Retief Goosen decided in 2012 that he didn’t care if he never played golf again.
It was a decision based not on any hatred for the game, but on the debilitating back injury that left him in constant pain due to a disintegrating disc in his lower back.
One of South Africa’s finest golfers and a two-time U.S. Open champion, Goosen went under the knife in August 2012, unsure if his stellar career was over.
This week Goosen was holding his own against the best golfers on the European Tour, flirting with the top-20, in the prestigious Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, the penultimate event for the Race to Dubai order of merit. It is the first time he has played Africa’s Major since 2010, having won the event in 2004, and it is thanks to a sponsor’s invitation.
“Obviously it’s a great feeling to be back here, especially as a past champion, Sun City is one of my favourite golf courses in the world and they’ve taken this tournament to a different level.
“It’s an added bonus just to be here because I’m nowhere in the rankings, and when I got the call it was a big ‘Yes!’. Hopefully I can find some form, you never know, when you come back to somewhere you like, you tend to find some form.
“My health is very good though, the back is as good as it’s ever been. I wish I’d had the surgery much earlier. Having no pain is a major plus and everything about the back is better since the operation. I’m able to sleep again without any pain. At one stage I didn’t care if I never played golf again as long as I could get rid of the pain, I would have done anything to stop the constant pain,” Goosen said this week.
”It was impossible to go through 18 holes without getting spasms in the back and struggling to hit some shots on certain lies. At that stage, I pretty much felt like my career was over.”
Even though the titanium disc inserted in his back – he was the first professional golfer to undergo the procedure – has made him feel 10 years younger, Goosen says golf is now more of a pastime than a career for him.
“I’ve made my living so now I’m going to try and live life. Spend more time with Tracy and the kids (Leo and Ella), enjoy the things that I had to pass on before. Golf is definitely not the number one priority in my life anymore. My 48th birthday is coming up in February and, although it was initially not easy cutting back, I’m now enjoying the few tournaments I do play, I’m not fighting myself so much.
“I’ve cut back my schedule, I’m definitely not playing 30 events a year. This year I’ll only play 16-18 tournaments and something similar next year. In a couple of years I’ll qualify for the Senior Tour and then who knows?” Goosen said.
The Polokwane product also owns a wine farm and a course-design business, as well as running a charitable foundation.
His wine estate, Ganzekraal, is the only wine farm in the Upper Langkloof district, located high in the Outeniqua mountain range, and is currently regarded as the coldest wine farm in the country. It is close to the coast and the cold sea breezes blow over the mountains and through the vineyards. The cold climate gives the grapes and his range of Goose wines unique characteristics.
The laconic Goosen is famous for his unflappable demeanour and, during his prime as one of the best golfers in the world in the early 2000s, he was much admired for the way he treated those twin imposters of success and failure with the same equanimity.
He has not won on the European Tour since 2007 and is winless in America since 2009, his world ranking having dropped to 189.
But Goosen remains a much-respected and admired golfer and his place in the record books as one of South Africa’s greatest is secure. He remains a drawcard and golf would be the poorer without him.