Justin Rose reaches golf’s promised land following a long and arduous journey
Even 21 missed cuts in a row as a novice professional failed to deter the Englishman
Justin Rose of England looks to the heavens in acknowledgement of his deceased father after putting on the 18th hole to win the 113th US Open at Merion Golf Club. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
The journey has been a long one, full of twists and turns, and oft times bumpy. On Sunday, finally, Justin Rose reached his promised land.
“This is just like a journey, just such a satisfying feeling. And it goes back 20, 30 years for me of dreaming, of hoping, of practising, of calloused hands,” he said, all the while glancing towards the winged, female figure atop the majestic silver US Open Trophy with the names of all the game’s greats.
As the 113th champion of the US Open, Rose – who first took a plastic golf club into his hands as an 11-month-old toddler, his father Ken then the influence and, even in death, continuing to provide the inspiration – joined a select, elite club.
The club of Hogan and Jones, Nicklaus and Palmer, Stewart and Woods. He had arrived, and nobody could, or would, begrudge him his elevated status of a Major champion.
In using an old quip of Lee Trevino’s, Rose, his eyes dancing, remarked of how he had been infatuated with the old course from the moment he first set eyes on it. “I fell in love with a girl named Merion, just didn’t know her last name,” said Rose, who made a three-day reconnaissance trip to the famed course the week before the championship.
Yet, it was his deeds through the four rounds that brought him a breakthrough Major title, finishing two shots clear of Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
Sunday’s story was of heartbreak for Mickelson, fulfilling the role of fall guy yet again in finisher runner-up for a record sixth time, but of unconfined joy for Rose. He deserved it, the figures confirm it: he ranked second in fairways hit, seventh in greens-in-regulation, 16th in putting and first in birdies.
He shot fewer strokes – 281 of them – than any other player. “I established a game plan that really held true for me,” he said, adding: “I’m just glad I was kind of the last man standing.”
At 32 years of age, Rose – who first burst onto the international scene as a teenager in the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he won low amateur medallist honours in finishing fourth – has served his time. Just like Adam Scott, who captured the Masters title in April. For Rose, though, there was a start to his professional career that was like a tragic drama.
He missed the cut in the first 21 tournaments he played in as a tour professional and, if others doubted him, he never gave up on his own ability.
“When I was missing 21 cuts in a row, I mean I was just trying not to fade away really. I didn’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder, a flash in the pan. I believed in myself inherently.
“Deep down I always knew that I had a talent to play the game and I simply thought if I put talent and hard work together, surely it will work out.”
It is 15 years since Birkdale, when he jettisoned the amateur ranks for a life on tour.
“Probably, at times, it feels 25 years since Birkdale. And, other times, it feels like it was just yesterday. There’s a lot of water under the bridge, my learning curve has been steep from that point,” he admitted.
“It was a pretty traumatic start to my pro career . . . . I sort of announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it. And golf can be a cruel game. And definitely I have had the ups and downs but, I think, that ultimately it’s made me stronger and able to handle situations,” added Rose, who became the first English player to win a Major since Nick Faldo won the Masters in 1996.
Rose – who viewed 2010 as a new starting point on his career after winning twice on the US Tour – added: “I’ve been striving my whole life really to win a Major championship. I’ve holed a putt to win a Major hundreds of thousands of times on the putting green at home. And preparing (for Merion), I dreamed about the moment of having a putt to win. I’m pretty happy it was a two-incher on the last! But, as a professional golfer, this is the pinnacle of the game, winning Major championship . . . ”
Rose also revealed he had learned from watching his contemporaries, especially Scott who recovered from his near-miss at Lytham last year (when Ernie Els snatched the claret jug from his grasp). “I really learned from Adam that I wasn’t scared of the heartache of losing one. The way he handled himself at Lytham, it is something that needs as much praise as winning the Masters.”
Nobody, though, has had to learn lessons the hard way as much as Rose. On Sunday, he found deliverance.