Doctor Feel Good Jos Vanstiphout is a pro at keeping European tour stars in the right frame of mind

June 09, 2002

He was wearing sunglasses in which you could see your reflection
and sporting a white shirt so clean you could dine off it. If he
looked like an elfin Belgian pop star from the early '70s, still
working under the same hairstyle, that's because he is. On the
balcony, though, he was trying to calm the folks from IMG, who
were jumpy about their client Retief Goosen.

This was a year ago, on a Monday morning at Southern Hills, in
Tulsa. The day before, Goosen had missed a two-foot putt on the
final hole that would have won the U.S. Open, and now the 18-hole
playoff against Mark Brooks was about to begin. "Don't worry, my
friends," Jos Vanstiphout told the IMG suits. "He'll win big
time. Don't you worry. He's going to win, win, win. Big, big, big
time." Vanstiphout (pronounced VAN-steh-foot) won't say whether
or not he had his fingers crossed for good luck as he spoke.

Goosen's Sunday stutter may not have made him the poster boy for
serene golf that Vanstiphout had hoped, but Goosen's performance
that Monday was certainly good for business. He required only 12
putts over the first 10 holes, and his two-shot victory over
Brooks would bring one golfer after another to the wee Belgian's
door, looking for help.

Five years ago, when Vanstiphout was almost broke, subsisting as
a golf guru whom nobody would listen to, his brother, Emiel,
called and asked Jos to work for him in his recycling business.
"No way," said Jos. "I know you think I'm crazy, but I'm going to
be Number 1 in five years. Number 1, man."

Two years later, after Vanstiphout had started working with
Goosen, the brothers had another phone conversation. Goosen was
not well known, but he had a nice swing. He had grown up in South
Africa and was one of many harmless milquetoasts on the European
tour, winning an occasional tournament just to stay in the game.
"The moment after I spoke with Retief for the first time, I
called my brother and said, 'That guy is going to make me
famous,'" says Vanstiphout. "I saw his talent. God-given talent.
That's one thing, but up here"--Vanstiphout taps his temple--"was
easy to fix. Well, maybe not so easy, but I knew I could handle
anything up there."

Goosen, who was recovering from a skiing accident and willing to
try anything to resurrect his game, remembers being more
tentative in that first meeting. "Jos was interesting and
persistent," Goosen says. "I decided to try him out for a couple
of months. He said, 'O.K., give me a couple of months, and we'll
see if it's helpful to you. Then we'll talk about payment.' I
thought, This guy has a bit of belief in himself. After two
months I was pretty happy. Two-and-a-half years later we're still
going."

The relationship has been one small step for Goosen, one giant
step for the 51-year-old Vanstiphout, whose evolution from
musician to guru is now complete.

You probably don't remember the funky stylings of The Mayfair
Set, an early 1970s Belgian rock group. Vanstiphout, who plays
the guitar and keyboards, started working in the music business
when he was 14. He recalls how The Mayfair Set came within the
width of a guitar pick of being his ticket to the big time. The
band's seminal hit was a catchy little number called Rain. Later,
Vanstiphout fronted another group, Jeremia. "We went to a
festival in Tokyo in 1973," he says. "It was a contest. We didn't
make the final, but it was a big deal, playing in the Budokahn
for 70,000 people. Afterward we toured Canada and Alaska, and we
brought out an LP."

By the time he was in his mid-20s, however, Vanstiphout was out
of the music business and working for a newspaper publisher in
Belgium while going to school at night. Soon he was training
managers and reps and CEOs in what he called personal dynamics.
But by 1994 he was bored stiff, so he took up golf. Not long
afterward he went to his bank, withdrew $44,000 and began the
second half of his life.

These days you'll find Vanstiphout on the putting greens and
practice ranges of the European tour. He's the one being trailed
by a flock of impatient pros who have been known to bicker over
who is entitled to his services first. His day begins at sunrise
or soon after, when his first anxious pro shows up at the
practice area. It ends when the last of them is ready to go home.
He has an ex-wife somewhere and a 27-year-old son, who sometimes
comes to see him. Otherwise, this is his life.

You'll find him easily enough if you need him, but be warned:
During the week of a tournament he's too busy to speak to anyone
but his clients before the cut. You'll recognize him by the
shades, the weathered face, the gray hair, the ever-present
cigarette and the logo for the Irish Tourist Board, which pays
him a stipend for promotional purposes.

In special cases he'll come to find you--as he did with Goosen
after witnessing that disastrous three-putt at Southern Hills. He
decided to give the South African some space before calling on
him in his hotel room. "How long did I stay?" Vanstiphout says.
"Maybe half an hour. We did exercises. I said, 'What did you
learn?' He said he now knew he could beat them all. I said,
'That's fine. I know enough and you know enough. Are you getting
room service?' And I left. Next morning I went back to his room,
did the exercise again, and that was it."

What exercise? "We go into a deep relaxation state before we have
a chat," Vanstiphout says, "then we think about what he wants to
change, what he wants to become, and I reprogram his
subconscious. That's it. Sound easy? For me, it is easy."

