In the three-plus months since Alex Gaugert first picked up Erik van Rooyen’s golf bag and began caddying for his former University of Minnesota men’s golf teammate, the new and exciting gig has taken the Lake Geneva native here, there and virtually everywhere.
“We’ve kind of traveled all over the world already, together,” Gaugert said via telephone from Hamilton, Ontario where they spent the weekend at the RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour. “We’ve been to Morocco, China, Kenya, Malaysia, India, New York, Canada … Denmark.”
This week, Gaugert and van Rooyen’s trek take them to California’s dreamy Monterey Peninsula and famed Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links for the 119th U.S. Open Championship. They have the second tee time (8:56 a.m. CDT) off the first tee during Thursday’s opening round.
Gaugert is one of at least three Wisconsin natives who will be inside the ropes at this week’s U.S. Open. Osceola native Charlie Danielson has qualified for the second time and will be the lone Wisconsin golfer in the field; Middleton native Jon Turcott will caddie for Sepp Straka
Van Rooyen qualified for his first U.S. Open, one of golf’s four major championships, by shooting rounds of 73-64 during last week’s 36-hole, one-day sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. It was another surreal moment in a whirlwind caddie experience for Gaugert, 27, the 2014 Wisconsin State Amateur champion who has spent the last three years in the Arizona PGA section.
“It’s a little different dynamic than most caddie-player relationships because we’re also best friends,” Gaugert said. “He’s gone through a few caddies in the last year, maybe three or four. We had talked about (Gaugert caddying) one time previous and he went with a different guy. That didn’t end up working out. … I was working as a teaching pro in Arizona, still trying to play golf for a living. The dominoes haven’t fallen my way with that and I just haven’t made the progress I’ve been looking for. Hope is not lost for that; I still love playing the game..”
For now, though, Gaugert is enjoying his view of the PGA Tour from a much different angle.
“It’s fun to be able to help somebody with their game,” said Gaugert, whose wife Aubrey is expecting their first child in November but has been fully supportive of his caddie venture. “It’s nice that he’s got someone on the bag who he can trust that knows how to play the game at a high level and knows how to get around the golf course at a high level. All my eggs are kind of in his basket right now and we’re going to work to try to become the No. 1 player in the world.”
Van Rooyen has taken significant steps in that direction in his first full year on the European Tour, having vaulted to No. 90 in the Official World Golf Rankings after ending 2018 at No. 141.
In Europe, he has three top-15 finishes in five starts in addition to his eighth-place finish at last month’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York — his best finish in four PGA Tour-recognized events. Van Rooyen opened 70-68-70 and was 10 shots off Brooks Koepka’s torrid pace entering the final round where he played with Jordan Spieth and shot 73.
“It was a huge moment for him,” Gaugert said. “He played awesome all week. It was a difficult set-up. The rough was something like I’ve never seen. The crowds were awesome; as you know, the crowds in New York are loud and proud and they say whatever comes to their mind. It was pretty entertaining. There were a few walks through the crowds where we couldn’t even talk to each other just because it was so loud. I remember on the 17th green playing with Spieth on Sunday, we were trying to read putts and had to scream at each other and we’re 10 feet away.”
According to Gaugert, though, one of van Rooyen’s strengths is the ability to tune out the noise.
“Mentally, I think he’s one of the best out there,” Gaugert said. “He has a tremendous ability to focus. He has a tremendous work ethic. Some of these guys who have been out here a little bit, they lose that work ethic and passion for the game. He has an incredible amount of passion and his work ethic is undeniable. Week in and week out, he puts his best foot forward. That’s why he is going to continue to succeed and continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible for him.”
Could he expand those boundaries again this week at Pebble Beach? It’s going on a year since van Rooyen’s first major championship, a tie for 17th at the Open Championship at Carnoustie so the 29-year-old South African is building a resume of conquering tough course set-ups.
Gaugert’s role in trying to bring out his boss’ best will be twofold. He will be the one responsible for getting a feel for a course that will play significantly different than the three times Gaugert has played there during club professional events, or during the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Gaugert will also be working just as hard to keep van Rooyen loose and relaxed, a quality that Gaugert’s brother Austin has mastered working his own caddie gigs for Web.com Tour golfer Jordan Niebrugge of Mequon and Symetra Tour golfer Casey Danielson of Osceola. It's clear through photos Alex Gaugert has posted to his Instagram account — see for yourself @gaugertgolf — that he and van Rooyen are having the time of their lives.
“I’ve talked to him about this and this is my two cents,” Gaugert said of their approach to the U.S. Open. “The mindset can’t change whether we’re in Kenya playing for a $1 million purse or whether we’re at the U.S. Open playing for a $10 million purse. The preparation needs to remain the same. The intensity needs to remain the same. The focus needs to remain the same. Just because it’s a big event and a major doesn’t mean you need to put more pressure on yourself.
“You are still going to assess the golf course, see what you see and you’re get over each shot and take it shot-by-shot. If you try to overthink these kind of things, that’s when there is a little paralysis by analysis. Yes, the rough is long. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to go out there and try to guide the ball. You still have to play aggressively. You’re still going to play an offense.
“Every time you put a peg in the ground, there is one goal and that’s to win.”