Retief Goosen: a quiet major winner

Despite being a two-time major winner, quietly-spoken South African Retief Goosen has remained an enigma to many. He has seldom grabbed the spotlight with his words, but his achievements on golf courses around the world have shouted out his ability and performance loudly and clearly.

Out on the course, Goosen gives little away in his expressions and body language. He seems reluctant to give anything away, although when his hard work comes together and he claims a title the smile comes, possibly, still, with a self-conscious touch to it.

His greatest moments have come in his two major victories, both in the US Open, which is always played on demanding courses that often ensure that the majority of the field finishes over par for the tournament. It is telling that the man known as “The Goose” has excelled in the toughest of cauldrons, dealing not only with the pressures of competing in a major championship, but of dealing with the toughest of courses.

On greens that leave weekend golfers wondering how much money would be needed to buy a putt, Goosen has shown remarkable touch to beat the world’s best.

Biggest challenge

Yet, maybe the biggest challenge Goosen has ever endured and overcome on a golf course came long before he became a professional. At the age of 15, he was struck by lightning. It burned the clothes from his body, leaving his playing partner thinking that Goosen was dead. Thankfully, he survived.

Goosen’s success in golf has enabled him to embrace a number of his passions, including wine. Under the label, “The Goose”, Goosen, through wine maker Morne Jonker, produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Sauvignon Blanc on the farm Schoonberg.

In addition, he has ventured into the world of golf course design.

Wife

Golf was also responsible for bringing him together with his wife, Tracy.

Tracy Pottick was the owner of a promotions staffing company when she met Goosen in 1993 at the Ryder Cup at The Belfry. He liked her, but she had just come out of a bad relationship and when he asked her out to dinner, he was turned down twice before she accepted.

She helped Goosen change many of his negative thoughts about himself and his game into positive thoughts, and the results became visible on the golf course, thanks also to the input of mental coach Jos Vanstiphout.

After living together for some time, Goosen married Pottick in 2001. It was the most nerve-racking experience of his life, he reckoned. Two months later, he won his first major tournament.

A globe-trotting player, he has three residences: in his home town of Polokwane in South Africa, Ascot in Berkshire, England, and Orlando in Florida, the United States of America.

Amateur career

As an amateur, Goosen won 30 amateur titles and also was awarded national colours. In 1990, the same year that he was crowned South African Amateur champion, he turned professional.

Playing on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, he recorded his first pro victory in 1991 when he captured the Iscor Newcastle Open. In 1992 he won three times, claiming the Spoornet Classic, the Bushveld Classic, and the Highveld Classic.

In 1993 he added the Mount Edgecombe Trophy to his list of titles. He also made an impact on the European Tour. In January, he finished second in the Dubai Desert Classic behind fellow South African Wayne Westner. A cheque for £44 440 proved to be a nice bonus.

He tied for sixth in the Carroll’s Irish Open and tied for tenth in the Murphy’s English Open and the Volvo Masters, but the consistency of the great players was still not present. He finished the year in 44th position on the Order of Merit.

The PGA European Tour

During the mid to late nineties, Goosen went about trying to establish himself as a solid performer on the European Tour, but it was an up-and-down journey.

In 1994, he improved five places on the Order of Merit, but the following year he struggled with his game and was seldom in contention as he slid all the way to 95th in the standings. In 1996, he was up to 25th on the Order of Merit and his results included a victory in the Slaley Hall Northumberland Challenge, and top five finishes in the Peugeot Open de France and the Deutsche Bank Open TPC of Europe.

The next year, 1997, proved to a big one for “The Goose”. He found the consistency necessary to become a regular among the top placed players on the European Tour and completed the year ranked seventh on the Order of Merit.

He lifted the Peugeot Open de France title and finished second in the Compaq European Open. In addition, he picked up third place in the Gulfstream Loch Lomond World Invitational, fourth in the Alfred Dunhill SA PGA, sixth in the South African Open, and tenth in The Open Championship at Royal Troon. Also, when he finished outside of the top 10, he often finished inside the top 20 – six times to be exact.

Fifth place in 1999

Still, he was not quite “there” yet and in 1998, Goosen was down to 33rd in the standings. The following year, 1999, he rocketed up to fifth place.

He claimed the Novotel Perrier Open de France title and finished in the runner-up position five times: in the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe, the German Open, the Compaq European Grand Prix, the Belgacom Open, and the Volvo Masters. It was a very good year and not far off being a spectacular year.

For Goosen, the first year of the new Millennium was notable in that it was the first year in which he made an extensive foray on the United States PGA Tour.

2001 US Open

In 2001, everything changed for the better for the quietly-spoken South African when he claimed his first major victory in the US Open, with a steady display that included numerous fantastic saves on a difficult Southern Hills golf course.

