MY SHOT: PETER OOSTER­HUIS

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - News - With Guy Yo­com

Af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with ear­lyon­set Alzheimer’s, he vows to keep swing­ing.

THINGS HAP­PEN TO GOLFERS THEY’D JUST AS SOON FOR­GET. IF DOUG SANDERS COULD ERASE THE MEM­ORY OF MISS­ING A SHORT PUTT TO WIN THE 1970 OPEN, HE WOULD. BUT THERE IS NOTH­ING ABOUT MY LIFE IN GOLF I WANT TO FOR­GET. IT’S ALL BEEN GOOD. WHICH IS ONE THING I DIS­LIKE ABOUT HAV­ING ALZHEIMER’S DIS­EASE.

MANY OF THE FACTS are still with me. I had a good record in the Ry­der Cup. I won 20 times around the world. I beat Jack Nick­laus to win a Cana­dian Open. I played in the Walker Cup and for the Eisen­hower Tro­phy. I fin­ished third in the Masters and sec­ond at two Open Cham­pi­onships.The spe­cific mem­o­ries of those events are fad­ing, but I have this nice over­all im­pres­sion of things. My play­ing and broadcasting ca­reer. My mar­riage to Roothie, and our life to­gether. They give me a sweet sen­sa­tion I don’t think will ever go away.

IN THE 1973 RY­DER CUP, I played Lee Trevino in one of my sin­gles matches. Lee told his team­mates ,“If I don’t beat Ooster­huis, I’ll come in here and kiss your butts.” Lee didn’t beat me.We halved the match. When he walked in the locker room, Nick­laus, Gay Brewer and the other play­ers were wait­ing, slacks down around their an­kles, for the pay­off. Lee didn’t keep his prom­ise.

IN 1977, I TEAMED in a four­ball with Nick Faldo against Nick­laus and Ray­mond Floyd at Lytham. On the 14th hole, Floyd hit a poor shot, and we won the hole.The gallery cheered, which an­noyed Jack.As we walked off the next tee, Jack said, “I love play­ing in Great Bri­tain, but not in the Ry­der Cup.” Cheer­ing bad shots from the other side is not just an Amer­i­can thing. It hap­pens oc­ca­sion­ally in Europe, too.

FALDO AND I WON THAT MATCH. I was speak­ing to Jack re­cently and re­minded him of it. He said, “Re­ally? You beat us? I don’t re­mem­ber.” That’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween Jack’s mem­ory and mine: He gets to choose what he for­gets.

GARY MCCORD AND I an­nounced at CBS for many years. Be­fore that, I played on tour with him. To­wards the end of one sea­son, we were paired to­gether at Pen­sacola. The PGA Tour gave out year-end bonuses to play­ers who led var­i­ous sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gories, and Gary was lead­ing in “fewest putts.” The last thing he wanted to do was hit a green in reg­u­la­tion, be­cause that usu­ally led to two putts – or some­times three. So he was de­lib­er­ately miss­ing ev­ery green, fo­cus­ing on miss­ing in places that would leave him an easy chip and one putt. It was a bizarre thing to watch these beau­ti­ful iron shots, none of which found the putting sur­face. As I re­call, he ended up win­ning the prize. am i hurt i was never named Ry­der Cup cap­tain? Not at all. Liv­ing in America so long hurt my chances from the be­gin­ning. It didn’t help that I’d lost touch with the play­ers. Easy come, easy go. I’d say they’ve had pretty good suc­cess with­out me, wouldn’t you?

I’VE BEEN TOLD to start putting names and dates in my phone, so I get re­minders. But it’s not that easy. If I can’t re­mem­ber to put the things in the phone, even right when they hap­pen, what good does it do? You see what I mean?

IT STARTED LIKE THIS. I’ve had OCD (ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive disor­der) since I was a young man. I used to keep su­per-de­tailed logs of ev­ery shot at ev­ery tour­na­ment. That sta­tis­tics pro­gramme they have on the PGA Tour – what the devil is it called, again? – I in­vented an early ver­sion of that many years ago. When I moved to com­men­tat­ing, the OCD worked to my ad­van­tage. I’d study facts, sta­tis­tics and ten­den­cies and then run them into my com­men­tary. A cou­ple of years ago I found I was com­ing up blank on this in­for­ma­tion. When an OCD per­son can’t ob­sess the way he used to, he starts to ob­sess about his in­abil­ity to ob­sess. The anx­i­ety isn’t pretty. Over the years I was pre­scribed med­i­ca­tions to man­age the OCD, but there came a day when the drugs stopped work­ing. So I went to

a neu­rol­o­gist in Char­lotte, and in July 2014 I got the di­ag­no­sis: early-on­set Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

