He has the look of a professional golfer: nice tan, polo shirt, crisp slacks. But so, too, do other travelers.
He looks straight ahead and, almost mistakenly, makes eye contact with a person bearing a Pebble Beach hat; the one person who seems to recognize him: me.
End of conversation.
Retief Goosen is not the man you want in the passenger seat of your car as you attempt an all-night road trip. He doesnt speak unless prompted; talks softly; and is as monotone as a man with an accent can be.
He is so nondescript that he is unmistakable.
His Invisible Man persona, however, belies his radiant talent.
He has quietly, very quietly become one of the best golfers in the world. He has done so by winning in his native South Africa, by winning across Europe, by winning on the PGA Tour, by winning two European Tour money titles.
By winning two U.S. Opens.
Goosen won his second U.S. Open title Sunday at Shinnecock Hills just as he won his first at Southern Hills three years prior: without much fanfare and with very little flair.
He entered the final round of the 104th U.S. Open leading by two strokes. But his light-blue shirt, the one solid in color and buttoned all the way to the top, seemed to deflect the attention away from himself and onto his pursuers.
There was his playing companion Ernie Els: the man who would be king with a win. And there was Phil Mickelson: already king of the common fan.
The pressure was packed; the crowds peaked. Every Mickelson footstep garnered ridiculous applause. And while the fans cheered on Phil, they tried to will on Ernie early; knowing the value of his victory and the Augusta atonement it offered.
Els redemption song, however, wasnt sung Sunday. He first shot went right, and everything thereafter went wrong.
With his countryman crumbling like Babel, Goosen stood firm, limited his mistakes and kept at least a share of the lead until Mickelson overtook him with a birdie at the par-5 16th.
Goosen easily could have folded down the stretch. He had a 10-footer for par on 13. Made it. A 20-footer for bogey on 14. Made it. A 10-footer for par on 15. Made it.
Needing a 12-footer for birdie at the 16th to tie Mickelson, he converted his 10th one-putt of the round.
And when Mickelson double bogeyed the par-3 17th, Goosen one-putted 17 for par, and officially one-putted 18 for par ' and victory.
It wasnt just U.S. Open golf; it wasnt just Retief Goosen golf. It was Retief Goosen: spectacularly unspectacular; remarkably unremarkable; impressive in its ordinariness.
The applause was modest. The crowd that so heavily favored Mickelson was stunned. They clapped in respect, but they, too, seemed defeated.
Goosen smiled and shared a laugh with a gracious Els. He kissed his wife and carried his son in his arms on this Fathers Day. He signed his scorecard and held high his trophy. He explained his experience and made his speech.
I knew it was going to come down to Phil and Ernie ' those were the two guys to beat. Im just happy to come away with the trophy, he said.
It was simple and direct. It was expressed with little outward emotion. It wasn't what you might exepct from a man who just won the U.S. Open.
It was textbook Retief Goosen. Just like his play Sunday.
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