John Carlson’s phone buzzed around 10 p.m. Wednesday. Waiting in the text field was a transatlantic picture message, a sunrise photo from Carnoustie, Scotland with a description of the early-morning conditions for Round 1 of the British Open.
Several hours later, the Gophers golf coach watched on television from an ocean away as the sender of that text, Erik van Rooyen, wrapped up a near-perfect 4-under 67 in his major championship debut. The score put him tied for second with Tony Finau and Zander Lombard, one off Kevin Kisner’s lead heading into Friday’s second round.
Van Rooyen shot an even-par 71 on Friday, which put him four shots behind Kisner, who was still on the course, and two behind clubhouse leader Zach Johnson.
“I’m sure he’s nervous but he’s absolutely prepared for this,” Carlson said of van Rooyen, a South Africa native who played for the Gophers from 2009-13. “He’s always been a confident ball-striker who can play in any conditions. He hits low shots and, once he’s in a rhythm, he’s not going to miss much.”
Van Rooyen, 28, played in Thursday’s second group, teeing off at 12:46 a.m. Twin Cities time. He sent an iron shot screaming down the baked-out crusty first fairway — accented with a confident club twirl for good measure.
Van Rooyen immediately found red numbers with birdies on the first two holes.
“It is a major, but my mind-set was I’ve played a lot of golf this year already,” van Rooyen told reporters after his round. “I was quite comfortable.”
He added birdies on Nos. 6, 11 and 15 before dropping a shot with a bogey at the final hole.
He held the clubhouse lead until Kisner rattled off consecutive birdies on Nos. 13-15 and posted his 66 about 90 minutes after van Rooyen finished.
Those off in the early morning had the benefit of sitting on their scores as the winds picked up and scorecard numbers rose throughout the day.
“Erik has always set very high goals for himself and always been able to obtain them,” Carlson said.
“We’re riding this wave of emotion with him.”
Van Rooyen, the 2012 Minnesota State Amateur champion, turned pro in 2013.
He qualified for the British Open with a runner-up finish in the Joburg Open on the South Africa-based Sunshine Tour last December.
He’s played 15 events on the European Tour this season. Two weeks ago, van Rooyen held a four-shot lead after three rounds at the Rory McIlroy-hosted Irish Open but a closing 74 dropped him into a tie for fourth.
Still, as he walked up the 18th fairway at Ballyliffin Golf Club, van Rooyen won points when he wore a smile and saluted the crowd.
“That’s the Erik we know,” Carlson said. “He hasn’t changed one bit since being in Minnesota. He’s humbled by everything he’s gotten over there.”
Van Rooyen teed off in Round 2 at 5:47 a.m. Friday (Twin Cities time), about halfway through the day’s 52 groups.
The afternoon Friday crowd will be bigger, as will the expectations.
“He’s on center stage now,” Carlson said. “People are getting to know the [144th]-ranked player in the world. I’m sure he’ll try too hard at times this weekend.
“[But] he understands the moment he’s in and now he just has to stay patient out there.”
If he can make the British Open cut and play well all four rounds, it will go a long way toward van Rooyen’s ultimate goal of a spot on the PGA Tour.
He already has one tournament in particular circled for next season: the inaugural 3M Open July 4th weekend in Blaine.
“We’re going to do everything we can back here to get him in,” Carlson said.
“But he’d love to earn his way in. He’s ready for this.”