PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. – Just as he did during four years in Minnesota, European Tour player Erik van Rooyen is making himself at home in golf's major championships six years after he last played for the Gophers.
At age 29, van Rooyen has played two major championships, both in the past year. He finished tied for 17th in last summer's British Open at Carnoustie and tied for eighth in last month's PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
Now he comes to Pebble Beach Golf Links for the 119th U.S. Open no longer an unknown name in a 156-man field when he tees off at 8:56 a.m. Twin Cities time Thursday.
"You know all the faces now, you know how to tackle these golf courses now," he said. "I'm very comfortable."
His 4-under-par 67 put him on the first-round leaderboard at Carnoustie and tied for second by day's end on his way to that top-20 finish. Then he did that one better with a top-10 finish at the PGA Championship after he shot a final-round 73 paired with Jordan Spieth and moved up four places, nine shots behind winner Brooks Koepka.
A deft ball striker who plays the ball low, van Rooyen impressed rising PGA Tour star Harold Varner III at Bethpage, even if Varner didn't know his last name until they were paired in Saturday's third round.
"He's really good, man," Varner said then.
Van Rooyen called his play at Carnoustie "great on many levels" and Bethpage "lovely as well."
"It was a good confidence booster as well, to get a feel for how majors are played, how it's different," van Rooyen said. "I think I've learned a lot the last 12 months."
It's far from his four years in Minnesota. He left home in South Africa a teenager a decade ago to attend the University of Minnesota. During his freshman year, he met a Minnesotan woman, Rose, whom he'd marry.
"Same dormitory, basically been together ever since then," he said. "I came out way on top."
He reached the NCAA regionals three consecutive years and finished second in the Big Ten championship his senior year, 2013. He also won the 2012 Minnesota State Amateur at Hastings Country Club.
"Hastings," van Rooyen said, smiling. "I remember that really well."
This week, he has played nine-hole practice rounds beside Stillwater Cove at Pebble Beach.
"It's stunning, whatever I was hoping it'd be," he said. "It's really beautiful. Being from South Africa, we're pretty blessed with some beautiful places, beautiful views. But this is actually stunning."
The 3M Open asked him about playing at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine next month, but van Rooyen is playing in the Irish Open that week to prepare for the British Open and earn his way onto the International team for December's Presidents Cup.
The 3M Open will move to the week after the British Open next year.
"If it's in a different slot, I'd love to go play there," he said. "It's a home away from home for me."
He might say the same about major championships come Sunday with another high finish, particularly after he tied for 20th at last week's Canadian Open.
"Last week, I proved it again," he said. "I didn't finish the way I wanted to, but my game is exactly where it needs to be to go out and win a tournament like this. Everybody's goal is to win this tournament. How we do it, that's going to be the difference."