Former Star Goosen Now Plays in the Tour’s Shadows. Story by John Torsiello.
I can remember a number of years ago a friend and I were following the great Gary Player (winner of nine Majors) around at the then Greater Hartford Open with only a few other fans tagging along. Here was one of the top players of all time, but he was past his prime and the crowds had long ago moved on to younger and fresher flavors of the day.
It felt like that when I interviewed Retief Goosen after his third round of the Travelers Championship on Saturday. While only myself and fellow LCS writer Rick Wilson hung with Goosen, the other scribes made a bee line for Kevin Streelman, who had finished the day nine-under-par for the tourney. Goosen limped in to finish three rounds one-under-par and 12 shots behind leader Ryan Moore. (He began Sunday by getting it to three-under par after three holes.)
Yes, it’s a cruel game.
There was a time when you couldn’t get close to Goosen following one of his rounds. The 45-year-old South African has won 40 tournaments around the world, including seven on the PGA Tour. He won the 2001 and 2004 U.S. Opens and was once ranked as high as number three in the world.
But Goosen has fallen on hard times during the last several years, bothered by health issues that have included vision problems, a broken toe and most recently a back injury that have left him scrambling to make cuts where once he vied for championships. He had won only $619,625 coming into the Travelers Championship and admitted his game is foundering.
“Really, it’s crap,” he said with a wry smile on his face. “I’m hitting the ball all over the place and it was like that today. It’s everything, the driver, irons and short game. It’s all about feel and I just don’t have any feel right now.”
He talked about the emotional roller coaster he has been on the last few years.
“It creeps into your mental side when you aren’t playing like you once did and that erodes your confidence. I’m 45 now and with my back problems I don’t hit it as far as I once did and that makes it harder to play today’s game.”
One thing that hasn’t left Goosen is his putter. His efforts on the green in winning the 2004 U.S Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island, N.Y. has been called one of the greatest putting exhibitions ever in a Major tournament. He had 11 one-putt greens on Sunday and 31 for the week. On Sunday, he needed only 24 putts on 18 holes.
“That’s one thing I’m still doing fairly well,” said the man they call “The Goose” or “Iceman” for his calm demeanor on a golf course. “But really, it’s all about trying to survive out here on Tour and keep my card to get into tournaments. I’m continuing to work at it and I’m hoping things will come around.”
He spoke of the Travelers Championship.
“I like coming here. I like the course, and the people who run the tournament and the fans are great.”
It hasn’t been all bad this season. Goosen, who now lives in Orlando, Fl., has made 15 of 20 cuts and posted two top-10’s, including a seventh at the Shell Houston Open.
Who knows, Goosen may yet turn it around and find that magic he once displayed with frequency. Also, the Champions Tour is only five years away and the golf world certainly hasn’t heard the last from one of the classiest players to ever prowl the fairways.