By Travis Puterbaugh, Curator
On the final hole of the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club, Retief Goosen and Stewart Cink both sat atop the leaderboard at even par. On Goosen’s second shot, he hit what should have been remembered as the defining shot of the tournament, if not his career.
Instead, the magnificent 6-iron he hit to within 12 feet of the hole served only as a prelude to a dramatic unraveling that is still discussed when a leader needs only to two-putt to close out a U.S. Open.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t nervous,” Goosen said, following the round.
For Goosen, that moment on the 18th green is one which could have forever scarred his career — think Jean van de Velde and his notorious 18th hole collapse at the Open Championship in 1999 — but the outcome is one of the reasons for which he has earned induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Goosen had played spectacular golf in the final round, building on a solid performance in which he led after the first round and shared leads at the end of both the second and third rounds. He missed a fairway and made bogey only once in regulation – on the 16th hole of the first round. Goosen put himself in position to win with his sterling play on Saturday, when during a seven-hole stretch, he managed to make par each time despite missing six greens. A 10-time winner on the Sunshine and European Tours, Goosen was seeking to break through with his first win in the United States and on the PGA TOUR.
The 18th hole presented one final challenge for the South African. Sloped from the back to the front, the 18th played at a slower speed than all but one other hole on the course. Goosen bogeyed the hole Friday and settled for par in the first and third rounds. Unbeknownst to Goosen at the time, no winner had ever parred the 72nd hole in the five prior Majors played at Southern Hills.
He needed to do just that in order to guarantee victory.
Mark Brooks – playing two groups ahead of Goosen and Cink – three-putted from 50 feet, seemingly dissolving his chance of winning the U.S. Open. When Cink imploded to card a double-bogey six, the stage had been set for Goosen to two-putt and ride off into the Tulsa sunset.
Goosen’s first putt for birdie rolled two feet past the hole. When he missed his second coming back — a two-foot putt — loud gasps could be heard in the gallery and in living rooms around the world. A miss on his third attempt, which was longer than his second, would have gift-wrapped the U.S. Open to Brooks. Instead, Goosen regained his composure and sank the putt to force an 18-hole Monday playoff.
“I recall feeling complete, utter empathy, sadness and sympathy for him in the immediate moment and overnight,” recalls Golf Channel commentator Jaime Diaz, who was onsite at Southern Hills. “I had my doubts that he was going to be able to recover from that. Yet, it just shows what really good players and Major Champions can handle. He got his mind right and played very well the next day.”
In the playoff against a dangerous opponent in Brooks, Goosen erased any doubts about whether he could recover from such a disappointment by posting seven one-putts on the front nine and taking a three-shot lead on the 10th hole with a birdie to take advantage of a bogey by Brooks. He extended the lead to five with seven to play when the same scenario played out on the next hole.
Brooks fought his way back to within two strokes, but he simply ran out of holes. Goosen held on to win the playoff by two strokes, thus avoiding having to play the “what-if game” over losing the U.S. Open.
“I just feel like it’s the hardest thing in the world closing out a Major Championship – especially a U.S. Open – because it’s the most penal,” Diaz says. “The punishment is much more severe. What he did was one of the greatest turnarounds from a really traumatic moment, to recovering and putting together a really solid round the next day against a gritty opponent on a really tough golf course.”