In a New York state of mind

Retif Goosen put the golf clubs to one side after his US Open win, and fears his game may pay the price at the European Open. Charlie Mulqueen reports from Staffan.

THE CONVENTIONAL wisdom suggesting Retief Goosen won his second US Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills with his head as much as his golf clubs was reinforced yesterday by his first press conference since his New York triumph.

Goosen has arrived in Co Kildare for the €3.3m Smurfit European Open over the new South Course at The K-Club. He seems to regret his decision to play here, having entered before developments at Shinnecock Hills, but he intends to make the best of it over the next four days. His calm and reticent exterior played a huge role when the most serious questions were asked at Shinnecock, it's not something that surprised him.

"You are nervous but you tend to get in such a rhythm and you are focusing so much that in a way you forget your nerves", he claimed.

"The more you put yourself in positions to win, the more you get used to playing under those circumstances. My caddy Colin [Byrne, from Howth] was very good at Shinnecock.He was almost trying to calm me down too much. Walking down the fairway, he was asking what I did last night and stuff like that and he was getting a very short answer back. But he was very good, he never buckled in any way. He's very experienced."

It may have been forgotten by now but Goosen won the European Tour School in 1992 and finished 2nd in his first tournament in '93, the Dubai Classic. But despite such a sound pedigree, he scarcely imagined this day would come: "You get on tour, you finish second first time and you feel you can do anything. But things change quickly. There are new golf courses and you have to get used to the travelling and you might start changing clubs and stuff. Then the swing might go and it's a real struggle to get back. So I worked with Sam Frost on the swing back in South Africa and with Jos (Vanstiphout, the Belgian from whom he has now parted).

"There are times like any other players when you stand there and wonder if you are ever going to win again. This game can get you down if you are not playing well. This year I felt I was playing okay but not getting up there on a Sunday so you do wonder when it all going to come together for you. But you have to keep working at it and you have to believe that you have done it before and you will do it again. It has been a slow road but it is all turning out nicely.

"It's been a manic time since the (Sunday) night (of the Open)", Goosen admitted. "I'm still pretty tired and perhaps I'm not ready for this week and should have waited for the Scottish Open. The first time I've been able to relax was at Wimbledon on Saturday and a few drinks at Ernie's [Els] on Sunday. The first time I unpacked the golf bag was here yesterday. The clubs are all in there, a bit rusted maybe, but hopefully in the same shape as they were ten days ago. I am hoping to take it easy this week and have a nice stroll around."

A remark which, of course, you take with a pinch of salt, given the competitive nature of a man who has won two major championship and several tournaments all over the world. Indeed, he turned up here on Tuesday in time to play nine holes and reacted to a course he hadn't previously seen: "It looked good and we are obviously going to have pretty normal Irish weather for the week with a bit of rain which will make things tricky. I think it would be a nice course to play in good weather but there are going to be a lot of tough holes out there. There is normally no shortage of water in Ireland and there's a lot around on this course."

THE few little digs about the Irish weather, it has to be admitted, were warranted considering the strong wind and squally showers that swept over the course during yesterday's pro-am. And The Goose was also as forthcoming as his reserved nature will allow. He was more than happy to look back over his week at Shinnecock Hills and to talk about how he refused to allow the crowd's needling and jingoistic support of Phil Mickeson to get to him.

"Probably Ernie or some of the other guys might have noticed it more because a lot of the time I was so involved in my game that I didn't pick up much of what was going on", he revealed. "They were cheering for their players and that is normal. I am used to it by now and to the fact that they cheer on their own players and try to intimidate the others. But I have gone past that, it doesn't really affect me. You expect that from New York crowds. Someone did make a bad remark but that only makes you determined to show what he is trying to do isn't working. By 8pm they've had a gallon of beer, so it is going to catch up with them a little bit."

The manner in which Goosen coped with the idiosyncrasies of Shinnecock on the final day, especially his succession of crucial putts down the stretch, has earned well merited and new found respect from the golfing community.

"I think the course was fair", he maintained. "There was one hole which was pretty much unplayable, the 7th, and it didn't matter where they put the flag on that green. It is just one big slope. But I hit perfect shots in there every day so I didn't have a problem with it. When I won at Southern Hills in 2001, we also had problems with the 9th and 18th. They ended up not cutting them for the rest of the week so by the end they were the slowest on the course. They always seem to have one green which is on the limit at the US Open."

It will come as a surprise considering his staggering performance with the putter that Goosen travelled to Shinnecock close to despair about his form on the greens. He recalled how "I felt like I was hitting a lot of good putts but nothing was going in. At Shinnecock I began to get a good feel and from Friday onwards they were going in."

CONTRARY to some reports, Goosen and Els (who have won a World Cup together) remain the firmest of friends even though they didn't discuss their final afternoon together at Shinnecock during Sunday's barbecue.

"He just said he played like a ...", said Goosen, leaving it up to one's imagination to figure out what word he used to describe his disastrous round of 80. "It wasn't a nice day for Ernie but he'll be back. As for me, I suppose anybody would like to win one major and to have two under your belt is great. I actually think my better golf will come later in my career now that I have started to learn a little more about the game. I am looking forward to the next ten years, I feel maybe I can pull off a another couple.

"Everybody talks about the Grand Slam but it's not until you win a major that you think you have a chance. It's a long way to go and I'm not worrying about it at present. When I get two or three in a row, I'll think about it then. But I do think it is achievable. Phil got off to a good start and played well at Shinnecock but just didn't pull it off. So it can be done but you have to have a lot of luck on your side to do it these days."

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