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Retief Goosen says staying calm requires work

Some people think Retief Goosen started to control his emotions on the course after being struck by lightning as a teenager.

The 36-year-old South African, a two-time U.S. Open champion, doesn't necessarily agree.

"My mum thinks it was the lightning, but I don't know," said Goosen. "It happened over a period of time.

"I was a pretty bad-tempered boy. I remember once breaking three clubs in nine holes," he said. "But I had to pay for the shafts with my pocket money, so I learned not to break them anymore. I just threw them."

Two years in the army also helped him learn to be more disciplined, he added.

Goosen also credited Jos Vanstiphout, the Belgian sports psychologist who has worked with Ernie Els and current U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, among others.

"I worked on my temper and worked with Jos from 1998 to 2002 on the mental side of the game," said Goosen, who was nearly 17 when he was hit by lightning while playing golf at Leopard Creek Golf Club in northern South Africa.

He woke up in a hospital and recovered fully, but he still keeps the mangled clubs and tattered clothes as a reminder.

Bernhard Langer, also known for his reserve on the course, thinks how you act on the course is all a matter of personality.

"Retief is the 'Iceman,' nothing bothers him," Langer said. "He reminds me of Bjorn Borg.

"Things never really bothered me, either," the two-time Masters winner added. "With someone like Lee Trevino or Seve Ballesteros, it's different. Tell Lee to stay quiet for a few hours and he probably couldn't hit a ball straight."

Surviving the lightning strike has often been used to explain why the South African was such a good finisher at the majors. At the 2004 U.S. Open, he held off a charging Phil Mickelson with his sure shotmaking, boosting that reputation.

But his blowup at this year's U.S. Open may dent that -- Goosen led by three strokes until a final-round 81. That tied for the worst score by the third-round leader in the major's history, tumbling him into a tie for 11th.

Goosen finished up the year ranked fourth in the world, won four times around the world -- most recently at the South African Airways Open -- and finished in the top six at the other majors.

But that U.S. Open disappointment still lingers.

"I really haven't been happy with the way things have been going," he said. "Yes, I'm getting my game back on track, but I feel I've been playing below standard for this last year."

There was nothing substandard about his final day at the South African Airways Open, where he edged compatriot Ernie Els for his third national championship in his home country.

Goosen started the final day with a three-shot lead, but bogeyed the first and, despite birdies at the fourth and ninth, was only one clear of Els at the turn after Els carded three birdies.

It looked like the turning point would come on the 12th when Els took a double-bogey 6 after pulling his second shot into a water hazard, allowing Goosen to open up a three-shot cushion. But Els birdied three of the next four holes to draw level and looked set to capitalize when Goosen overshot the green on the par-3 17th.

"I didn't have much of a shot because my ball was in a bad lie on a hard surface," explained Goosen. "At best I was hoping to get within three yards of the pin, so I was shocked when it went in" for a one-shot lead.

There was still time for more drama on the 18th after Els played a superb approach to within four feet of the flag.

Goosen's second shot bounced over the green, but he putted up to three feet and, after Els' eagle putt clipped the hole and stayed out, Goosen holed out to claim the final victory on the 2005 golf calendar.

December 29, 2005

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