These players are straight hitters. They are good putters. They arent necessarily long. Most are good chippers. Rarely is it the player you would think is the best in the world at the time.
Tiger Woods, of course, is Tiger Woods. He can play every kind of golf ' usually. He proved it at Pebble Beach at the Open last year. He still has yet to prove he can play Southern Hills. But excepting him, the U.S. Open rewards a very narrow slice of players.
Look at the list of recent winners ' Larry Nelson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Raymond Floyd, Andy North ' twice, Scott Simpson, Curtis Strange ' twice. Youve got Hale Irwin, Payne Stewart twice, Tom Kite, Lee Janzen twice, Ernie Els twice, Corey Pavin and Steve Jones. With the possible exception of Strange and maybe Els, none was considered the best in the world when he won.
And now, Goosen. It is so fitting. He is going to be down the middle a lot. When he misses greens, he scrambles well. Hes a good putter. Looking back, the South African is exactly what the tournament calls for.
Tiger, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, et al really never stood a chance. Errant shots found deep rough. Golfers who strayed there were imprisoned by the gnarly stuff. The Open requires a certain type of player, and you can bet your last dollar that the USGA sets up its courses to find him, regardless of whether hes been hiding in South Africa or the South Pole.
Goosen isnt even the best player on the European Tour. He has won four times, three of those in France, in nine years. But there was nothing cheap in his win at the U.S. Open, where he did everything that was asked of him. What more could you want? Nothing, if you are the USGA.
Goosen is a very straight-forward, no-nonsense guy. Unless you are deep into the Golf Channels coverage of the European Tour, you probably had never heard of him. But you undoubtedly have heard of him now.
He will forever be known as a U.S. Open winner, and 10 years from now people likely will not remember that he could have won Sunday except for the two-foot putt he missed on the 72nd hole. Goosen himself just had to smile when he missed.
It was quite funny, actually, he said, only half expecting the uproarious knee-slaps from the assembled press. I sort of laughed to myself when I missed that short putt to win. I cant believe what just happened.
The third putt, incidentally, was much tougher than the two-footer he missed. But Goosen collected himself, shook off the stunned disbelief of the gallery, and poured the three-footer right in the heart to necessitate the Monday playoff.
Its been a pressure week for me, since Day 1, he said. And Ive learned a lot about myself this week, and I know I can handle a little bit of pressure. Ive always had a little bit of ' not enough self-confidence in myself. Ive shot myself something, and Im looking forwards to the rest of the big events coming up now.
What would have happened if Retief had not won? After playing so well, would he have been a ruined man if Mark Brooks had beaten him in the playoff?
Its just a game, reminded Goosen. Its not a life-or-death situation. There are a lot of people out there who are worse off that me. And I wasnt going to look at it like, if I dont win today, its the end of the world. I DID win today, and its a great feeling to be here. And Im looking forward to whats coming up.
Will his life become noticeably different? Will he take the giant strides necessary to be one of the best players in the world? Is the U.S. Open a prelude to much bigger things in his life?
We shall see. He was struck by lightning as an amateur in South Africa. Will this be a stroke of lightning in winning the Open?