Sign up for our daily newsletter

Latest news, reviews, analysis and opinion, plus unmissable deals for bunkered subscriptions, events, and our commercial partners.

What’s on your Spotify Wrapped?

It seems like the obvious way to begin a conversation with a man who is perhaps as well known for his love of rock music as he is his PGA Tour record.

“My Spotify what now?”

Erik van Rooyen has apparently not heard of the popular streaming service’s personalised round-up of what you have been listening to for the past year.

“Oh! I use Apple Music. But I think it does something like that…”

The South African drifts away from the conversation briefly as he flicks through his phone. “OK, Foo Fighters, Blink 182,” he thinks-out-loud before getting more animated.

“Dude, have you heard the new Blink album?”

I have. Indeed, I had been to see them in Birmingham just two weeks prior to this interview, which is taking place from the slightly-less-glamorous setting of Northampton services on the M1 en route to Lapland – which is now apparently on the outskirts of Bracknell.

“No way! How was it?”

Incredibly emotional, as those who know the band’s wretched backstory will understand.

“They’re touring next year – I need to get tickets.”

I tell him I already have mine, as well as a busy week in June that will see me take in Green Day, Foo Fighters, Weezer and Smashing Pumpkins all within the space of a few days.

“Bro…” van Rooyen says before bursting out laughing. “That is absolutely epic! That’s like my top favourite bands right there. That’s insane! I’ve never seen Green Day and I’m dying to see them. But, yeah, I’ve had the new Blink album on repeat. I love it.”

If you follow van Rooyen on social media, you will also know he’s a very talented guitarist. “My mum had an old Spanish guitar laying around the house that I would play,” he recalls.

“I would have loved to have taken it further as a passion. I love vintage guitars in particular and I recently treated myself to a 1959 Les Paul reissue. I’m not saying I’m Eddie Van Halen, by any means, I just love plugging in and making some noise.

“It’s a nice hobby between tournaments and spending time with my kids.”

I’m suddenly incredibly aware that we’re ten minutes into our chat and we are yet to discuss anything related to golf.

But van Rooyen isn’t fussed. It’s early morning where he is in Minneapolis, his college town and home from home when he’s not in South Africa, and he’s kicking back with a coffee.

It’s the day before the funeral of his good friend and former University of Minnesota teammate Jon Trasamar, who had recently passed away from skin cancer. Two weeks before his death, the golf community had wept with van Rooyen as the tears flowed following his second PGA Tour title at the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico.

“It was never my intention to inspire people,” he says, reflecting on that moment that brought the sport together, if only briefly. “But we’ve all got loved ones that we’ve lost, and we’ve been touched by, and that’s what life is about at the end of the day.”

He adjusts his tone.

“It’s been a busy few weeks, but life is great.”

Erik van Rooyen
Erik van Rooyen had the whole golf world rooting for him at the Worldwide Technology Championship. (Credit: Getty Images)

Family and friends are clearly very important to van Rooyen. In fact, it was a desire to spend more time with his father, Wim, that inspired him to take up golf.

“In South Africa, we generally get into rugby, cricket and soccer at school,” he explains. “My grandfather played golf, and my dad – a surfer at uni – always had this idea that golf is an old man’s sport.

“But when I was eight, and he was in his late thirties, he decided to take it up.

“At that age you just want to hang out with your dad, don’t you? So I started going to the range with him. He got a little push trolley and on a Saturday he’d give me a couple of bucks to caddie for him.

“My older brother played too, he was obsessed, and we shared a set of clubs between the two of us. That’s just how it started.

“In primary and high school, I was very good at cricket. But we moved to a small town near George, on the southern coast, when I was 13. My dad took me to my first lesson at Fancourt and it was as if golf just slowly took over. When that bug bites, that’s it!

“I was a good cricketer as a teenager, but I don’t think I could have ever made it a career. I love the game, and I love rugby, but I was never big enough to consider that. I got to high school and suddenly kids are way bigger than me and I decided I didn’t want to have broken bones all the time, so I skipped that.

“But playing any sport professionally is ridiculously hard, so I’m glad golf worked out.”

It worked out so well it took him 9,000 miles across the Atlantic to kick-start his collegiate career.

“It was a big culture shock,” van Rooyen recalls. “It took me a whole year to properly fall in love with the place.

“At first it was pretty difficult. Not only being away from home, but in a completely different country and sub-zero temperatures. But I  learned a lot and Minneapolis is such a great city.”

He lets out a huge laugh.

“If only winter was about two or three months shorter,” he jokes. “You don’t see sunlight for about half a year!

“It’s an interesting place to end up, but I loved the coach, Brad James. He’s Australian so we have a lot of cultural similarities, and we clicked right off the bat.

“I stayed for four years, I met my wife and my best friends here, so clearly it was a good place for me.”

As well as his future bride, Minnesota native Rose Roberts, with whom he has two children, Valerie and Gabriel, van Rooyen met Alex Gaugert, a fellow golfer off the back of a promising high school career looking to make it in the game.

