You could Google Matt Gogel's name and discover that he once met Mother Teresa in Calcutta back in his playing days on the Asian Tour, that he's made a decent living on the PGA Tour over his first five years and even won the 2002 Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But after scorching Congressional yesterday with an 8-under-par 63, he'll also be identified as the man who set a course record to take a three-shot lead going into the second round of the steamy Booz Allen Classic.
Gogel was in the first group off the 10th tee at 7 a.m., when greens were at their softest and smoothest and breezes were minimal. He took full advantage of those conditions with a run of six birdies over eight holes in the middle of his round. For a player who failed to qualify for the U.S. Open on Monday at Woodmont and had missed the cut in nine of his 13 events this year, Gogel's rousing round seemed to come from out of the blue.
To everyone, perhaps, but Gogel himself.
"I really kind of hit rock bottom about a month and a half ago," Gogel said. "I've just had the most disappointing year I've ever had in professional golf. . . . I switched irons about four tournaments ago and went back to a set of Ping irons, not the same set, but Ping irons I played for 17 years. That's helped me put the ball on the green with a little more confidence. I'm driving it better. I've always been a pretty good putter. It's kind of my time."
Most of the event's biggest names didn't challenge for the lead during the sweat-soaked and eventually rain-delayed first round. Eight of the world's top 10 are here this week, and with Congressional set up to be far more user-friendly than during the '97 U.S. Open, tournament officials thought they would get far more star power atop the leader board.
Ernie Els, the '97 Open champion and No. 3 in the world rankings, was at 1 under through 17 holes when a thunderstorm rumbled in at about 5:45 p.m., and play was stopped at 6:20 p.m., with 42 players set to finish their first rounds this morning starting at 7. Vijay Singh, at No. 1 despite missing the cut at Memorial last week, was at par 71, the same score posted by No. 4 Phil Mickelson. No. 5 Retief Goosen finished at 1-under 70.
"I played well enough to be 4, 5, 6 under," Mickelson said. "We have three rounds, and hopefully I'll make some putts. . . . It only takes one low round to get right back in there."
Brett Wetterich, who missed the cut in his two previous appearances in this event at TPC at Avenel, Englishman Lee Westwood, who has never played in this tournament, and Sweden's Fredrik Jacobsen, who has never played in Washington, posted 66s in the morning to share second place.
Gogel's 63 is the lowest round recorded at Congressional, a shot better than Fred Couples (1986), Bobby Clampett (1986) and George Burns (1983) all with 64s in Kemper Opens. Congressional played to a par of 72 back then, and all three were 8 under, the same under-par total Gogel had on a par-71 course this week. Tommy Jacobs also shot a 64 at Congressional in the second round of the U.S. Open.
Though he missed the cut in two of his last three events and is 170th on the money list, Gogel began to see progress when he opened with 66 and 68 in the first two rounds of the St. Jude Classic in Memphis two weeks ago before fading on the weekend to a tie for 24th.
"What comes first, good scores or confidence?" he wondered out loud. "Good scores are what breeds confidence, I think. So finally, I put some scores up. You can relax, you're more patient, you don't hit it at every flag and you don't make as many mistakes. I really feel like things have turned around. I don't feel like I'm over the hump, but I certainly feel like I'm playing better and looking forward to the next half of the season."
Gogel played his first five holes in even par before his round caught fire at the 579-yard 15th with a 12-foot birdie putt.
At the 437-yard 16th, he hit an 8-iron from 150 yards to three feet and made that putt, then closed out his first nine with a 7-iron from 175 yards to eight feet, sinking that birdie putt to make the turn at 3-under 32.
Birdie putts of 16 feet at No. 1, 13 feet at No. 3 and 24 feet at No. 4 pushed Gogel to 6 under. He got a little lucky at the 544-yard No. 6. After a 290-yard drive and facing a classic risk-reward decision playing toward a pin tucked behind a pond on the right side of the green, Gogel said he was aiming his 3-wood second shot at a greenside bunker down the left, but the ball was perfectly struck, bounced directly up the neck of the green and rolled 40 feet past the pin. He two-putted for another birdie, then spun a wedge within tap-in distance at the 354-yard No. 8 for his final birdie of the day.
Gogel hit 11 of 14 fairways and was on 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
What he described as his one poor swing -- a 7-iron into a bunker at the 174-yard No. 7 -- was nullified by a gorgeous sand shot within three feet, and he made that par-saving putt, his 10th one-putt green among 26 putts he needed all day.
"We're all pretty good players," he said. "There's 156 guys in the field, and everybody's capable of shooting a low round. It happened to be my day. . . . No matter where we play, somebody always gets out with a low round."
And about meeting Mother Teresa?
Gogel was playing on the Asian Tour in the mid-'90s and his wife Blair was traveling with him. They were about to go off on vacation in Australia when they ran into the American consulate at the golf course. When Blair learned Mother Teresa was in town and attended Mass every morning at 5:30, she insisted they attend.
"They broke at 6:30 and said at 7, they were going to go out and feed the poor," Gogel recalled. "There was tea and banana bread downstairs if you wanted anything. When I came up the stairs, my wife said 'I'm not moving, I have to see her pass by.' She stays there, I come up the stairs and she's talking to Mother Teresa. Oh my. I threw a camera to a pal. We have a picture of the three of us. Looks like we sat and had lunch for three hours and were best friends. It was a pretty amazing experience."