FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Two former Gophers gathered with their friends and family members by the clubhouse at Bethpage Black on Sunday night for one last group photo.
Erik van Rooyen had just finished in a tie for eighth place in the PGA Championship. He played his final round alongside three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, and finished tied with Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Gary Woodland, Matt Kuchar and Shane Lowry.
His friend and former Gophers teammate Alex Gaugert had caddied for him. They were headed to the airport for a European Tour stop in Denmark, after a week that only heightened van Rooyen’s career expectations.
“It was a long week,’’ he said. “But a really cool experience … It was really fun to be here and we’ll be back.’’
Van Rooyen shot rounds of 70, 68, 70 and 73, his final-round score indicative of rising winds that gave even winner Brooks Koepka trouble. The South African has played in one other major, scoring a tie for 17th at the 2018 British Open.
“I don’t know what this means for my career,’’ he said, repeating the question. “It’s probably not going to be a blip, to be honest. I’m just happy I played well today. Today was a little tricky. Momentum was going a little bit the other way.’’
He felt unlucky to make bogey at No. 12 after hitting two solid shots, then bounced back with consecutive birdies, making a 40-foot putt on No. 14. He credited Gaugert with helping him keep his cool.
“Alex was incredible today, just keeping me calm and telling me to stay in the moment,’’ van Rooyen said. “I made some nice putts on the par-5 and par-3 going in. Pity about the bogey at 17 but I grinded it out. So: Happy.’’
Gaugert said he began caddying for van Rooyen seven weeks ago. “He’s knocking,’’ Gaugert said. “Playing with him in college and seeing where his game has evolved to now, he’s an incredible player. And for me, as a friend, he’s a better person. I enjoy seeing his success and that it hasn’t changed him as a person. That’s pretty cool to see.’’
Spieth shot a 71, tying him for third. “I had never met Jordan, had only heard stories,’’ van Rooyen said. “Jordan’s a great guy. It was a lot of fun playing with him. When you hit a good shot he says great shot, and he’s just a pleasant guy to be around. It was good. It was cool to see he’s an absolute fighter who grinds out every shot. It’s something you could emulate.’’
Van Rooyen wants to emulate that attitude in the U.S. “I want to get to the PGA Tour,’’ he said. “Right now, the European Tour is where we are. We’re heading to Denmark tonight, so we’ll go take care of business next week. The PGA Tour is where we want to be and if we keep playing like this we’ll be here in no time.’’