Erik van Rooyen on The Foo Fighters, making his debut at The Masters and more

Jack Rathborn
The Independent
Van Rooyen has been practicing his electric guitar since the enforced break: Getty
Van Rooyen has been practicing his electric guitar since the enforced break: Getty

The striking chords of The Foo Fighters’s ‘No Way Back’ reverberate around Erik van Rooyen’s Florida home.

It’s been over a week since his promising season was abruptly halted by the coronavirus pandemic and this has been his outlet since.

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Still to pick up a club since The Players Championship up the road in Jacksonville, the South African, now attached to his prized Stratocaster, is conscious of the mental challenges that await.

“It has been crazy,” the world No 42 tells The Independent. “It’s kind of hectic. If this carries on for a while, it will be tough. I’ve got CNN in my house and all they talk about is the numbers going up. It’s a lot of sad, depressing news.

“So absolutely it [playing the electric guitar] is an outlet, it’s a big passion of mine. I can’t do it on Tour usually; I’d love to bring the guitar but I have so much stuff with me, so it’s been a nice escape. I’ve got like two months off now, so it helps to take my mind off everything else and I can dive into it.”

Van Rooyen is on the cusp of completing a remarkable journey, which started as a seven-year-old chipping golf balls around his grandparents’ home in Cape Town, before a stint caddying for his father at Pretoria Country Club to earn the equivalent of £5. After leaping out of his comfort zone to pursue his dream at the University of Minnesota, he was forced to navigate several arduous years on the Sunshine and Challenge Tours after turning professional in 2013.

But everything changed on a pleasant afternoon on the outskirts of Gothenburg last August when Van Rooyen confirmed his place among the elite by clinching his maiden European Tour win, edging out Matt Fitzpatrick by one shot.

His breakthrough ensured that he locked up a place inside the world’s top 50 to close out the year, punching a ticket to Augusta for his debut at The Masters. So while the enforced break has left Van Rooyen both understanding and sympathetic, he is tinged with disappointed after a promising start to the year, which included an impressive third place at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Momentarily transforming into Dave Grohl might appear inconsequential to Van Rooyen’s game on the course right now, yet he insists finding a form of escapism is vital during this unprecedented time.

“If I can’t get to the course, I can always stay sharp with the mental side of things,” Van Rooyen insists. “It’s simple stuff, speaking to my sports psychologist. Rory [McIlroy] speaks a lot about the books he reads and I love reading as well, reading how to approach life in a better manner.

“A positive thing about this big break though is there are always things to work on, so it gives me ample time to do that. So I’d be quite disappointed if I was worse off when we do kick off again than what I was.

“I’ve got all the time in the world. Maybe it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on what needs to get better, as a person and also as a golfer. So let’s sharpen it all up.”

Van Rooyen celebrates his maiden European Tour victory (Getty)
Van Rooyen celebrates his maiden European Tour victory (Getty)

His attitude is impressive given how close he is to fulfilling his dream of striking a ball in anger around that magical corner of Georgia. A brief visit during his time at college saw him at least take a stroll down those idyllic fairways, dreaming of following in the footsteps of the iconic Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, whose 2011 win at Augusta brought him to tears back home in South Africa.

A surge in Augusta hotel prices around October has provided a hint as to when we might see Tiger Woods defend his title, should the pandemic ease in the coming months. And while it feels insignificant right now, Van Rooyen does allow his mind to briefly wander towards that time.

“It’s so special, there have been so many iconic moments that have happened there. It’s a magnificent place, so the excitement will just keep building,” Van Rooyen adds.

“It just means it will be even greater when we eventually do get there.”

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