the champion would have been defeating weaker overall competition. Since the more standard deviations away from the average a number is, the more unlikely it is to have been reached, we can see with certainty that the four rounds turned in by Oosthuizen deserve to be remembered with special favor.

Oosthuizen's four-round score of 272 was 3.5 standard deviations below the 2010 Open Championship four-round average of 287.1. Only Tiger Woods' otherwordly 2005 Open Championship win when he was 5.4 standard deviations below the average score tops Oosthuizen. By not giving Oosthuizen the credit he deserves for such a tremendous victory, we are committing a great injustice against him. Unless the Open Championship win signifies a turning point in his career, it may be the only time he wins a major so he should receive adulation enough to comfort him during his fade into obscurity. For four incredible days, Oosthuizen was more dominant at the Open than some of the best golfers to ever live.

In the 108 tournaments since 1892, minus the ten years the Open Championship was not held due to World Wars I and II, there were nine other tournaments than the two I have already mentioned where the victor was at least 3.0 standard deviations below the average scores: Padraig Harrington in 2008 (3.5); Tiger Woods in 2000 (3.3); Nick Faldo in 1990 (3.1); Bill Rogers in 1981 (3.0); Tom Watson in 1980 (3.3); Tom Watson in 1977 (3.4); Johnny Miller in 1976 (3.1); Arnold Palmer in 1962 (3.2); Henry Cotton in 1934 (3.1).

As you might have noticed, the majority of these extremely dominant performances have come within the past fifty years. Consistently, the farther you go back in history, especially preceding 1970, the larger the standard deviations become, which makes it more difficult for someone to have shot a score that can truly be seen as an extremely unlikely and more impressive one. Such a phenomenon is indicative of the fact that overall, golfers are better today. During a tournament, there are more golfers now that are likely to shoot scores closer to the average score than golfers in decades long past. Then, when a golfer distances himself nowadays by the kind of large margin Oosthuizen did, the feat becomes even more spectacular because it is more difficult to break away from the pack with the talent level of golfers being so close to each other excepting a few notable golfers.

Although Louis Oosthuizen's 2010 Open Championship places him in rarefied air, it is highly unlikely he will be recognized for his tremendous feat as long as sports continue to be covered in the manner they usually are. The only reason Louis Oosthuizen's name is even known to as many people as it is now is because he won a major tournament and any talk about him should start with discussing his performance in said tournament. No matter his nickname or who his caddy is, Oosthuizen should be remembered as the golfer with the second most dominant win at the Open. It is a shame he will not be remembered that way at all since most people will never even possess such knowledge.



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