Gossett's challenge: Turn home course into his advantage

Wednesday, June 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ No one on the PGA Tour is more comfortable than David Gossett right now.

He sleeps in his own bed. His parents clean his dirty laundry while Mom cooks up plenty of his favorite meals. He drives his own Jeep a couple of miles each day to the TPC at Southwind where he has spent much of the past two weeks practicing on the golf course where he learned the game.

And best of all, he didn't have to write anyone a $65 check just to play in the St. Jude Classic, which begins Thursday.

``I'm just pleased to be here,'' Gossett said Wednesday after playing in the pro-am. ``It's an advantage to play at home, your home track. You see it in World Cup soccer, and it's an advantage to play at home. I love comfort. There're a lot of reasons to feel comfortable here.''

Gossett's biggest challenge now is turning that high comfort level into strong results. The 23-year-old who earned an exemption through 2003 as a rookie with a victory at the John Deere Classic last July has been busy learning about life on the PGA Tour, and he has missed six cuts in 16 tournaments this year.

Making life even easier this week is the absence of eight of the tour's top 10 money leaders. Only David Toms and Nick Price are here along with defending champion Bob Estes who used this event as a springboard to three victories last year.

But Gossett feels very confident because he is coming off his best performance of the year. He tied for second at the Buick Classic earlier this month, his only top 25 finish this year, before sitting out the U.S. Open and bypassing the Greater Hartford Open for plenty of practice and time off at home.

``I feel like I'm making steady progress in my putting and my short game. I'm starting to hit the ball more consistently, as well as feel like I'm playing well, and want to continue learning and striving to hit higher shots more accurately,'' he said.

This tournament, sponsored by Memphis-based FedEx, offers an at-home feel for nine other players from the area. Among them are Loren Roberts, Shaun Micheel and John Daly, who used to have a home off a fairway here.

Gossett, whose parents' home is less than a mile from this course, grew up playing at the TPC at Southwind, and he knows the shortest paths from the parking lot to the locker room and out to the practice range. He can rattle off the names of past champions including Price and Greg Norman from his years of as a tournament spectator.

As an adult, he played here twice as an amateur and tied for 28th last year as he worked his way from the Buy.Com Tour to the PGA Tour.

Gossett has never seen this course in such great shape, and he predicts it will play shorter than its 7,030 yards.

``The greens now are starting to become a little more receptive. They were rather firm a week and a half ago. The new superintendent (Jeff Plotts) has done a really super job. The fairways are fast and firm, playing faster than it ever has,'' Gossett said.

Only once in the past 10 years has the winning score been below 15 under, and that was in 2000 when Notah Begay won with a 13 under total. If someone gets hot, Gossett thinks someone could go as low as 20 under or even threaten the 26 under John Cook posted in winning in 1996.

``You're not going to see someone shoot 9 under and win this,'' Gossett predicted.