Date: June 20, 2014
Author: John Sutherland

Behind the scenes: A major week with Oliver Goss

h someone playing a major. But I was lucky enough to spend seven nights staying with Western Australian amateur Oliver Goss and his team at Pinehurst for the 2014 U.S Open.

I travelled with GA High Performance Manager Matt Cutler who has worked closely with Oliver in recent years and he picked me up at 7:30am in Melbourne on Sunday morning. Our travel path was Melbourne, Sydney, Dallas and a night in Raleigh, North Carolina. Afterr two days of travel, we were nearly there.

MONDAY
We grabbed our hire car (an SUV in actual fact, which we nick-named “Canyonero” for fans of the Simpsons) at the Raleigh Durham International airport and drove the hour and a half down the North Carolina’s Claude E Pope Memorial Highway arriving mid-afternoon Monday at the house in Whispering Pines – about 15 minutes’ drive from Pinehurst Resort.
<image="3" align="left" />We were greeted at the house by Ollie (Gossy), his girlfriend Jess, mum Paula, dad Darren and coach, Ritchie Smith. Set amongst pine trees and on a small lake, my first impressions of the house were breathtaking. However, we were quick to learn that the owners of the house had some interesting tastes. I took the bedroom downstairs in the ‘dungeon’ and was immediately startled to see a female mannequin hovering beside my bed holding an axe!

We spent the day settling in which included a run to the local supermarket – no vegemite to be seen, but we made sure Team Goss wouldn’t go hungry.

Take away ribs were on the menu for Monday night as Darren had already taken a liking to this part of American culture. I tried to impress him by ordering the same, but the sheer volume of these things had me beat. Darren did it on his ear. Our major problem for the evening was that none of us could work out how to watch the Golf Channel on full screen mode. We had volume, but a grid of twenty mini screens displaying. Was Adam Scott having this same problem down the road? We doubted it.

I recorded a quick interview with Gossy for Golf.org.au and then it was off to bed. Gossy had been practicing at Pinehurst since Friday and was feeling great about his game.

TUESDAY
It was out to the course first thing Tuesday morning. Gossy had a player car for the week, so getting access to the venue was easy for him and any of his passengers. Those in the Canyonero (Darren, Ritchie, Matt and Myself) got to sample the regular fans’ experience. We drove about 20 minutes away from the course to a huge clearing in the pines where we parked in a packed MCG style carpark. I think everyone in the State of North Carolina drives an SUV! We then shuttle bussed it back to the course. This operation had clearly been done before before and ran like clock-work. Ample buses were on hand departing very regularly to keep the crowd flowing and happy.

<image="6" align="left" />When we arrived at Pinehurst Number 2, the first thing that hit me was the enormity of the complex. The marquees, the merchandise tents (which was sampled a few times through the week!), grandstands, practice facilities, eight courses etc. – Everything was Southern American style and BIG. It was only Tuesday, but the crowd was already huge. I went to the Media Centre, which could have doubled as a plane hanger, to pick up my accreditation.

<image="5" align="left" />Ollie was scheduled to have an afternoon practice round with Jason Day (they had played together also on the Saturday), but Jason couldn’t make it. So Gossy went around by himself. Friends and family are allowed to walk inside the ropes with the players for practice rounds at the U.S Open, so it was genuinely an amazing feeling when I lifted up the ropes and started walking the hallowed turf.

The course looked to me like one from Melbourne sandbelt and was very dusty under foot off the fairways. The two clear differences were the pine trees lining the fairways and the elevation of the greens. I often three putt at Albert Park Golf Club in Melbourne, I’d be eight putting here!

That night it was off to the eatery that became our local for the week – the Whispering Woods Golf Club – just up the road from our place. Who doesn’t like a chipping contest on the 18th while waiting for your meals to be served? The staff were happy for us to enjoy the facilities.

