While South African golf fans will be focusing their attention on next week’s Masters, Retief Goosen will be what he always is in this week’s Valero Texas Open – quiet and focused, and that could make him dangerous.
It is the second year in a row that Goosen is missing from the field at Augusta National – his world ranking has slipped in the wake of a 2012 which saw him eventually go for back surgery for long term issues that had plagued his game.
“At that point my back was so messed up I pretty much couldn’t play anymore anyway,” he said earlier this year. “It was impossible to go through 18 holes without getting spasms in the back and struggling to hit some shots on certain lies.”
The disintegration of discs in his spine got so bad ahead of the decision to have disc replacement surgery that he was not sure he had a future in golf: “For me the decision was not easy, but in a way I just felt it could only be better,” he said. “I didn’t think my back could get any worse. At that stage I pretty much felt like my career was over. I couldn’t hit the ball anymore; I couldn’t practice.”
The return to full Goosen glory is going to be a painstaking one. “It took me about four and a half months before I started hitting my first ball back in South Africa. A week after I started hitting balls I started hitting drivers.
“I played my first event in South Africa which was the Volvo Champions. It was quite exciting. I struggled to walk the four rounds, but my back felt great. Never had any issues in my back.
“My focus is to play a full schedule in America this year and get back into the swing of things,” he added.
He has played six events this year on the PGA Tour in the US ahead of this week’s event in San Antonio. His best finish was a share of ninth at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and in the four cuts he has made, he has one other top-25 to his credit.
So his Texas outing is going to give him some important feedback on progress made, but he will be a little envious of the likes of Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Ian Poulter and Matt Kuchar who are using the event as a tune-up for the Masters.
“My goal is to get back in the majors and the World Golf Championship events and try to move up in the world rankings as quick as possible,” he said. “You need to be strong, hit it a long way to win those. Maybe the nerves get to you a little bit as you get older.
“But Ernie did okay in his 40s, and so did many other players. If you space things out – and I feel like I’m in good shape now – you can play well.”
With two seconds and two third-place finishes in the Masters on his record, it certainly seems he can win at Augusta National. Just not this year. Texas may have to do for Goosen for now.