Is the Goose losing a bit of his gold?
Retief Goosen has won the US Open twice and used to be one of the Big Five. For the last couple of years, however, he has been slipping down the World Rankings. Have we seen the best of the 38-year-old South African, or is there more to come?
Having been in the top-10 of the world rankings for years, you are now drifting and are presently 25th. What one part of your game do you put this down to?
My putting hasn’t really clicked for a couple of years now. For whatever reason, I just haven’t holed the putts. But then again, if you keep hitting it 40 feet away, you’re not going to hole that many.
What putter are you using now?
I’ve still got my old ‘Yes’ putter. I tried a MacGregor one a bit last year which wasn’t too bad.
Have you ever tried a broomhandle?
I did for the first time in my life at the Barclays at Westchester and on the 1st green in the first round I holed this 20-footer and thought ‘Good God, why haven’t I used this before?’ But it went downhill after that. In fact, that was the only putt I made all week. I actually liked it on short putts, but on mid to long range ones it felt really awkward. I struggled with my pace with it. It’s sometimes good just to try something new to change your mindset, and realise that what you’ve been doing in the past is actually pretty good. I haven’t been reading greens that well either. When you start puting badly, you start to doubt your reading of greens.
Is your schedule for 2008 much the same as 2007?
I’m not going to play quite as much in the Middle East this year. With my kids starting school now, I just don’t see myself crossing the world twice a month any more. But, I will play a bit in the Middle East and then have a run of about six events in the States, until after the Masters. I really do feel my game is turning round. I started to play well at the end of last year at the Presidents Cup. Even though I lost to Angel [Cabrera] in the singles, I played well. This year I’m going in with a new frame of mind.
How was the Presidents Cup?
It was disappointing that we lost so badly, but the atmosphere between the teams was great. Woody’s [Austin] dive into the lake was funny. He played brilliantly after that, so it probably woke him up. And then he put the goggles on the next day. They’ll probably put a plaque for him there and a sign saying ‘Beware, Deep (Woody) Waters’.
Will Gary [Player] and Jack [Nicklaus] continue as captains for ever?
I don’t know. I’ve got a feeling that Gary and Jack may have done their bit. Maybe they’ll do one more but I think it might be time for somebody else to have a go.
How was the FedEx Cup for you?
I think the whole thing was a bit of a mess. People weren’t quite sure what was going on. The points system was so confusing and you needed a calculator to make sense of it all. If I was the Commissioner I would break up the four ‘playoff’ events, with a break in the middle, which I see he’s now done. They’ll tweak the points system to make that work. Personally, I was disappointed not to make it to the last two events.
How is the FedEx Cup going to effect the European Tour?
I think it might work well for Europe. I probably played more in Europe than I’ve ever done before.
Jos Vanstiphout famously helped you recover from your short missed putt in the 2001 US Open. Have you been tempted to go back to him?
I haven’t worked with Jos now for over three years. There are times when you think about it, but I’ve decided to sort my swing out first. I knew there were faults in my golf swing. It’s easy to think positively when you are hitting the ball well; but very tough when you don’t.
Do you have a personal trainer?
No. I don’t need one. I go to the gym about three or four times a week, but I don’t need someone to hold my hand as I get on a treadmill. A physio is probably what I need more. Golf is now a sport for athletes, so the gym is important; but I think I’m still in reasonably good shape.
You must have thought after winning in Qatar at the beginning of last year, it was going to be a great year?
It’s funny because I thought I’d lost the tournament in Qatar, when I didn’t birdie the 16th, a driveable par-4, in the final round. My tee shot there, with a 3-wood, went over the green and I chipped and two-putted for a par; and that was the end in my mind. But then I got to within a stroke of Nick [O’Hern] my playing partner, by birdying the 17th. Then, at the par-5 18th, I hadn’t hit the fairway all week; and I hit a perfect draw down the right. Nick hit a bad drive, and that’s when you start to believe again. I hit my second onto the fringe at the back of the green, and after Nick had missed his birdie putt, I had a 35-footer for victory. It’s amazing in a situation like that, when you have a putt for the title, how your mindset suddenly changes and how clearly the line of the putt suddenly came to me. I knew once I got over it exactly where I wanted to hit it, and once it got over the ridge I could see it was going to be close. But, you’re right, after that things went less well.