Erik van Rooyen
Moving to the US from South Africa was a huge culture shock for Erik van Rooyen. (Credit: Getty Images)

And while it didn’t work out for Gaugert – or “Gaugs”, as van Rooyen calls him – he did help provide one of the PGA Tour’s feelgood storylines of the 2023 season.

“I was between caddies in 2019,” van Rooyen explains, “and it was the week before the WGC down in Mexico. Gaugs lived in Arizona at the time, so I just asked him if he’d mind coming down and carrying my bag. He did it, and it was great. He already understands me and my game so well, and I enjoy the fact that Gaugs is a great player in his own right, so he sees the shots I talk about.”

There has been somewhat of a spate of tour pros hiring their friends to carry for them in recent years – Rory McIlroy swapping long-term looper JP Fitzgerald for college pal Harry Diamond in 2017 being the most high-profile example – and,despite his excitement, van Rooyen was cautious when bringing Gaugert into his team.

“We had a sit down and I said, ‘Right, we’re best friends and I’ll be your employer, so this could get tricky. I don’t really want the job to come between us.’

So our number one rule was complete honesty from the get-go. If this doesn’t work out, it’s not because we’re trying to hurt someone’s feelings, it’s just because it’s not working, or if there’s criticism of some sort – whether he’s got to tell me something or vice-versa – then we know it’s based on honesty and comes from a good place.

“That’s been our baseline and it’s been working really well.”

Despite minor hiccups – “Do we fall out? Absolutely we do!” – the pair have won three times together, first opening their DP World Tour account at the 2019 Scandinavian Invitation, before a first PGA Tour title at the Barracuda Championship in 2021, and that emotionally-charged victory at El Cardonal in November.

But it was in July that they were thrust into the spotlight, when Gaugert played his way into the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities in the very city they first met.

When Gaugert is not on van Rooyen’s bag, he plays in local tournaments to rack up PGA of America points. And when he had enough to get into the 3M Open qualifying event, he sent his boss a message.

“He just asked me, ‘Hey, do you mind if I go and play the Monday for the 3M?’,” van Rooyen explains. “I said, ‘Fill your boots! Have fun!’”

It wasn’t as easy as that, though. Gaugert was in California and had merely a few hours to get to the Midwest, so when his flight was delayed he didn’t think he had much hope.

“He made his tee time by about 45 minutes,” van Rooyen adds with a laugh. “He hit a few balls and off he went. He ended up shooting six-under and getting through in a playoff, which was wild.”

That was only the start.

“I called the tournament director and I asked if we could get paired together, because I thought it would be a pretty good storyline for the week.”

Luckily, they agreed and, as van Rooyen suspected, it was a huge hit with fans and headline writers alike. While Gaugert missed the cut on his PGA Tour debut, the beaming smiles as they walked down the fairway together on the 36th hole told a story of its own.

“Playing in a PGA Tour event with one of your best friends – that’s the stuff college teammates dream about,” van Rooyen says. “It was beautiful.”

Erik van Rooyen caddie
Erik van Rooyen and regular caddie Alex Gaugert played together at the 3M Open. (Credit: Getty Images)

It helped cement van Rooyen’s reputation as one of golf’s good guys. So I ask him: what does that mean to you? He pauses long enough for me to think the call had disconnected, and then that familiar laugh.

“I guess it means I’m not an arsehole!”

After another lengthy pause, he adds: “Sometimes you’ll play with a guy at one tournament and the following week he doesn’t even greet you. I find that odd. Dude, we know each other!

“Off the course, I’m not bothered. We can have a beer and a chat, but there are other guys who are much more guarded.

“I try to be the same person on the golf course that I am off it. If that translates to kindness, then that can only be a good thing.”

But can being Mr Nice Guy convert into major victories?

“It allows me to play my best golf,” he explains, but he is confident he can combine it with a killer instinct when it matters.

“I’m incredibly competitive, so don’t misconstrue it as I’m not out there to kick your butts and win a tournament,” he adds. “I’m not going to take any prisoners, but I’m also not going to walk around with the biggest ego on the planet.

“I’d love to win one, but first I really want to contend. I’ve only got one top ten, which was the PGA Championship at Bethpage in 2019, when I was playing my best golf right before I got injured.

“I have the potential, but it’s been a tough couple of years. My game is back on the right path now, though, and whether it’s in 2024 or 2025 or whenever, getting in contention on the Sunday is the first step and we’ll see what happens.”

Erik van Rooyen
Erik van Rooyen says he dreams of winning The Open one day. (Credit: Getty Images)

Of course, only the US, Scotland and England have more major wins than van Rooyen’s homeland – but none since Ernie Els at the 2012 Open.

“I get asked a lot about when we can expect another South African major champion,” he says. “Turtle Creek, the club I’m a member of in Jupiter, had  an evening where all the pros came and answered questions from the members.

“Ernie was there, as well as a few others including Rickie Fowler, and the MC for the evening read off each of our achievements. Ernie’s list is just endless. He’s won I-don’t-know-how-many events, he was world number one, he was in the top ten of the rankings for something like 14 years – I haven’t even been a pro for 14 years! Those are tough shoes to fill, man.

