2005: Goose will be looser this Pinehurst visit

Pinehurst No. 2 wasn’t love at first swing for Retief Goosen. Nor was it after 157 whacks. Goosen left the 1999 U.S. Open there with 75-82 on his scorecard and no intention of sending Pinehurst postcards home.

“I wasn’t particularly fond of it the first time,” said Goosen. “I didn’t really enjoy all the runoffs.”

And so he missed the cut by 10 strokes. Two years later he would win a U.S. Open at Southern Hills. In three more years he would bag another Open at Shinnecock Hills. King of the Hills, Goosen is. And as such he returns to Pinehurst for the 2005 U.S. Open with more confidence, more game and an altered outlook as defending champion.

“I’m in a different frame of mind now than I was then because I feel like I can hit any shot I need to hit on championship courses like that,” Goosen said. “So I’m very much looking forward to going back there this time and giving it a shot and winning it again. I was very inexperienced then and didn’t really know what I can do. But now I know what I can do.”

Another trophy would put the South African in select company, for only five men have won more than two U.S. Opens. One would think he has an excellent chance for a third, for he has one of golf’s best short games. All of it – chipping, pitching and putting. He scrambled his way to both Open titles. Last year he took only 11 putts on the last nine holes.

“Yeah, I like the courses really tough,” Goosen said. “The more you have to start grinding it out, the better. It’s all about really good scrambling around a major championship.”

Goosen hadn’t won in 11 worldwide starts this year entering the Memorial. But he did have five top 10s, an impressive .455 average that signals he’s in form for Open season. Included are a second at the Johnnie Walker Classic on the PGA European Tour, third places at the Masters and WGC-Accenture Match Play, and a fourth at the Bay Hill Invitational.

Such high-level consistency is why Goosen ranks fifth in the world. He is something of golf’s fifth Beatle behind Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson – each of whom has won three times this year.

“I know I can win in every tournament I play,” Goosen said.

The unemotional Goosen plans only two practice rounds at Pinehurst, to avoid overpreparing and becoming “brain dead.” Once a tournament starts, the shy one has a simple strategy: “I keep my head down and do my thing.”

Longtime friend Ernie Els, another two-time Open champion, said that while Goosen is quiet and serious in competition – “He’s not going to crack jokes” – he’s different in practice rounds and away from the course.

“He likes to have a bottle of wine, we get a bit loose here and there, but as I say, if you know him well, that’s what he’ll do,” Els said. “He’s just a very private guy. He’s always been like that. When we were in the Army together, he was the one that kept it on the road kind of a thing.”

After one question about Goosen at the Byron Nelson Championship, Els entertained by saying, “You guys really have to talk to him yourselves. He’s got a tongue and he does speak. You have to sit down with him and talk to him and you’ll find out he’s pretty interesting.”

Goosen is someone who likes easy-listening music – from Andre Bocelli to rock. Someone who likes to cook on the grill. Someone who hasn’t had an instructor in almost seven years and says, “When I feel good over the ball, I know I can hit it as hard as I want and know it’s going to go straight.” Someone who follows only one American sport, basketball. Someone who recently started designing golf courses. Someone who lists the Old Course at St. Andrews and Augusta National as his two favorite courses.

And, of course, someone who was struck by lightning when he was 16. He woke up in a hospital and didn’t play for three weeks, once he healed the burns and could get his shoes on again. He still has the charred golf clubs and clothes from that day.

“You can’t make out the clothes and the clubs are all burned in places,” he said. “It’s scary. I’m lucky to still be around.”

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