[PHOTO: Dom Furore]

Peter Oosterhuis had a memorable career – three of them, in fact – the sum of which echoed a movie title, a wonderful life until it was slowly eroded by an insidious disease. Oosterhuis died on Thursday, one day shy of his 76th birthday and 10 years after having been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Born just outside London, Oosterhuis compiled an impressive playing record that included everything but a major championship. When he quit playing competitively, he became a club professional for a time at the prestigious Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, then eventually found his niche as a broadcaster – first for Sky Sports, then Golf Channel and finally with CBS Sports, where he worked until his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2014.

“Oosty”, as he was frequently and affectionately called, won tournaments all over the world. His lone PGA Tour victory in 343 official starts came in the Canadian Open in 1981, when he beat Jack Nicklaus, Bruce Lietzke and Andy North by a stroke. The $US76,000 first-place cheque was more than he had earned in any previous season.

He also won seven European Tour events. Meanwhile, he tied for third in the 1973 Masters, finished second in the Open Championship the next year, tied for second at The Open in 1982, and had two top-10s in the US Open (1975 and 1977).

Augusta National Archive
Oosterhuis won on the PGA and European tours and played in six straight Ryder Cups. [Photo: Augusta National]
Oosterhuis also played on six straight Great Britain & Ireland or European Ryder Cup teams, all of which lost to the US teams. On two occasions, he led his team in points, and he remains tied for the all-time lead in most singles victories with six.

His second career, though not a long one, was as a club professional, first at Forsgate Country Club in Jamesburg, New Jersey, before moving to Riviera Country Club.

“I’ll tell you why I left the job at Riviera,” Oosterhuis told Golf Digest’s Guy Yocom of his departure in 1993. “I met Roothie [Ruth Ann], who was a member, and we fell in love and got married. There is nothing clubs dislike more than the idea of a romance between the pro and a member, so I fell into disfavour with some of the more staunch people in charge there.”

He soon took a job as a broadcaster for Sky Sports in the United Kingdom, the start of a third career that gave him a profile higher than even that he had experienced as an accomplished golfer.

In 1995, Oosterhuis was offered a job with a new television entity called the Golf Channel, to serve as an analyst on its European Tour events, working alongside Renton Laidlaw.

“For two-and-a-half years he and the wry Scottish anchor, Renton Laidlaw, have conducted a civilised dialogue, in back-of-the-church voices, while watching golf balls veer and wobble on bumpy European greens,” John Garrity wrote for Sports Illustrated. “Oosterhuis’s voice – precise, preternaturally calm and authoritative – is the one that after an hour or so seems to be generated from somewhere in your own head. Says Laidlaw, ‘It’s very listenable, a voice you never get tired of.’”

Inside Peter Oosterhuis’ battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and how he vowed to keep swinging

In 1997, CBS Sports gave Oosterhuis a tryout, installing him in the 14th-hole tower at the Masters and the PGA Championship, which led to his being offered a full-time position in late 1997.

“I was a fan of his before a lot of people at CBS even found out about him,” CBS golf anchor Jim Nantz told David Feherty. “It’s hard for athletes to step in and sound like a trained broadcaster. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Oosty had been doing this all his life.”

He was a fixture for CBS Sports golf telecasts for the following 17-plus years, even occupying the analyst’s chair next to Nantz when Ken Venturi began to scale back the number of tournaments he worked. Then came the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.

“During the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla,” Nantz told Golf Digest, “Gary McCord asked me, ‘Have you noticed something amiss with Peter? He doesn’t seem himself.’ No, not at all, I said. Gary said, ‘Well, keep an eye on him during dinner tonight, and let’s talk tomorrow.’ I watched and listened to Peter closely and didn’t pick up on anything. That, after being close to my father throughout his struggle with Alzheimer’s. Soon after that, it become more apparent that Peter was struggling. Alzheimer’s is such an insidious disease. I’m using every tool at my disposal to fund the research necessary to help Peter. In fact, he’s being treated by a team of doctors at the Nantz Center.”

Nantz’s father was a victim of Alzheimer’s, leading his son to start the Nantz National Alzheimer Center in Houston.

“Shortly after I was diagnosed, I got a call from Jim Nantz,” Oosterhuis told Golf Digest in 2014. “His first words were, ‘This can’t be true’… 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.

“It started like this. I’ve had OCD since I was a young man. I used to keep super-detailed logs of every shot at every tournament… 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… So I went to a neurologist here in Charlotte, and in July of 2014 I got the diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.”

Oosterhuis with his wife Roothie. [Photo: Dom Furore]
Oosterhuis retired to a quiet, private life with wife Roothie at their home in Charlotte, North Carolina, alas, waiting out the inevitable, the conclusion to what indeed was a wonderful life.