Retief Goosen’s eternal even keel effective at U.S. Senior Open

BETHLEHEM, Penn. – The rain had been reduced to a steady drizzle by late Thursday morning. It may have been a break from the more furious squalls of rain not long before, but conditions at Saucon Valley Country Club were a stern test at the 42nd US Senior Open.

For the players, yes, but even more so for standard-bearer Jackie Denzell, who diligently handled the various shades of colored numbers – red, green, black – and perfectly kept an accurate count as she cycled about five miles for more than four and a half hours on a stage of wet grass.

Keeping control as she descended the 16th fairway, Denzell was asked if this gentlemanly Retief Goosen was excitable and demonstrative. She looked. “No,” she said. “He didn’t say a word. He is very calm.

No worries, he was told. I was just checking that the golf world was still on its axis.

In this age of instant awareness, Goosen was asked if he wears a WHOOP to measure important data like heart rate. He smiled and said no. But he dismissed popular folklore that ice flows through his veins, his heartbeat is always in balance and nothing bothers him.

“No, I’m excited,” said Goosen, 53. “In my room when I get back. I hit my head against the wall, probably threw a chair. We all get mad. Don’t worry.”

We’ll argue that’s his story and he sticks to it, but when his legacy is built around two US Opens – jaw-dropping efforts at Southern Hills in 2001 and Shinnecock Hills in 2004 – he’s more easy to buy into the idea that Goosen can shift into a more soothing gear than most professional golfers.

“You try to stay focused in this game, to play shot for shot, especially on a golf course like this,” Goosen said. “You know you have to grind every shot.”

Few golfers of his generation have played at the highest level with a more balanced demeanor than Goosen. Now that he plies his trade at the level of PGA TOUR Champions, it is with a sense of relief to report that very little has changed, that he remains unfazed, for good or ill.

His level-par 71 in a difficult morning wave? “I would have pretty much taken it (before he started his round),” he said. “But unfortunately the sun will shine and (my good game) will be all forgotten.”

Just then, Goosen heard a roar from the 15th green within 75 yards. Rob Labritz had holed for the eagle.

Goosen shook his head, smiled and told a reporter, “See, you can throw your notes away.

In his previous two US Senior Open appearances, Goosen was T14 in 2019 and T2 a year ago in Omaha, Nebraska, when Jim Furyk was three shots clear. It’s the tough tests, “when tough is like coming out of an ice cream factory,” that bring out the best in him, Goosen agreed.

But the affable South African just as readily offered that at this age you never know how much longer he will compete. “I won’t play until I’m 70,” he laughed.

It wasn’t so much a concession that the roller coaster world of professional golf is too much – although Goosen conceded that “I’ve been playing really bad golf lately”. It was more a reflection of other interests, like his winery in South Africa. There are other golfers who are associated with their own wine labels, but Goosen actually owns a wine farm in the Outeniqua Mountains of South Africa, “close to where we had the Presidents Cup (in 2003),” he said, adding that he also has a cattle farm.

“Nothing like a good steak and a good wine,” smiled Goosen, perhaps in an attempt to take his mind off a tough morning in very humid conditions. Only one round below par had been recorded in the morning flurry – Paul Goydos 2-under 69 – and Goosen was happily expecting the afternoon players to post a flurry of red numbers.

Call it rubbing the green and Goosen didn’t disagree. The good news was that he benefited from a lucky break at the par-4 18th when his third shot to the left of the green took a jump and hit the flagstick solidly. Instead of running 10 to 15 feet, Goosen tapped for par.

“There was just no stopping it,” Goosen said, a concession he could easily have finished with a bogey and a 72.

During practice rounds in hot, dry conditions, Goosen had hit the driver, 8-iron on the green at the second from 469 yards, par-4. “But today I hit driver, rescue,” he said, explaining why it was one of his three bogeys.

Again, this was evidence of a tougher draw, but this is “The Goose”, for whom all golf moments are greeted with imperturbability. Except, of course, for that wild celebration he once orchestrated at Lake Nona in 2004. After winning the TOUR Championship, one of his seven PGA TOUR victories, Goosen later that night drove his car to his good friend Ernie Els’ house at Lake Nona. and made a lot of noise in an effort to get his friend to come play.

Wild and crazy, that guy from Goose, but that TOUR championship win wasn’t the reason Denzell’s dad wanted his daughter to get an autograph. It’s because of those emotional US Open triumphs 21 and 18 years ago.

Jackie Denzell, true to his duties as flag bearer, would add the autograph to his “to do” list. But no, she wasn’t aware that this guy from Goosen had won two US Opens.

She could confirm, however, that he was calm and in possession of a wonderful demeanor.

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