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The great Goosen
The American press have taken to referring to Retief Goosen as 'the Ice Man'. A few years ago they dubbed Ernie Els as 'the Big Easy'. These names stick for they express the perceived basic characteristics of the individuals concerned. Els has, in the past, made it all look very easy and his swing, gait and demeanour conveys an aspect of an easy going personality, but 'ice man' is not an aphorism that best describes Goosen. Cool, he certainly appears to be, even under the most intense pressure: solid, he certainly is, in a notoriously fickle and testing game. But Goosen is not cold, nor is he bland, he is simply what one expects of a great professional golfer. The fact that he does not wear his emotions on his sleeve, nor perform sad amateur dramatics when fortune smiles on him or succumb to petulance when misfortune strikes, does not make him cold.

With Goosen, what you see is what you get. He is a highly talented pro golfer who is currently playing the game better than anyone else is. He is also a mature pragmatic guy with character; someone who can accept the vicissitudes of the game without recourse to flamboyance and attention seeking behaviour. As such, he is refreshing as an able workman going about his job with an air of authority and well being. Golf desperately needs more like him if it is to retain the features that made it the 'great game'.

It is precisely Goosen's calm composure that has made him the bane of the American press since he took the US Open title at Shinnecock. Mickelson's sprayed emotions would have been so much more interesting and entertaining had he received the trophy. The American way is to let it all hangout - have a cultured smile or, if you don't have that, then at least shed a few tears. Goosen would have been daubed the 'good big-fella' if he had jumped up and down on the 18th green and launched his putter into the crowd - think of the column inches in a cracked cranium!

Just how well Goosen played at Shinnecock has been lost in the press ballyhoo about the 'unfairness' of the course. It is hard to see how a course can be 'unfair' since all contestants play the same course. But, that quibble aside, it is clear that not many of the pundits have taken time out to study Shinnecock's Open history. What transpired both in 1995 and 1986 on the fairways and greens at Shinnecock was equally controversial but gained less attention than did Pavin and Floyd after their emotive wins.

The average score at Shinnecock this year was 74.08. In 1995 it was 73.51 and in 1986 it was 74.69. For those who know the course it is interesting that holes, 1, 4, 10, 11, and 14 played 0.1 of a shot harder than in 1995. Hole 12 played 0.1 and 16 played 0.3 of a shot easier. Overall, the course was 0.5 of a shot more difficult than in 1995 but it should be known that the course has been lengthened by some 600 yards and what little wind there was blew from the north-west.

Shinnecock's greens may have been difficult, but then they always have been, and they certainly got harder as the rounds progressed. They averaged 1.67 putts per green for all rounds and on Sunday the figure was 1.73. These figures are not significantly different from 1995, and are not much different from any other Major championship. What was different about Shinnecock were the fairways and greens hit in regulation. Only 40% of the fairways were hit in the last round and the overall average was 50%: only 38% of the greens were hit on Sunday and 51% was the average for the whole week.

Now, it does not require mathematical insight to appreciate that if you hit the ball further, and you happen to hit it off-line, then the deeper you will find yourself in rough grass. Also, you don't have to be up on Young's Modulus to know that the height from which a ball alights onto a hard surface will determine how high and far the ball will bounce. Clearly, either not many pros grasped these elementary facts or they were unable to change their game to match Shinnecock's conditions. Certainly, the majority were unhappy with what was asked of them.

Goosen was not only able to modify his game to accommodate the conditions at Shinnecock, but he was also able to contain the frustrations that accompany the uncertainties of playing on a hard fast surface. Goosen is a great player and it showed at Shinnecock, just as it showed in his 4th July celebrations in Dublin.

The Smurfit Course at the K-Club in Dublin is no Shinnecock but it too was considered 'horribly difficult' in the wind. Many despaired of it and were prepared to show and voice their despair. Goosen found it small beer and showed what he thought of it by carding a 66 and then a 68 in the last round. He was apparently a reluctant starter, feeling jaded after his efforts of the week before. But, jaded or not, he managed this 'horribly difficult' course in 13 under par, five shots clear of the field - and he also managed a smile as he underlined his supremacy by holing a birdie putt on the last green.

His smile was not exactly a smile to melt ice but it was the smile of a man content with his achievement. If he can keep his current game together for another two weeks his smile will melt the polar ice cap on the last green at Troon.

©    5 - JULY 2004

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