He finished the regulation event on four-under-par 284, tied with Mark Brooks, and was one of only four players to break par. Goosen then dominated the next day’s 18-hole playoff against the 1996 PGA champion to win the title by two shots.

That victory was the breakthrough that helped propel his career to the next level.

Boosted by the US Open’s $900 000 winner’s cheque, Goosen went on to top of the PGA European Tour’s Order of Merit. He picked up further wins in The Scottish Open at Loch Lomond and the Telefonica Open de Madrid, as well as second at the Trophee Lancome. Late in the year, he and Ernie Els teamed up to win the World Cup of Golf for South Africa.

Competing in the USA

Goosen had hit the big time and that was reflected by his greater participation and success on the 2002 PGA Tour. Outside of the US Open, he won his first PGA Tour title in the BellSouth Classic, finishing four shots ahead of runner-up Kesper Parnevik.

Despite his increased committment in the USA, he also topped the PGA European Tour’s Order of Merit for a second time. He had established himself as one of golf’s leading lights.

Apart from his win in the BellSouth Classic, he also finished runner-up in the US Masters and the WGC-American Express Championship. In Europe, he captured the Johnnie Walker Classic and tied for second in the Smurfit European Open and dunhill championship.

Goosen continued to shine in 2003, winning titles on both sides of the Atlantic, but his most memorable performance of the year came in one of the greatest team competitions in history, a remarkable 17-17 tie on the Links at Fancourt in the Western Cape.

2003 Presidents Cup

Gary Player captained the Internationals, who included Goosen, Tim Clark and Ernie Els in their line-up, and Jack Nicklaus was in charge of the USA.

After a fantastics blow-for-blow showdown, the contest ended in an agreed-upon and widely-applauded tie with Ernie Els and Tiger Woods still involved in a playoff when the sun went down. Goosen contributed three points to the International team’s total.

In 2004, he became a multiple major winner when he claimed his second US Open title at Shinnecock Hills in the toughest of conditions. Players argued that they were unfair and the final round average score of 78.7 backed up that point of view. Only Goosen and American Phil Mickelson managed to finish under-par.

The Goose took the honours on four-under-par 276, two shots clear of Mickelson. Fellow South African Ernie Els had been in the running, on three-under for the tournament after three rounds but, like so many others, he crashed in the final round, posting a 10-over-par 80.

Great putting

In the final round, Goosen needed only 24 putts in what was one of the greatest clutch putting performances in the history of majors.

With his second US Open victory, Goosen became part of a group of five golfers who dominated the game for a number of years: Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, and Phil Mickelson.

He went on to rank inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings for over five years.

Besides his cheque of $1 125 000 for winning at Shinnecock Hills, he also claimed another cheque of over $1-million dollars when he won The Tour Championship. There was another victory for The Goose in the Smurfit European Open and despite contesting only 12 European Tour events, he finished in second place on the Order of Merit.

Consistency

Goosen was very consistent in the majors of 2005. He tied for third in the US Masters, tied for 11th in the US Open, tied for fifth in The Open, and tied for sixth in the US PGA.

Other notable results he achieved that year included capturing the Linde German Masters in Europe, The International in the USA and the VW Masters in China. He finished second in the Johnnie Walker Classic, and third in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.

In 2006, after recording victories in every year from 2001 to 2005, Goosen failed to pick up a win in the USA, but he finished in the top five four times, including second at The Players Championship and third at the US Masters. Off-setting this was a win on home soil in the South African Airways Open. He also just missed out on the BMW International Open title, ultimately settling for second place. In China, he successfully defended his VW Masters title.

The 2007 season brought Goosen a victory in the Abu Dhabi Championship and a runner-up finish in the US Masters, but he struggled with his game over the second half of the year.

Upturn in fortunes

It was a time in which Goosen needed to make a decision of whether or not to rededicate himself to the game of golf. He chose to give it a go and was rewarded with a much improved year in 2008.

Although he didn’t claim any wins, he finished second in the WGC-CA Championship, fourth in the WGC-Bridgestone International, and brought his average finish down by a long way.

He was back on the winning trail in 2009 in the USA when he captured the Transitions Championship, finished second in the RBC Canadian Open after a playoff, third in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and tied for fifth in The Open Championship.

Since 2010, Goosen has failed to win another tournament, but his career record makes for good reading: 44 tournament victories, sevens wins on the PGA Tour, 14 European Tour wins, nine Sunshine Tour wins, four Asian Tour victories and 14 other wins. Those other wins include capturing the Alfred Dunhill Cup for South Africa with Ernie Els and David Frost in 1997 and 1998 and a victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2004.

As one of the world’s leading golfers for a long time, The Goose has taken part in numerous big international competitions. He has represented the International Team in the Presidents Cup on four occasions, played for South Africa six times in the Dunhill Cup and five times in the World Cup.

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