Goosen the winner in battle of mind games

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The Independent Online

Retief Goosen takes phlegmatism to an extreme but maybe it needed someone so stoic to lose the US Open one day and win it the next. After blowing a chance of victory in regulation play, Goosen finally triumphed in an 18-hole play-off against Mark Brooks.

Goosen was able to put out of his mind the miss from two feet at Southern Hills's 18th hole on Sunday, which made the extra day necessary, and regain his normally efficient putting stroke to beat Brooks by two strokes. "I slept OK last night," Goosen said afterwards. "I felt more comfortable this morning than I did on Sunday morning."

He received good luck messages from Nick Faldo and Ernie Els, who himself had bogeyed the last hole of the US Open in 1994 before winning in a play-off. "Nick left a message last night to say he had seen what had happened and it had happened to him at times and to play hard and good luck," Goosen said. "Ernie phoned this morning and sounded fast asleep as usual. He told me it would be tough today but he gave me a big boost."

Goosen was introduced to golf at the age of 11 by his father, Theo, an estate agent and 10-handicapper. He has never had a full-time swing coach. "I've always known my swing has always been pretty good but I have never been great at the mental side."

Enter Jos Vanstiphout, a sports psychologist from Belgian with a love of golf that led him on to the European Tour five years ago. When he started few players were willing to work with him; now his couch is always booked. He has worked with Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Michael Campbell and started working with Goosen two-and-a-half years ago.

"For the first six months I had to tell him every day how good he was," Vanstiphout said. "If what happened to him on Sunday night had happened two years ago, it would have been, 'bye bye, baby'. But he has worked hard at harnessing every golfer's most powerful tool, their self-consciousness.

"When I walked into his room on Sunday night and asked him how he was, he said he was all right, and I knew he was. He said he now knew he could beat all the rest and that would be the positive thing he would take away from the day. It was the first time he had ever said that."

Vanstiphout preached patience in the play-off, "to walk and not run". Goosen said: "Jos told me to forget about Sunday because what happened was gone and was not going to happen again. I told myself that today was a new day."

The tradition in the US Open of playing an 18-hole play-off the following day probably helped Goosen in that he was able to regroup after the remarkable climax to the fourth round. "We were all a bit shaken at what happened," he said. "It gave me a chance to relax and reflect on what happened."

Perhaps, crucially, Goosen was even able to laugh at Sunday's hiccup, at least with hindsight while holding the US Open Championship Cup. "It was pretty funny," he said. "I guess it will be up there with some of the other disasters. I thought about [Jean] Van de Velde [Open at Carnoustie in 1999] and how you can play great for 71 holes and it all comes down to the last hole.

"That's how golf is. I laughed at myself about missing that putt. I couldn't believe it happened. The third putt to get in the play-off was probably more difficult.

"This means everything to win. I suppose I am surprised at myself but it was going to happen at some stage.

"Winning a major doesn't make me a great player but this has been a great learning week. I have probably never had enough self-confidence in myself but there was a lot of pressure this week after leading from the opening round and I was able to handle it."

In doing so Goosen perpetuated two Southern Hills US Open traditions, of the champion leading from the first round and bogeying the last hole. Had he safely two-putted on Sunday evening the latter would have been broken.