Funny, but I dont recall hearing one person say Retief Goosen was his favorite to win the U.S. Open. I didnt read even one list (mine included) of favorites that included Retiefs name. In hindsight, how could everyone have blundered so badly?
This guy did win the U.S. Open in 2001, you know. He won a tournament again in 2002, at the BellSouth. He won at the end of last year, at the Chrysler Championship.
We heard all about Mickelson and Els, heard about Vijay and Tiger. A lot of people said look out for Chad Campbell or David Toms. Sergio Garcia had started making some serious noise. Old boys like Jay Haas and Freddie Couples had a lot of backers.
But Goosen? Uh ' no.
You dont think of Goosen until someone mentions him. Then everyone nods in agreement at the same time ' yeah, it could be him. But Retief Goosen is not the guy you think when pickum time rolls around.
When you take a moment to think back on it, there certainly were ample clues. First of all, a course as quirky as Shinnecock was set up would certainly throw out a lot of the big favorites. Cross out Singh, Woods, Els and all the rest on your list save Mickelson.
But with all apologies to Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke ' Euros most often mentioned as the best from their end of the world ' Reteif Goosen was the leading money-winner on the European Tour in 01 and 02. Last year he finished 12th in Europe. And he finished a solid 10th in the U.S. He entered 19 U.S. tournaments and finished in the top 10 nine times.
And how about this year?
Well, prior to the U.S. Open, he had played in 11 events and finished in the top 10 in five of them. He finished tied to 13th in the Masters, tied for eighth his last time out in the Memorial. Hes played the European Tour three times this year and finished in a tie for ninth in his latest tournament last month.
The only down point to his year was during April, when he missed three out of four cuts in America, then went to Europe and finished in a tie for 52nd. What happened? He went to the gymnasium!
After Augusta, I played OK, he said. Augusta, I just putted terribly (and still finished 13). The following week at MCI I missed the cut. Before Augusta I didn't play that well.
So I really got into quite a bit of a fitness regime again and worked a bit on my fitness the last three months and my flexibility.
And I've practiced a bit more since I've had some time off, but I've done a bit more work off the golf course than I normally do when I have time off. It's paying off. I feel like I'm playing pretty well. I played pretty well in the (Volvo) PGA (in Europe) and the Deutsche Bank I was starting to hit the ball better and better, and so I was looking forward to coming here.
Goosen gave us a little hint of what was to come when he said Shinnecock reminded him a little of another course on which he had a little success. Shinnecock, he said, is reminiscent in so many ways of Southern Hills in Tulsa, where he won the Open in 2001.
I like links golf, and this course (Shinnecock) is obviously playing that way, said Goosen. It plays a lot like Southern Hills with elevated tees and the greens up above. It reminds me a bit of that.
Southern Hills? Shinnecock? On the surface, they appear totally opposite. But Goosen saw some similarities.
Yeah, it is very much like Southern Hills, he said, a lot of elevation and sidehill and uphill lies and things like that. I think it does remind me of that.
Southern Hills - the greens were probably a little bit better, but in a way, yeah, I think of this golf course exactly the same as Southern Hills. You've just got to try and hit the fairways and keep it below the hole and give yourself uphill putts, which some of the holes are pretty impossible to leave yourself an uphill putt.
Maybe he is overlooked, though, because he never causes a ruckus. When things are going good, or when they are downright awful, Goosen never changes. He must have been a docile kid growing up.
No, he says, it's something I worked on. I had a really bad temper as a junior. Before I started playing golf, I played tennis and I broke tennis racquets like matchsticks.
Then I got into golf and I remember breaking three clubs in nine holes once. Eventually I had to start paying for a shaft and all of my pocket money then went.
Hmmm well, at any rate, statistics dont lie. And the statistics are very, very solid:
Driving distance, 22nd on the PGA Tour (295 per swat); greens in regulation, eighth; putting average, 10th; and most importantly, scoring average ' seventh.
Retief has won two of these things now. He doesnt have to be loud to be heard now. And I PROMISE - we will never underestimate him again.
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