He was wearing sunglasses in which you could see your reflection and sporting a white shirt so clean you could dine off it. If he looked like an elfin Belgian pop star from the early '70s, still working under the same hairstyle, that's because he is. On the balcony, though, he was trying to calm the folks from IMG, who were jumpy about their client Retief Goosen.
This was a year ago, on a Monday morning at Southern Hills, in Tulsa. The day before, Goosen had missed a two-foot putt on the final hole that would have won the U.S. Open, and now the 18-hole playoff against Mark Brooks was about to begin. "Don't worry, my friends," Jos Vanstiphout told the IMG suits. "He'll win big time. Don't you worry. He's going to win, win, win. Big, big, big time." Vanstiphout (pronounced VAN-steh-foot) won't say whether or not he had his fingers crossed for good luck as he spoke.
Goosen's Sunday stutter may not have made him the poster boy for serene golf that Vanstiphout had hoped, but Goosen's performance that Monday was certainly good for business. He required only 12 putts over the first 10 holes, and his two-shot victory over Brooks would bring one golfer after another to the wee Belgian's door, looking for help.
Five years ago, when Vanstiphout was almost broke, subsisting as a golf guru whom nobody would listen to, his brother, Emiel, called and asked Jos to work for him in his recycling business. "No way," said Jos. "I know you think I'm crazy, but I'm going to be Number 1 in five years. Number 1, man."
Two years later, after Vanstiphout had started working with Goosen, the brothers had another phone conversation. Goosen was not well known, but he had a nice swing. He had grown up in South Africa and was one of many harmless milquetoasts on the European tour, winning an occasional tournament just to stay in the game. "The moment after I spoke with Retief for the first time, I called my brother and said, 'That guy is going to make me famous,' " says Vanstiphout. "I saw his talent. God-given talent. That's one thing, but up here"—Vanstiphout taps his temple—"was easy to fix. Well, maybe not so easy, but I knew I could handle anything up there."
Goosen, who was recovering from a skiing accident and willing to try anything to resurrect his game, remembers being more tentative in that first meeting. "Jos was interesting and persistent," Goosen says. "I decided to try him out for a couple of months. He said, 'O.K., give me a couple of months, and we'll see if it's helpful to you. Then we'll talk about payment.' I thought, This guy has a bit of belief in himself. After two months I was pretty happy. Two-and-a-half years later we're still going."
The relationship has been one small step for Goosen, one giant step for the 51-year-old Vanstiphout, whose evolution from musician to guru is now complete.
You probably don't remember the funky stylings of The Mayfair Set, an early 1970s Belgian rock group. Vanstiphout, who plays the guitar and keyboards, started working in the music business when he was 14. He recalls how The Mayfair Set came within the width of a guitar pick of being his ticket to the big time. The band's seminal hit was a catchy little number called Rain. Later, Vanstiphout fronted another group, Jeremia. "We went to a festival in Tokyo in 1973," he says. "It was a contest. We didn't make the final, but it was a big deal, playing in the Budokahn for 70,000 people. Afterward we toured Canada and Alaska, and we brought out an LP."
By the time he was in his mid-20s, however, Vanstiphout was out of the music business and working for a newspaper publisher in Belgium while going to school at night. Soon he was training managers and reps and CEOs in what he called personal dynamics. But by 1994 he was bored stiff, so he took up golf. Not long afterward he went to his bank, withdrew $44,000 and began the second half of his life.
These days you'll find Vanstiphout on the putting greens and practice ranges of the European tour. He's the one being trailed by a flock of impatient pros who have been known to bicker over who is entitled to his services first. His day begins at sunrise or soon after, when his first anxious pro shows up at the practice area. It ends when the last of them is ready to go home. He has an ex-wife somewhere and a 27-year-old son, who sometimes comes to see him. Otherwise, this is his life.