After two rounds of the Masters – 76, 76 – you must have thought you were going home?
I did. At the end of the day, it was all because of Zach Johnson that I made the cut in the first place. If he hadn’t three-putted the 16th from two feet on the Friday, I would have missed the cut, for sure. At that stage I was hitting the ball poorly with a new set of clubs, and I decided to go back to my old ones (racs TP). I made a nice birdie at the 1st on the Saturday and from then on I was just going up the leaderboard. The tough conditions helped me and I shot 69 to be 8th going into the final round. Then I was 4-under on the front nine on Sunday and despite missing a short birdie putt on the 9th, I found myself tied for the lead. The weird thing is I actually played the back nine better than I played the front, because I hit all nine greens in regulation; but I had 19 putts which wasn’t clever. My three-putt on the 12th ultimately cost me the tournament, but it was a definite chance of a Green Jacket, and I’ve had a few chances there recently.
The rest of your year, after that, was a touch disappointing.
I wasn’t hitting the ball well and never really felt comfortable with my swing. In fact, my swing started to break down a bit at the end of 2004, the year I won my second US Open at Shinnecock Hills. I’m actually now beginning to feel more comfortable than I have for a long time. I am feeling like I am just beginning to play quite nicely. I’ve worked with Gregor Jamieson for just over a year now. He is the pro at Lake Nona, in Florida, where I have a house. At the moment I am working on my swing plane. When things are going badly, I tend to get a little bit across the line at the top of my backswing and a bit shut. So, I’m really trying to get it square at the top now.
You’ve won two US Opens. If I offered you a Green Jacket or a Claret Jug, which would you take?
A Claret Jug. The British Open is my primary goal now. Then Augusta. I’ve had some good finishes at the British Open, but I’ve always had that one bad round, which has cost me. I’ve finished right up there at Augusta for the last six years. The USPGA has been my worst event for some reason.
Is it the heat you don’t like?
Not really. Tulsa last year was hot, but I played well there, I just didn’t putt well. I don’t know what it is.
Have you got your wife, Tracy, playing yet?
She asked for a set of clubs recently but she likes her tennis more. I play with her a bit but my passion is water ski-ing.
Can you ski on one leg?
Yes. I can slalom quite well. But I’m not as brutal as I used to be. When I was younger I used to throw myself around a lot more, but I’m getting old. No acrobatics any more. My insurance doesn’t cover me. I actually haven’t had my own boat out for a while because I haven’t had time, so I hope it still floats. I definitely want to go this year, because now the kids are old enough to enjoy it a bit more, even if they just go behind the boat in a tube.
What about snow ski-ing?
I’ve been once but it wasn’t a great success because I came back with a broken arm.
Tell us about the course in Ireland you’ve designed.
It’s at Carriglass Manor just outside Longford Town. It’s set on a 600-acre walled estate. Development was delayed slightly with the golf course last year because of all the rain. It was supposed to open this summer, but we’re probably going to put the official opening back a couple of months.
I’ve also got another five possible courses in South Africa. We’re just starting work on a couple of them. Two are in George, two up north and we’ve got plans of building one in my home town of Pietersburg. The problem there is water. It gets very dry and 90% of the time you are only allowed to water the greens and the tees. I’d like to leave some sort of mark behind. It would be good to think of something that would let people know straight away that this was a Retief Goosen course. Maybe I’ll put a little goose-shaped bunker on each of them.
Rumour has it you’re about to buy a house in Portugal. Given that you’ve already got houses in South Africa, London and Lake Nona, why do you need another?
This opportunity came up with Oceanico, who sponsor me. It’s such an easy trip down to Portugal from London and the weather is a lot better down there. So, I can envisage us coming down with the kids for long weekends and so on.
Does the weather in London get you down?
No, not really. You know, with global warming, London could be a big holiday destination not too long from now.
When you’re not getting the results you want, do you find yourself working harder or less hard on the practise ground?
Harder. You’re always trying to work out what’s wrong. And that’s part of the problem. You can easily overdo it. I’m going to work my schedule around my kids holidays from now on. It’s such a good experience for them to travel across the world and so on. We have taken them on safaris and they know all the animals in Africa.
You play 30 events a year. Tiger plays 17. Would you like to play less?
That’s a difficult one. Tiger gets paid off the course just a little bit better than I do. He can afford to lie around for a bit longer than the rest of us.