I was quickly learning that Gossy was a quintessential golf tragic and was very attuned to the historical and statistical side of the game. Whether he be out for a meal or home relaxing, his attention was never far away from the Golf Channel and he was never shy to share an insightful comment on a player’s previous outstanding performance. A true student of the game.

We were also learning that Gossy was also quite the practical joker as well. Matt, Ritchie and I stayed out a little later and when we arrived home, the weird mannequin had found its way into Matt’s room. He walked in and got the fright of his life (filmed proudly by Darren). This proved to be a theme of the week for Gossy. A good way to take your mind off golf I guess.

WEDNESDAY
Gossy was away early playing a practice round with Aussie Robert Allenby and Minnesota’s, Donald Constable. Again the experience of walking beside these guys as they played Pinehurst Number 2 is something I will never forget. I was able to take photos and film shots from meters away. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

<image="1" align="left" />It was also good to walk with Ollie’s new caddie Shane Cole. Shane, originally from Brisbane, is a great Aussie bloke and he’d spent the last eight years working with Mark O’Meara, knowledge that I’m sure will hold Gossy in good stead for the future.

We also waked a few holes with GA Rookie Squad member Brady Watt who happened to be playing his practice round with the one and only Angel Cabrera. I did share a moment with Angel as I stood on the edge of the 17th green, the only one bothering to watch him putt from about 60ft. He left it millimetres from dropping in and as he walked up to the ball he gave me a wink and smile as if to say ‘those usually drop, mate’.

<image="7" align="left" />Brady was super relaxed (in typical Brady fashion) after his recent play-off success in the qualifier at the Sectional Qualifying in Memphis which gave him entry into the field. It was good to walk and talk with Brady’s father Mick who had just jumped off a flight from Perth. You can’t miss your son’s first major! I did an interview with Brady for Golf.org.au following his round and he couldn’t wait for tomorrow to get underway.

Oliver’s new manager Bud Martin from Wasserman popped over to the house in the afternoon confirming Gossy would announce that he was turning professional at some stage in the next week.

Wanting to leave Gossy in peace the night before his big day, Matt, Ritchie and I popped into Pinehurst for dinner which was a hive of activity on the eve of the event. We settled on the Hickory Tavern on the outskirts of town. I’ve never see so many sports screen in one venue, so I wasn’t surprised when I read it had been voted runner-up in North America’s best sports bar (we actually saw Erik Compton entering their to celebrate his great week on Sunday night).

Unsurpisingly, the mannequin was in my room when we got home.

THURSDAY
The first round got underway early on Thursday (8.24am), so it was up and away early for all.

<image="9" align="left" />We watched Gossy tee off from the first and he smacked it straight down the middle.  He was playing with Aaron Baddeley and Aron Price – lots of Aussie accents around. Brady was playing a few groups later so Matt and I stayed and watched him tee off and walked the first couple of holes with him. He found out straight away just how brutal this course was and did an amazing job to save for a bogey on the first. We then walked with Gossy for the rest of his round and his 71 was a fantastic effort for a 20 year-old on such a tough course. He was buzzing when we caught up with him in the player’s lounge for a bite afterwards.

Brady was a little down after his 77, but the rookie pro had done a lot better than some tour veterans. And he’d get the chance to turn things around tomorrow.

Adam Scott wasn’t thrilled with his 73, but the media wanted to chat to him anyway. He popped in to the ‘Media Flash Interview Area’ and spoke to the media. Regardless of the round, the world number one’s views are always sought.

On Shane’s recommendation, the team headed out to Vito’s Italian restaurant for dinner. Mark O’Meara was to join us but was called away at the last minute. Ritchie found out that Vito’s didn’t quite do Chicken Parmagianas like the Londern Tavern in Richmond, but it was a good meal all the same. 

FRIDAY
Round two meant an afternoon tee time (2.09pm) for Gossy and boy was it hot out there.  I think I’d find an afternoon tee time annoying if I was a player. Gossy just sat around the house before heading to the range to prepare. Probably a lot of nervous energy expended.

