On the evening of Feb. 15 Retief Goosen was standing in the ballroom at Riviera Country Club sipping a cocktail and doing what he least likes to do: talk. The occasion was the announcement of Goosen's two-year deal to endorse Grey Goose vodka, so public relations chitchat was required. Goosen, notoriously shy, spoke easily about his new baby (he and wife Tracy's second child, Ella, was born in November); his new beach house in George, South Africa (he also has houses in London and Orlando); and his return to the Tour after a four-week hiatus. Someone asked, "Would you have been happier had you stayed home for a few more weeks?"
"I would've been," he said. "We were having such a good time at the beach."
The next morning, as if to prove the point, Goosen overslept and was 15 minutes late for his 6:40 tee time in the Nissan Open pro-am. Following brief conversations with Tour rules official Mark Russell and commissioner Tim Finchem, Goosen was back in his car and Riviera was in the rearview mirror. Goosen had been disqualified from the tournament without ever hitting a shot.
The DQ, mandated by the Tour's 14-month-old zero-tolerance policy on missing pro-ams, was a shame. Everyone, even Tiger Woods, was looking forward to having Goosen, the defending U.S. Open champion and the fifth-ranked player in the world, back in the mix, further enlivening what has been the most exciting West Coast swing in years. "You guys want to talk about a Big Four," Woods told reporters, "but don't forget about Goose."
That's a measure of the respect afforded Goosen, who has won 21 times worldwide and also has clearly demonstrated all the requirements needed for winning major championships. The simplicity of the 36-year-old Goosen's swing is much admired on Tour, as is his brilliant short game, but what distinguishes Goosen from his peers is his mental makeup. "He's a great putter and a great scrambler," says Vijay Singh, "but that's because of his patience. That's his real strong suit and what makes him a great tough-course player."
Says Ernie Els, a fellow South African and Goosen's closest friend, "His talent is definitely the way he keeps himself calm in strenuous conditions. He showed that last year [in the Open] at Shinnecock. We were all busy complaining about the course, but Retief simply kept quiet and did his thing. That was the difference."
Goosen's on-course calmness and off-course reticence suggest a rather dour personality. It's hard to imagine, but according to Els, Goosen is one of the funniest guys on Tour. One has to take Els's word for it, though, because Goosen rarely socializes with or even talks to any other player.
"He keeps himself to himself," says Lee Westwood, who has competed against Goosen for 11 years on the European tour. (Goosen joined the U.S. Tour full time in 2002, a year after winning his first U.S. Open.) Says Presidents Cup teammate Nick Price, "I've been with him at dinner, and if you want him to talk, you have to ask a question. He's not a big communicator."
Goosen offered a glimpse of his brand of humor at last year's Tour Championship, which he won by closing with a six-under 64 to blow by Woods and Jay Haas. Woods was asked if Goosen, when they've been paired, ever had much to say. "No, he doesn't really talk," Woods said. "We played two matches at the  Presidents Cup in South Africa, and he didn't say a single word."
The next day, when Woods's comments were repeated to him, Goosen said softly, "I thought in match play you were supposed to intimidate your opponent."