The sneakiest star in golf is, without question, 36-year-old Retief Goosen of South Africa. Despite winning two U.S. Opens--in 2001 and last year, when he knocked off the people's choice, Phil Mickelson, at Shinnecock Hills--Goosen is relatively unknown to most U.S. fans, even though he has been playing a full schedule on the PGA Tour since '02. He gets much more respect in Europe, where he has won nine of his 17 international titles.
Goosen is long off the tee, averaging 299 and 294 yards, respectively, in '03 and '04, and ranks first in percentage of birdies made on par-5 holes (62.5%), but no one thinks of him as one of the Tour's bombers. His short game is simply awesome. Even though he was the No. 1 scrambler on Tour in '04--when he failed to hit a green in regulation, he got up and down 66% of the time--his ability around the greens is seldom mentioned in the same breath as Mickelson's, Ernie Els's or Tiger Woods's.
Goosen was at his best at Shinnecock Hills. The championship turned on the 71st hole, the burned-out par-3 that played to a 3.49 average on Sunday. Mickelson and Goosen both put their tee shots into the front bunker, but while Mickelson three-jacked from six feet for double bogey, Goosen, who would one-putt five of the last six holes, trickled in his three-footer for par to take a two-stroke lead, his eventual margin of victory.
"Every part of Retief's game is solid, but his short game is spooky," attests Sergio García. "He does what he has to do in the easiest way possible, and he's one of the best putters in the world. His short game isn't flashy. It's really simple."
Augusta National, with its emphasis on length, chipping and putting, and Pinehurst No. 2, the U.S. Open venue with the inverted saucer greens, are perfect fits for Goosen's game. As is the TPC at Sugarloaf, site of this week's BellSouth Classic.
"[At Sugarloaf] you have to play similar shots around the greens as you do at Augusta--bump and runs, with the ball running away from you down slopes," says Goosen. "I thought it would be good practice for the Masters, during which you have to play bump-and-run shots up banks, or fly it or nip it or even hit a three-wood and run it up a bank. Augusta and Pinehurst will be the only other courses where we're going to play those shots."
Aside from his U.S. Open-- winning par at 17, Goosen ranks a save he made at last year's Masters, in which he finished 13th--his best Masters was a second in 2002--as his most memorable of the '04 season. "I hit it over the back of the green at 15 in the final round, which left me a tough shot. I finally decided to hit a bump and run with a sand wedge. My ball stopped four yards past the flag. Another two yards and it would've rolled into the water in front. It was the best par I saved all week." --Gary Van Sickle
GOOSE'S BASIC BUMP AND RUN
"Move the ball back in your stance. Keep your hands forward through impact to take loft off the club, so the ball comes off low and spinny. The key is to stroke the shot instead of hitting it hard. ¬†If you're playing up the bank, use anything from a lob wedge to a five-iron."
EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES
Goosen prefers simple over fancy on shots around the green.