Goosen, who since early 1999 has vaulted from 83rd to fourth in
the world rankings, recalls being encouraged by Vanstiphout's
no-big-deal demeanor at the Open. "I wasn't upset," he says. "I
was disappointed. When Jos called, he was very relaxed. He asked
me how I felt. I said I felt fine. What did we learn? Well, I'd
learned from the mistake. I'd made one mistake, but I'd learned a
lot. He was happy with what he saw and what he heard. He realized
I wasn't a car wreck. I saw him again in the morning and went out
as calm as I've ever been."

If Goosen's quiet calm was the key to his triumph, Vanstiphout's
relaxed state was the true wonder. Having invested his life
savings in bringing his message to the tour, he was facing the
prospect that his most promising pupil might become best known
for three-jacking away the U.S. Open.

"Something funny happened in my own game not long after I began
playing," Vanstiphout says. "I discovered that the mental side of
golf was tougher than in other sports. It was the toughest mental
game. I wanted to learn more. I read a couple of books, and one
of them I loved--The Inner Game of Golf, by W. Timothy Gallwey."

Hungry for more information, his search began. He strafed
Gallwey's publisher with calls and letters seeking the author's
address. When he came up empty, he wasn't deterred. Vanstiphout
boarded a plane for the States in the spring of '93. "I searched
New York, then Miami, then Los Angeles, then San Diego, then Palm
Springs--I spent 2 1/2 months looking for him," he says.

Finally, in Malibu, Calif., Vanstiphout saw an advertisement for
a tennis school promising to teach The Inner Game of Tennis, so
he enrolled. Imagine the surprise of his instructor when
Vanstiphout announced that he had never played tennis in his life.

"They loaned me some tennis gear," he says, "and I kept talking
about Timothy Gallwey. Finally, after a few days, somebody said,
'Jos, that's your Mr. Gallwey standing over there.' He had come
to find me. First thing he said was, 'So you must be the crazy
Belgian.' I stayed another two months with him, listening--90
percent of the time it is better to listen than to talk."

A year later Vanstiphout had mixed his own ideas with Gallwey's,
and the resulting cocktail became his theory on golf. Vanstiphout
struck a tentative deal with Club Med to open a string of
schools, but when Club Med dallied, he left to concentrate on the
European tour.

The first few years were spent living and eating with the
caddies, but in the beginning he couldn't even give his services
away. He endured three years of lean times. Finally a Dutch pro,
Rolf Muntz, gave him an hour and liked what he heard. Vanstiphout
was invited to the Portuguese Open by Muntz, then the Moroccan,
and that was the start.

Thereafter he ministered to the lame, the indigent and the
imminently cardless of the European tour. Things can only get
better, he told himself. For a short while they did. He dispensed
good thoughts to Seve Ballesteros. He worked with Thomas Bjorn
and Ignacio Garrido, both of whom made the 1997 Ryder Cup team.
Then came Goosen.

"It's like a small circle," Vanstiphout says of his business.
"Everybody knows everybody. One guy says, 'Wow, what the f--- is
Jos doing with you?' So he comes along. They get better and
better. It's a matter of results at the end of the day. With
results the boys are not complaining. They double or triple their
money. The players just come--Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Ernie Els,
Sergio Garcia, Paul McGinley. Now it's easy for me, easy to work
with the best racehorses."

So Vanstiphout's dance card is full all day, every day. Everyone,
it seems, feels better after a shot of Jos. For a golden stretch
last summer the talk on the putting greens was of nothing else.
Thomas Levet took the British Masters. Andrew Coltart won the
Great North Open. Clarke won the European Open. And there was
Goosen at Southern Hills, proving among other things that you
don't always have to dance with the one that brung ya.
Vanstiphout's airfare and hotel were being paid by Michael
Campbell, but Campbell obligingly missed the cut, freeing up
Vanstiphout to work with Goosen.

In order to prevent uncredentialed snake-oil salesmen from
infesting the European tour, Vanstiphout is deliberately vague
about what he does and how much he charges. It's about the self
you are and the self you want to become, is all he'll say. (It's
also about deciding whether that self will pay a percentage of
its winnings or a flat fee.)

Says Vanstiphout, "All I can say about what I do is that take
Retief for example. The biggest difference with him is that he
turned from somebody full of doubt into somebody full of
confidence. It's a process of black to gray to white. He's not
100 percent white, but close to it. He can still improve another
30 percent."

Suddenly Vanstiphout is 70% full of fidget. Clients up and down
the practice area are calling his name. His cellphone keeps
vibrating. Miles to go and minds to sweep. Any more questions,
friend?

Is there anyone he yearns to work with?

"For the moment my hands are full. Not even Tiger Woods. Thank
you very much."

Anything he misses about the old life?

"This is more fun than pop music, my friend. Hey, to be getting
as many girls as you can without doing anything, it's O.K., but
not when you're 51. Please no. Not now."

He sucks the last whiff out of a Marlboro and strides off in his
mustard windbreaker and jeans. Home. Home on the range.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MATTHEW HARRIS RISING STAR Vanstiphout saw something special in Goosen, who has vaulted 79 spots in the world rankings since they teamed up. COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH BOUNCING BACK Goosen might have folded after missing a two-footer at Southern Hills, but he came back strong to take the playoff. COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN BUSY MAN Vanstiphout was at the 2001 Open to work with Campbell, who paid his way. His dance card is full all day, every day. Everyone, it seems, feels better after a shot of Jos.

Goosen recalls being encouraged by Vanstiphout's no-big-deal
demeanor at the U.S. Open.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)