For all the pageantry and history that come with the Memorial Tournament, it’s the exclusive players-only Buckeye Milkshakes at Muirfield Village that can kick-start a conversation.
“Oh, they’re good — really good,” Erik van Rooyen said in a phone conversation last week before teeing off in Round 1. “Too good, actually. Not a good thing for my health. But I can go walk it off.”
Van Rooyen shook off a 4-over start in Dublin, Ohio, and made the cut over the weekend. That earned two more rounds — and more dessert — at Jack Nicklaus’ annual event.
He shed some extra calories over those 36 holes in the central Ohio heat, finishing at 3 over in firm, baked-out conditions alongside a marquee field. The tie-for-22nd finish brings with it some added confidence to this week’s 3M Open in Blaine, where van Rooyen figures to get more traditional daily fare: home cooking.
The former Gophers golfer received a sponsor exemption into the second-year event. Van Rooyen came to Minnesota 11 years ago from South Africa, met his future wife — a hockey cheerleader — while on campus and has considered the Twin Cities part of his home since.
“I’m stoked,” the 30-year-old said. “I’m obviously very grateful for the invitation. This one will be special for me because it is somewhat of a homecoming. It’s a track that I love, a track that I have so many fond memories of playing with my old teammates.
“And I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m really close with my in-laws.”
Family matters aside, van Rooyen enters the 3M in the middle of a four-week stretch that could be career-defining.
As a regular on the European Tour the past two seasons, van Rooyen has a win and four runner-up finishes. He’s climbed to No. 42 in the world, which qualifies him for the WGC-St. Jude Invitational in two weeks in Memphis. An eighth-place finish at last year’s PGA Championship secured a spot in this year’s first major, rescheduled for Aug. 6-9 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
Van Rooyen has little to gripe about. “I feel like I can win any one of these next events,” he said.
But the goal is full-time status on the PGA Tour, something he has yet to lock up. Another good showing this week and staying in contention with the big hitters in the weeks after will go a long way toward that.
“His biggest asset is he believes he is going to be on the PGA Tour for the rest of his career,” said John Carlson, van Rooyen’s coach at Minnesota from 2009-13. “He has me believing that. He has fans believing that and, really, he has South Africa believing that. He’s ready to carry that torch.”
Carlson, now the coach at Northern Illinois, stays in touch with van Rooyen on the regular. What used to be coachspeak over text or calls has turned into conversations about life.
“His regimen is as sound as I’ve seen. He doesn’t waste any time in his day,” Carlson said. “He’s living his dreams out.”
The next chapter in this real-life REM cycle begins Thursday. In non-pandemic times, van Rooyen’s rounds at the 3M Open would have been in front of large, Tom Lehman-style Gopher galleries.
Instead, van Rooyen will walk the TPC Twin Cities grounds with a lone hand-picked ally: caddie Alex Gaugert.
Van Rooyen’s best results as a professional have come with Gaugert on the bag, including a win at last summer’s Scandinavian Masters in Sweden and a tie for third at the WGC-Mexico Championship five months ago.
“He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met,” van Rooyen said of Gaugert, also a former Gophers golfer. “It took me a while to settle into a caddie, someone that worked with me really well, and Alex just keeps the pedal down. It pushes me in the right way.”
They bring a unique skill set to Blaine. Though the course underwent some changes before last year’s inaugural event, most of the layout looks as it did a decade ago when van Rooyen and Gaugert had “a ton” of access as college players.
Just another comfort of coming home.
“People kind of give me an interesting look when I tell them I’m South African and I went to play golf at the University of Minnesota,” van Rooyen said. “I want to turn that around. The mental side of any sport is so crucial. If you’re comfortable with a place it can be extremely beneficial.”