WHEN MY SIS­TER, GIL­LIAN,

died of cancer last year, she left $25 000 to an Alzheimer’s as­so­ci­a­tion. This was be­fore I was di­ag­nosed, and she had no inkling there was any­thing un­usual go­ing on with me. She did that be­cause she be­lieved my fa­ther, who passed away about 10 years ago, had the dis­ease even though he was never di­ag­nosed. He grad­u­ally with­drew from the world. She cared af­ter him for a long time, and it was quite ter­ri­ble for her.

SHOTLINK!

The name of that PGA Tour sta­tis­tics pro­gramme. It just came to me.

golfers as a group

have ex­tra­or­di­nary mem­o­ries. There was a time when I could re­call ev­ery course I’d ever played in fine de­tail, not just pars for the holes but yardages. Like a lot of golfers, I could tell you what I shot, where I fin­ished in the tour­na­ment. I wasn’t an en­cy­clopae­dia, but I was close. Now it just isn’t there. I re­mem­ber things like Gary Player win­ning the Open Cham­pi­onship in 1974, which has left an im­pres­sion be­cause I fin­ished sec­ond. But it’s quite ran­dom. It’s all fall­ing away.

MY EAR­LI­EST MEM­ORY

is of a toy train set my par­ents gave me when I was per­haps 5 years old. I grew up on the third floor of my par­ents’ build­ing in south­east Lon­don. There was a train that ran by, per­haps 200 yards away, and I could glimpse it out my win­dow. I so wanted to be a train en­gi­neer.The toy train was a big deal, ex­pen­sive for the time. It was more than 60 years ago, and I can pic­ture it clear as day. It’s strange what your mind holds on to.

THE PLAY­ING

for the 1968 Eisen­hower Tro­phy was at Royal Mel­bourne. I was 20 years old and so proud to rep­re­sent Great Bri­tain.The Amer­i­can team showed up with these shiny new bags and bril­liant cloth­ing, as if they were pro­fes­sion­als. Mean­while, our team – Michael Bonallack, Gor­don Cosh, Ronnie Shade and my­self – had these or­di­nary carry bags. The Amer­i­cans al­ways had the best of ev­ery­thing.We fin­ished sec­ond to the Amer­i­cans in that Eisen­hower Tro­phy. No ex­cuses – your clubs don’t know the kind of bag they’re sit­ting in.

I MADE TWO HOLES-IN-ONE

at PGA Cham­pi­onships. One of them was at the long par-3 eighth hole at South­ern Hills in 1982. Af­ter the ball went in, I glanced over at a cou­ple of PGA of­fi­cials and no­ticed they were avoid­ing eye con­tact. I thought it odd that they were look­ing down at their shoes. But a month later I ran into one of these of­fi­cials. He told me the PGA had planned to give a huge prize – I re­call it was a mil­lion dol­lars – for a hole-in-one there. Just be­fore the tour­na­ment started, the prize ar­range­ment fell through. “I tried to look at you,” he said, “but all I saw was a mil­lion dol­lars go­ing out the win­dow.”

THE WEEK

of the Masters, there al­ways was a Wed­nes­day meet­ing at­tended by the CBS staff and Au­gusta Na­tional of­fi­cials, to sort of go over things. At one of my first Masters work­ing for CBS, as the meet­ing was about to wrap, an of­fi­cial said, “Do any of you have any ques­tions?” I raised my hand and asked, “What is the speed of the greens?” Ev­ery­one knew they were the fastest greens we saw all year, and ev­ery­one wanted to know what they read on the Stimp­me­ter. One of the of­fi­cials said in a very mea­sured voice, “Tour­na­ment speed.” He cocked an eye­brow to in­di­cate there would be no more dis­cus­sion.We still don’t know for cer­tain what they Stimp at dur­ing the tour­na­ment.

