Goosen and the US Open; Cool, Calm and Collect It
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2004 US Open | Wrap | 21 Jun 2004
In the lead up to this week’s US Open, Retief Goosen had very much slipped under the radar in terms of pre-tournament calculations. To a very large extent however, that is Retief Goosen the man, the player.
His win today, in one of the more controversial of recent US Opens will ensure, at least in the foreseeable future, that he enters ongoing major championships as one who receives greater respect in terms of his prospects.
When Goosen won the US Open at Southern Hills in 2001, many felt the floodgates would open for him in the majors. Here had been a man who had until that point been a golfer with far greater talent than his mind was prepared to let him believe. It is true that he has played well in majors since, finishing runner up to Tiger Woods at the Masters in 2002 and recording a couple of top tens at the British Open, but given the constitution and game he possesses and that he was expected to be a force in majors every time he lined up, he has not gone on to produce what many expected.
Retief Goosen goes quietly about his business. It was almost as if his grey pants and light blue shirt today were worn to take as much attention from him as he went about doing what he does best, playing the game and getting the job done.
He had arrived at Shinnecock Hills with a solid start to the season. He had played solidly in Europe and the United States with five top tens on the USPGA Tour and a couple of good finishes in recent European Tour events. A win had avoided him but he was progressing well. His 8th place at the Memorial was his last lead up event but it was clear, even before the drama surrounding the Shinnecock Hills setup became obvious, that a golfer like Goosen would do well here. He is, after all, perhaps the player most unaffected by what is going on around him, preferring to just focus on the job at hand and let nothing disturb him in the topsy turvy world of US Open golf, especially down the stretch.
From his second round of 66 it was clear that he was not going to let the controversy of the increasingly difficult and yes, perhaps unfair course set up, faze him in any way. It was a golf course where if you could avoid major disasters such as double bogey or worse then there were sufficient birdie opportunities to stay in touch. There was no better indication of this than in round one when he quickly bounced back from the only double bogey he recorded all week at the 8th, to birdie the 9th hole. Even today whenever a disaster appeared a possibility, he would take the conservative route and ensure a bogey at worst. The only time that a chink appeared in the armour today was at the par four 14th when, from the middle of the fairway, he found the greenside bunker and then only just got out and chipped to fifteen feet before holing that for bogey.
From the very first hole where he hit an immaculate drive and made a birdie three, it was clear that his playing partner and the man most expected to win, Ernie Els, had a serious challenge on his hands, not only with the course but with his fellow countryman. Els was on the back foot all day, even having the USGA’s starter introduce him as the 1993 and 1997 US Open Champion drawing a queried look from Els. Els of course had won the event in 1994 and 1997. The honourable starter may have forgotten but Els hadn’t.
By the time Goosen had reached the turn, and perhaps even earlier, it was becoming clear that despite the vagaries of Shinnecock Hills, it was to be a two horse race. At that point Goosen was at four under and Mickelson, who had just bogeyed the tenth, at two under. Jeff Maggert was at one over and with just the two players under par it was on Goosen and Mickelson that most attention centred. Goosen balanced a bogey at ten with a birdie at eleven to maintain the edge but Mickelson was not going away. Following a bogey at twelve, Mickelson reeled off three birdies in four holes to briefly take the lead at four under as he walked to the par three, 17th.
The left hander’s big mistake was about to hit. After a long delay on the tee, Mickelson seemed confused by the wind direction as he stood over the tee shot and backed off to again reassess the situation. When he finally did hit his tee shot he started it a fraction left of the perfect line but in the circumstances, a long way left of where a leader should have been aiming and found the green side bunker. An excellent bunker shot under the pressure that is major golf, saw him finish some five feet above the hole and his misread or mishit there saw him finish as far past as he had started. He missed that also and the resulting double bogey saw him fall two behind, as Goosen had just birdied the 16th to join him briefly in the lead then take the lead by two.
Goosen too, found the bunker at the 17th but then produced a delightful bunker shot to make par and with a two shot cushion as he stood on the 72nd tee, he arrowed his driver down the fairway leaving 153 yards from a first cut lie. Watching Mickelson as he contemplated his second, Goosen knew exactly what was needed as he stood over his nine iron second and he found the back edge of the green some thirty feet from the hole from where he two putted to take the title.
Despite Mickelson’s costly double bogey at the 17th, this was a performance that confirmed his transformation as a golfer perhaps even more than his win at Augusta had. On a golf course that has so many similarities to that Mickelson has failed on so miserably at British Opens over the years, he was able to battle all the way to the line failing only at the last hurdle. The changes he had made to his game and his strategic approach in recent months, were very much highlighted by the manner in which he defended when he needed to and attacked when appropriate. He played shots not before seen from Mickelson and although no doubt disappointed, he can take much from his great week. It may not be much consolation now but he has well and truly arrived as a genuine contender for major titles wherever the venue.
As Els and others fell away, it was left to the perennial and perhaps quintessential US Open placegetter, Jeff Maggert, to put his hand up for a top three place. His five birdies in round four was bettered only by the veteran Jay Haas’ four birdies and an eagle and for Maggert this was his sixth US Open top ten. He finished alone in third, three ahead of Mike Weir and Shigeki Maruyama who shared fourth.
Fred Funk battled away to finish one shot back in fifth place with Robert Allenby and Steve Flesch sharing seventh.
For Allenby this was his best finish in a major tournament. In thirty two majors until this week his best had been 10th so this was quite a breakthrough for Allenby. His last round of 70 was the best of the day. A last hole bogey cost him a chance of something even better, but even though he may not admit it, he will take a lot from this week.
Peter Lonard reflected the difficulty of the day when his four over par round of 74 saw him gain thirty one places from this third round position. Only six rounds of better than 74 were recorded on day four. Consecutive double bogeys at the ridiculous 7th and then the 8th would prove costly in the final analysis.
Stephen Leaney destroyed what had otherwise been a solid week with a last round 84 and Craig Parry let his course set up thoughts be known to all and sundry with his post match television interview when he blasted the USGA for the manner in which they had set up the course. Parry had been one to defend the Australian Golf Union for their decision to abandon play at the 2002 Victorian Open and suggested that the same should have been done here. He argued, perhaps with some justification, that playing conditions should never be altered by man during the course of a round and in that he has an argument. Greens such as the dangerous seventh were watered after several groups had already gone through. Interestingly they were not watered between the late groups.
It is an interesting discussion that justifies or otherwise what is fair in course set up and what is below or over the line. Golf associations throughout the world take courses to the brink in an endeavour to protect par and the integrity of their national event. Not only has the USGA fallen for the trap here but so too in recent years have the Australian Golf Union (Australian Open 2002) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (Carnousite 1999). In an era where all the modern technology in the world is available to predict weather conditions, surely there is a way that the truly great golf courses of this world are able to be protected from being made to look ridiculous by well meaning, yet at times inexcusable decision making by tournament committees.
Shinnecock Hills is one of the oldest and yet one of the best. It would have taken very little to for it to have been made one of the fairest and toughest tests the US Open has seen. As it was this week it was certainly one of the toughest but the jury is still out as to its fairness. May be they have already returned a verdict.
Tiger Woods maintains his top spot in the world ranking with a top twenty finishing 17th while his nearest chaser Ernie Els who had the chance with a win here to grab the top spot fell away to finish 9th after being very much the likely winner as he stood on the first tee today.
It was a great US Open spoiled only by the controversy of course set up. Even allowing for that, the winner was a deserved one. Perhaps when the Open returns to Shinnecock Hills in years ahead the temptation to overcook some holes will be avoided.