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Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2001

South Africa awaits champion

Mandela plans welcome for U.S. Open winner Goosen

June 20, 2001

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— Nelson Mandela is waiting for Retief Goosen to come home.

Goosen, like compatriots Gary Player and Ernie Els before him, is now a U.S. Open champion, and a sports hero in South Africa.

President Thabo Mbeki and Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour sent congratulatory messages to Goosen on Tuesday.

Goosen won an 18-hole playoff Monday, beating Mark Brooks by two strokes at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. He atoned for a blunder the day before when he botched a 2-foot putt on the final hole that would have won the title.

"We are waiting for Retief Goosen to get up so we can congratulate him for winning," Mandela said. The former president also hopes Goosen will bring his Open prize money of $900,000 back to South Africa, where investment is sorely needed.

Goosen's triumph was heralded with banner headlines, such as the Cape Times' "Golden Goose joins the greats of SA golf."

Goosen is the third South African to win the U.S. Open following Player in 1965 and Els in 1994 and 1997.

"I have known him since he turned professional, and he has grown steadily to this point," said Louis Martin, chief executive officer of the Southern Africa Tour. "It's not for nothing that his fellow pros used to say they were pleased Retief didn't know how good he was."

Fred Fensham represents Goosen for the International Management Group in South Africa.

"We had a lot of confidence in him because he is such a good match-play player, and the playoff was pure match play," he said.

Goosen will now receive an automatic invitation to South Africa's Nedbank Golf Challenge. The year-end tournament in Sun City carries a $2 million first prize.

Goosen has not been invited the past two years because winners of the majors get priority. World rankings determine the remaining positions.

"We took a lot of flak for not inviting him over the past few years," tournament director Alistair Roper said. "Now he is a major winner. ... and we can have another South African, together with Ernie Els, in the field. That's obviously good for the tournament."

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