Goosen redeems himself from embarrassment

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 19, 2001

The Associated Press

TULSA, Okla.

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Email newsletter signup

TULSA, Okla. – For Retief Goosen, the tortuous ordeal lasted just one day.

When given a chance to atone for one of golf’s most embarrassing moments, the soft-spoken South African made sure he wouldn’t have to go through life as the guy who missed a 2-foot putt to win the U.S. Open.

No, he’ll be remembered as a U.S. Open champion.

”I felt like I needed to win this because of what happened,” Goosen said Monday, savoring a 2-stroke victory over Mark Brooks in the first Open playoff since 1994. ”When the putt went in, it was great relief. In a way, I was a little bit shocked that I won it.”

That’s understandable, considering what Goosen went through Sunday evening. Just 12 feet from his first major victory and given two putts to make it happen, he needed three.

Suddenly, a golfer who was barely known on this side of the Atlantic at the beginning of the tournament was linked with Jan Van de Velde, Scott Hoch, Ed Sneed and Doug Sanders – all the victims of unspeakable collapses that let major victories slip away.

The others also had a chance to make amends, only to stumble under the weight of bitter disappointment. Goosen was different, responding with rock-solid play in the 18-hole playoff to beat the 40-year-old Texan.

With the trophy in his hand, the new champion could even poke fun as his misfortune.

”(Sunday) was quite funny, actually,” Goosen said. ”I sort of laughed to myself when I missed that short putt to win, like I couldn’t believe what just happened.”

A day later, Goosen walked to the final hole with a 3-stroke lead over Brooks, having erased all memories of the Sunday debacle. He even pulled out that dreaded putter while still 100 feet off the green, taking a conservative approach.

”I knew this time I had it in the bag,” Goosen said.

He could afford a 3-putt from 25 feet to clinch a belated victory, but needed only two, rolling the second try into the middle of the cup from 6 feet for bogey and an even-par round of 70.

”I know now what Jean Van de Velde went through at Carnoustie,” Goosen said, referring to the Frenchman who triple-bogeyed the final hole of the 1999 British Open when a double-bogey was good enough to win.

”You play so well for 71 holes and then suddenly on one hole you lose the tournament. But I was just trying to put that behind me.”

Amazingly, what the putter took away, the putter gave back.

Through the first eight holes, Goosen was erratic off the tee, but saved himself with three wonderful shots from the sand. He also made three putts in the testy five- to 10-foot range, casting aside whatever doubts may have lingered in his head from the 72nd hole.

Goosen went to No. 9 with just a 1-stroke lead, but the playoff got away from Brooks in a hurry.

One of his strengths – accuracy off the tee – went astray, leaving him next to an oak tree. He wound up with a bogey, losing 2 strokes when Goosen rolled in a sweeping 15-footer for birdie.

At No. 10, Goosen picked up another 2 strokes. Brooks tried to cut off too much of the left-to-right dogleg and was blocked by trees, leading to another bogey. The South African made a 12-footer for his second straight birdie and a 5-shot lead.

”Knockout!” someone cried out from the gallery.

Indeed, it was.

”That was the big turnaround,” said Brooks, seeking his first victory since winning the 1996 PGA Championship in a playoff. ”Two holes, a 4-shot swing and he’s on cruise.”

Brooks, one of the most accurate drivers all week, doomed his chance by hitting only seven of 14 fairways in the playoff.

”I was in the rough too much,” he said. ”And where I was, it was thick. All this talk about the rough being kinder and gentler and shorter, well, I didn’t catch it today.”

Goosen earned $900,000, nearly as much as his best season on the European tour, and became only the second international player in the past 20 years to win the U.S. Open. The other was countryman and good friend Ernie Els, who had victories in 1994 and ’97.

The U.S. Open is the only major that waits until Monday to stage an 18-hole playoff, which clearly was a big boost for Goosen.

His psychologist, Jos Vanstiphout, told him Sunday, ”What happened today is gone and will never come back.”

Goosen didn’t watch TV highlights of the fictionlike finish – his 3-putt from 12 feet, Stewart Cink missing an 18-inch bogey putt that would have put him in the playoff, Brooks 3-putting from 40 feet earlier.

Els, who won his first U.S. Open in a playoff that lasted 20 holes, called right after Goosen woke up and told him, ”It’s going to be tough. Just play the game.”

Goosen took it from there. Now, he can even watch the highlights of the 2-foot miss, which forced a playoff that never should have been necessary.

”I’m sure I’ll get a copy of it,” he said, grinning.