Justin Rose no longer torn by past Masters memories
World number one has put painful play-off defeat to Sergio Garcia behind him
Justin Rose and his caddie Mark Fulcher look on during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National yesterday. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images
Flashbacks can be painful reminders of failure. In Justin Rose’s case, it is the memory of losing out to Sergio Garcia in a sudden-death play-off in the Masters of 2017 and, although the Englishman returns to the hallowed turf as again the number one golfer in the world rankings, the challenge is to turn such negatives into a positive.
In fact, he has found a way. And it is to do with his caddie, Mark Fulcher, known out on tour as “Fooch”, who has made a timely return to the player’s bag following heart surgery. Fulcher underwent the procedure back in January, when Rose – with Gareth Lord, the former caddie to Henrik Stenson, on his bag – won the Farmers Insurance Open and dedicated the success to his regular bagman.
It has transpired that Lord was asked only one thing by Fulcher on assuming the caddying role, which was to return the player to his regular caddie as world number one. By a strange quirk, or a mysterious alignment of the stars, Rose has returned to the world’s number one spot this week as the world’s elite players gather here at Augusta National Golf Club for the season’s first Major championship.
“Fooch is back this week, which has been sort of a long-awaited arrival for him. I know time has been going very slowly for him and he’s been chomping at the bit to get back, but he’s stayed very much integrated and engaged in my game . . . once he knew he was looking good to caddie this week, which was his ultimate goal, he came out to Austin, Texas [two weeks ago] to get some of the back-slapping out of the way, which was very smart of him,” said Rose.
Rose – a one-time Major champion, at the US Open, and an Olympic gold medalist – has sought to use Fulcher’s return to the bag as a positive sign, as he returns to a course which he has produced many good rounds without ever managing to complete the job of actually winning. Indeed, Rose was a consistent first-round leader in his earlier years – holding that distinction in 2004, 2007 and 2008 – while, in more recent times, he has contended down the stretch with runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2017.
That loss to Garcia in 2017 was especially hurtful. “It was a coin flip who was going to come out on top there . . . I felt like that was the first Major I’ve been close to and not won, really, like a heartbreaker. I took some comfort in the fact that you can’t get through a career without something like that happening, so just deal with it and move on.
“I told myself, ‘you’re not the first person, you won’t be the last, so get on with it’. That was my attitude to it . . . it wasn’t like a hole in the heart, or I wasn’t missing anything, but then when something would trigger a memory, it was like a downer for maybe a few months. It just taught me, when you win a tournament, you need that little bit of luck on your side.”
Rose, it would appear, has put those ghosts to rest. He followed up with a tied-12th finish a year ago but, out in the real world, has proven a consistent winner with three titles inside the past 12 months (Forth Worth Invitational, Turkish Airlines Open and the Farmers Insurance). That last win was accomplished with his new Honma clubs, a multi-year multi-million dollar contract that raised eyebrows following his long-time association with TaylorMade.
And with what he terms “enough good golf to give me confidence” allied with “enough poor golf to keep me working hard” so far this season, it is the bond that exists with his bagman which could yet provide the heart-warming story.
“I feel like we’ve learned together so much here,” said Rose of the relationship with Fulcher. “I wouldn’t expect a nugget of information I don’t know to come out during practice. Where Fooch is going to earn his money and earn his position on the bag and earn his importance to the team is on Saturday and Sunday. Basically when emotions start to get more intense and there’s more variability, that’s when I am going to rely on him more and more.”
He added: “It’s when the going gets tough, that’s when I think someone who knows you so well, and we have so many positive experiences out there under pressure, that we can draw on together; that’s where Fooch is going to come into his own for me.”