“When you grow up with heroes like that, it shows it can be done, but on the other hand, now I’ve been a professional for ten years, it shows just how incredible it is what they did.”

And if he had to choose one? It’s a general question asked to all major-less golfers, and the stock response is ‘I just want to win one and I don’t care which.’ But van Rooyen isn’t a man for stock answers.

“Oh, there’s a ranking!” he jokes. “The Open Championship. The OG. Hands down.

“Growing up in South Africa, which is a similar time zone, I literally watched it for entire days at a time. I played links golf for the first time in 2016, and it always looked cool, and interesting, and different. Man, it’s like this is how the game was meant to be played. This is what golf is about. The history. That’s the one I want to win.”

Back up. You didn’t play links golf until 2016? Van Rooyen laughs. “We don’t have links golf in South Africa, and I didn’t really travel as much internationally as a junior. But I was playing well on the Sunshine Tour and I got a spot in the Dunhill Links – and that was my introduction to links golf.”

The Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie, and Kingsbarns? That’s some introduction.

“Links golf is the best thing about this game. Nothing comes close to it.”

Van Rooyen will head to The Open this summer looking to add to a list of victories that, to date, have all come in different countries – South Africa, China, Sweden, the United States and Mexico. So what makes him such a good traveller?

“I’ve never heard that said out loud before,” he says. “Ball striking has always come a bit more naturally to me, and that travels better. A driver in China is not too different to a driver in Mexico, you’ve still got to hit it down a fairway. And when you talk about your short game and chipping from different types of grass, and different kinds of sand, that’s almost the most technical part of the game and the one I work hardest at.

“So I guess when you’re a good ball striker, your game travels easier than the other way around.”

He will be rocking up to Royal Troon in July hoping that nice guys do, in fact, finish first.

How Erik van Rooyen and Ecco created shoes with attitude

Erik van Rooyen
Erik van Rooyen has worked closely with Ecco to create the Biom H4 EVR Edition shoes. (Credit: Ecco)

Erik van Rooyen was talking to bunkered as an ambassador for Ecco, the Danish footwear brand with whom he has co-created the Biom H4 EVR Edition.

The latest iteration of the popular hybrid shoe features a reworked upper that’s designed to produce a sleeker, slimmer look around the toe,  while the tongue has also been redesigned to produce a more ergonomic shape that fits better to the foot.

The H4 also features the Biom Natural Motion Technology, which enables the golfer to move more organically to create what Ecco describes  as a “second skin around the foot”.

“I played with the guys from Ecco in a pro-am on the Challenge Tour in 2017,” he explains. “I wasn’t really looking for a sponsorship deal, but when my contract with Nike ended and Ecco came to me, I was pretty excited.

“I love the shoes, and they’re just good people to work with. Like anything in life, it comes down to your relationship with people. They’ve been really good to me.”

And van Rooyen was invited to put his own twist on things. The soles of the shoes feature some of his biggest passions, from music and video games to his style on and off the golf course.

“The fact I can personalise them is super cool for me,” van Rooyen says. “Anyone that’s seen me play knows that I really enjoy being different and innovative on the golf course, and it’s awesome that the Ecco team allow me to reflect that in my signature edition styles.

“To be able to create my own shoe is a real honour, and Biom H4 is such a great model to do it with – and I’ve received plenty of compliments out on tour.”

As well as guitars and “golf doodles”, as he calls them, there’s the signature moustache – “I’m not really trying to make a statement with the facial hair. My grandfather had a moustache his whole life, and I guess I got his genes.” – and the joggers.

Ecco Biom H4 EVR Edition
The Ecco Biom H4 EVR Edition include images of Erik van Rooyen’s various passions. (Credit: Ecco)

“I like to look classy but these were a nice little twist on matters,” he explains. “We hadn’t really seen anything in golf like that up until I started wearing them in around 2019.

“I don’t know if I consider myself a trendsetter, but I’ve  definitely seen more people wearing them.”

Van Rooyen says he only takes two pairs of shoes with him to any given tournament – “One white, because they go with anything, then one
grey or black. I need more space in my bag!” – and he is happy he and Ecco found each other.

“It’s just the best golf shoe I’ve ever had,” he gushes. “You never know what conditions you’re going to get, and the Eccos are extremely durable.

“I love them.”

He lets out a huge laugh at the next question.

“Golf’s Michael Jordan? I’d love that. I wouldn’t have to do much else with my life…”

This interview with Erik van Rooyen first appeared in issue 209 of bunkered magazine.

author headshot

Alex Perry is the Associate Editor of bunkered. A journalist for more than 20 years, he has been a golf industry stalwart for the majority of his career and, in a five-year spell at ESPN, covered every sporting event you can think of. He completed his own Grand Slam at the 2023 Masters, having fallen in love with the sport at his hometown club of Okehampton and on the links of nearby Bude & North Cornwall.

Associate Editor

More Reads

Image Turnberry green

The bunkered Golf Course Guide - Scotland

Now, with bunkered, you can discover the golf courses Scotland has to offer. Trust us, you will not be disappointed.

Find Courses