On many days of the year Louis Oosthuizen goes where cellphones don't reach and golf clubs don't matter. You may find him on his farm in Albertinia, South Africa, sitting atop his John Deere tractor with the earth shifting beneath him. Or you may not find him at all.
He is deep in the bush along the Orange River under proper stars, as Louis calls them, reconnecting with the 11-year-old he used to be, the one who would slip away from the farm in a pickup with a rifle and a goal: Bring back something for his parents, anything to show off his skill—pheasant at least, bushbuck on a really good hunt. "It's nice meat," he says.
Those who love Louis know he needs this time away from golf, this time "in the wild, making a big fire, just him and the boys," says his wife, Nel-Mare. Those who love him know that the man with the most beautiful swing in golf will be at rest.
"Louis has three things in his life," says his coach, Pete Cowen. "His family is first, his farm is second and his golf is third. When he goes back to his farm I always ask him, 'Do a little exercise for just 15 minutes a day and when you come back you won't be so rusty.'"
But when Louis is on the farm, he is on the farm. He comes back rusty. "It takes him about a week to get it back," Cowen says.
When Louis is on, he makes magic. Weeks happen like the British Open at St. Andrews two years ago, when he hit three-quarter irons across the windy, ancient links, controlling his ball with such command that he won by seven strokes. Or at the Masters two months ago, when he made a double eagle from the 2nd fairway on Sunday and narrowly lost to the heroics of another golfing savant.
But Louis also has lulls in his game, stretches when his lovely swing becomes undone by a single fault.
"I struggle to get my game in a place where it stays there," Louis said last month, in the players' dining room at the Colonial. "Now and then I find a dip, which is not good. We're working on things, swingwise. Mentally, I feel pretty much the same way I was feeling at the Open in 2010 or the Masters. I still go out there very confident. But I always find something in my swing that throws everything a little off. Pete says the good thing is that it's always the same thing. But that's also the bad thing about it. It always creeps back."
The fault, Cowen explains, is that Louis's lower body sometimes outraces the delivery of his arms to the ball and he can go wayward. In his first two PGA Tour starts after the Masters, he missed the cut at the Players and the HP Byron Nelson Championship. (Since then, he finished 19th at Colonial and missed the cut at Memorial.) On his way out of the Nelson, Louis bumped into Ernie Els in the shade of the scorer's tent.
As a junior, Louis came through the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, which provides schooling, mentoring and golf lessons for talented young South Africans of limited means. Els remains a mentor even as he is a competitor. ("His swing reminds me a little of myself," Els says.)