CBS HAD A DIN­NER

for the an­nounc­ers at the (1996) PGA Cham­pi­onship won by Mark Brooks.The wives were not in­vited, which we were un­aware of. Roothie and a cou­ple of the other wives had their hair done and were look­ing like a mil­lion bucks. When we ar­rived, they were po­litely re­buffed. When I got back to the ho­tel room, Roothie said, “Sorry, but you’re not in­vited. ”Why she got an­gry with me and not CBS, I’m still not sure, but she kicked me out. I spent the night with David Fe­herty.

I WAS THE HEAD PRO

at Riviera for a few years up to 1994. O J Simp­son was a mem­ber there, and I re­call him as one of the most-liked guys in the club. Af­ter I moved on, I stayed in touch with many of the mem­bers. They told me that af­ter O J left the club, his name some­how stayed on the hand­i­cap sheet. The guys at the club, who love a good joke, started post­ing scores for O J. His hand­i­cap dropped five shots while he was be­hind bars. I miss the peo­ple at Riviera.

MY PHONE AT RIVIERA

rang be­fore the 1992 LA Open, which of course is played at Riviera. It was Jay Brunza, Tiger Woods’ sport psy­chol­o­gist, want­ing to know if it would be okay if Tiger came up and played a prac­tice round. Tiger was 16, the reign­ing US Ju­nior Am­a­teur cham­pion, and had a spon­sor’s ex­emp­tion. I in­vited them up, and we played to­gether: Jay, Tiger and my­self. My first im­pres­sion was, This kid is fo­cused. He was po­lite but talked very lit­tle. He stud­ied the green com­plexes in­tensely, hit drives to dif­fer­ent parts of the fair­ways. It was ex­actly the way an ex­pe­ri­enced pro pre­pares for a tour­na­ment. He hit the ball a mile, he hit it high, and he knew what he was do­ing. He was the most con­fi­dent 16-year-old I’d ever seen.

I’LL TELL YOU WHY

I left the job at Riviera. I met Roothie, who was a mem­ber, and we fell in love and got mar­ried. There is noth­ing clubs dis­like more than the idea of ro­mance be­tween the pro and a mem­ber, so I fell into dis­favour with some of the more staunch peo­ple in charge there. Also, the own­ers de­vel­oped an en­tirely dif­fer­ent vi­sion for the club. So in 1993, af­ter briefly work­ing for a golf club in Eng­land, I went to work broadcasting for Sky Sports.

LIFE TAKES SO MANY

in­ter­est­ing turns. In 1995, I got a call from this new net­work called the Golf Chan­nel .Their of­fer: com­men­tate at 28 tour­na­ments. I tossed the idea at Roothie, and she said, “We’ve been mar­ried for two years, and I have no de­sire to be at home alone for 28 weeks a year. Tell them you’ll take it – if they’ll pay for me to travel with you.” Sur­pris­ingly to me, Golf Chan­nel ac­cepted.

THE SE­CRET

is to do for a liv­ing some­thing that, given a choice, you’d do any­way. I never saw an­nounc­ing as work. Hang­ing

out at places like Au­gusta Na­tional and Peb­ble Beach, be­ing with my friends, the prepa­ra­tion, is not ex­actly a crime against hu­man­ity.

RORY OR JOR­DAN?

Long term, I’ll take Rory. He’s much longer than Jor­dan. With length comes the abil­ity to de­stroy cour­ses. Rory’s dis­tance notwith­stand­ing, they seem to be about equal.Who comes af­ter them? It’s a 20-way tie for third place.

THE BEST BRI­TISH PLAYER

you don’t know much about? Brian Barnes. He was a char­ac­ter, a big guy who smoked a pipe and fre­quently hit shots with the pipe still in his mouth. Brian hit the ball very long and straight. Other parts of his game and a fast life­style held him back, but he’s a great ex­am­ple of a player who would have ben­e­fited from mod­ern equip­ment. Brian in his prime would have de­stroyed cour­ses the way Rory and Dustin John­son de­stroy them. But Brian is 70 now, I be­lieve, and as they say in America, it is what it is.

THE BEST HOBBY

for a golfer: bird-watch­ing. Golf cour­ses are a gi­ant aviary.As I trav­elled the world, I car­ried my trusted copy of Na­tional Geo­graphic Com­plete Birds of the World. I cat­a­logued ev­ery bird I recog­nised. The scis­sor-tailed fly­catcher: check. The dark-eyed junco: check.The list is at roughly 500 and grow­ing – I hope.