In the morning I took the chance to walk with Bubba Watson and Adam Scott. The crowd love Bubba and the galleries were so big that it was almost impossible to see any shots. I don’t think half the people realised that he was playing with the world number one!

Unfortunately Gossy triple bogeyed his first (the tenth) and it was hard to recover from there. Again, I have never seen greens running so fast, undulating and hard to read. It was interesting watching several groups come through in the stands as the misreading of putts from similar spots was consistent. Unfortunately Gossy missed the cut, but he kept wonderfully composed and showed experienced beyond his years despite the obvious disappointment.  It wasn’t until he was back in the house and having a shower that we heard a few yells of frustration released.

Good and bad days go with the territory for every golfer I guess.

At the Flash Area I was lucky enough to grab a chat with Jason Day who had just carded a 68 and was in good spirits.

;

Of the eleven Aussie who teed off, only Scotty, Jason and Badds had made the cut. It was brutal.

SATURDAY
Ritchie and Gossy headed out pretty early to the range at Pinehurst 7. They went through the round hole-by-hole and practiced thing that didn’t quiet go to plan. By the time they got back spirits were high again. No good crying over spilt milk when you are 20!

World Number 1 amateur Minjee Lee and her mother Clara arrived the house to prepare for the U.S Women’s Open (also on Pinehurst No. 2) the following week. They were in very good form considering they’d come from Perth, pretty much the direct opposite side of the world. Minjee is a seasoned traveller though and impressively went and hit balls almost straight away.

Without Gossy or Brady playing, Matt and I got to sit in the grandstand on the par 5 fifth and watch all of the leading groups come through. On our on-course radios, we heard that runaway leader Martin Kaymer was in trouble on four, but had escaped with a great bogey. He promptly stepped up and eagled the fifth in front of us! Unstoppable.

I managed to catch Scotty’s press conference again in the flash area. After a 73 he was really out of contention. In fact the way Kaymer was playing everyone in the field was.

Then it was straight to a team dinner that Gossy had organised for his last night at the Outback Steakhouse in Southern Pines. This place is genuinely amusing for an Australian, as I don’t think they had ever had a real Australian come through there.

It was great to have Minjee and Clara part of things now before Gossy departed for the Travelers and everyone wished here well. The highlight was a rousing speech from Ritchie with the sentiment of Gossy turning pro not lost on him. His charger was becoming a man!
<image="2" align="left" />SUNDAY
Sunday morning meant more practice for Ollie and Minjee with Ritchie. It would be the last Gossy would see of Ritchie for a while as he was heading back to Australia on the Thursday. I caught up with Minjee at the course for a quick chat for www.golf.org.au about her hopes for the week. She has such high expectations now and knows she can match it with the best.

<image="4" align="left" />Matt and I walked some holes with GA Rookie Stacey Keating who had arrived at Pinehurst for the Women’s US Open, but left for home before the event finished as we knew that was our only chance of seeing any of the action. The galleries were huge again.

We grabbed Ollie for a piece to camera on the jetty out the front of our house about him going pro and then it was time to say goodbye. Gossy, Jess and Shane departed for Conneticut, on a chartered jet the Travelers Championship had organised for the players about 8pm (there is an airstrip just near Pinehurst). It’s a tough life.

It was my last night so it was a quite one watching the Golf Channel with Minjee.

MONDAY
It was time to go for Darren, Paula and I. None of us were thrilled about the long haul flight ahead, but I was happy for once that I lived in Melbourne and not Perth.
<image="8" align="left" />Darren and I had some time to have a look in Pinehurst’s golf museum which put everything we had experienced all week in perspective. From Putter boy to Payne Stewart, the place is steeped in history. It's easy to see where Gossy gets his love of golf from. Darren is a tragic also and can seriously play (off three).

I was so tired by the time I got on my flight out of Raleigh the I didn’t even pick up on the fact that Adam Scott’s caddie Steve Williams had sat down beside me until the flight was over. Straight to sleep after a truly amazing experience…