MY FIRST WIN AS A PRO

came in 1970 at Wedg­wood in South Africa. I was paired with Gary Player and held a one-stroke lead late in the round.We came to a par 3 and both hit safely on, Gary a lit­tle fur­ther from the hole. He hit his putt and missed. “Can you be­lieve the amount of break on that putt?” he said. “I didn’t see that. In­cred­i­ble!” I im­me­di­ately dis­missed what he said – it didn’t break that much – holed my putt and went on to win. Call it games­man­ship or what­ever you like, but I’ve al­ways thought it was a case of Gary try­ing to mess with a kid.

SHORTLY AF­TER

I was di­ag­nosed, I got a call from Jim Nantz. His first words were, “This can’t be true.” Jim’s fa­ther passed af­ter a long bat­tle with Alzheimer’s, and Jim founded the Nantz Na­tional Alzheimer Cen­tre in Hous­ton. I’ve al­ways felt close to Jim – 18 years do­ing TV to­gether cre­ated a close re­la­tion­ship – but he took it another step. He could sense that Roothie and I were com­pletely lost, con­fused and a lit­tle scared. He told me some things that were so car­ing and com­pas­sion­ate. Then he im­me­di­ately ar­ranged for us to travel to Hous­ton and get checked out more thor­oughly. I’m now in a clin­i­cal trial for a drug that shows prom­ise. When you have friends like Jim, you feel there’s al­ways hope.

WE’RE STILL A LIT­TLE LOST.

I have to ad­mit it.The news is still fresh, re­ally. But we have our bear­ings enough to know that we want to help fight this dis­ease. We’re not sure yet how we’re go­ing to do it. Char­ity tour­na­ments, per­haps, or a foun­da­tion, or maybe try to help Jim Nantz with what he’s do­ing. But we’ll find some­thing. Golf can be a very pow­er­ful force for good.

ROOTHIE SAYS

I never get an­gry. She thinks I’m fairly stoic. Maybe that comes from be­ing raised in Eng­land by strong par­ents. My mother saw the ef­fects World War II had on Eng­land, and my fa­ther es­caped from Hol­land dur­ing the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion and came to Eng­land, where he met my mother. We Brits tend not to get overly hys­ter­i­cal in times of cri­sis.

I’M HU­MAN, THOUGH.

A call came to our apart­ment for Roothie while she was out.The mes­sage was fairly im­por­tant. When she got home, I couldn’t re­call what the mes­sage was, or even who called. I sat there rack­ing my brain with­out suc­cess, and af­ter a while I broke into tears. Tears of frus­tra­tion. It’s hard for the av­er­age per­son to un­der­stand how for­get­ting a sim­ple phone mes­sage could make one so emo­tional.

THE COURSE

near my boy­hood home, Dul­wich and Syden- ham Hill, had these enor­mous black­berry bushes around its perime­ter. When I was 12, I was per­mit­ted on the course to pick the black­ber­ries to take home to my fam­ily. Soon the joke got around that the Ooster­huis boy was eating more black­ber­ries than he was tak­ing home. They al­lowed me to play the course. I played all day, ev­ery day.Two years later, I was scratch. Soon I was play­ing for my school team, and then the big­ger am­a­teur events. At 20 I turned pro, and in 1971 I won my first of four straight Or­ders of Merit.

THE EURO­PEAN PGA TOUR

be­gan at about the same time I turned pro, in 1970. It was or­gan­ised enough, but not to the point where we felt re­ally co­he­sive. I played six straight Ry­der Cups (1971 to 1981), and ev­ery time it was like walk­ing into a dark room.We lost ev­ery one of them.

WE WERE HAV­ING

a late break­fast at a French Open some years ago. In comes David Fe­herty with Sam Tor­rance. It was 10am, and they were just get­ting in from wher­ever they’d been the night be­fore. Their tee time was fast ap­proach­ing, and they looked aw­ful. They made their times – don’t ask me what they shot – but they de­served a medal for even fin­ish­ing.

IN GOLF,

You never know what to­mor­row might bring. We learn never to get dis­cour­aged when we shoot a high score, be­cause to­mor­row we might find some­thing and shoot lights out. It hap­pens all the time. A cure for Alzheimer’s could come down very soon. So I prom­ise to just keep swing­ing.

‘WHEN AN OCD PER­SON CAN’T OB­SESS THE WAY HE USED TO, HE STARTS TO OB­SESS ABOUT HIS IN­ABIL­ITY TO OB­SESS.’

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