Rose’s rise to the pinnacle in Pennsylvania a fitting vindication of a Major golfing talent
Talented Englishman has had to overcome many dark days as he struggled as a young professional
Job done: Justin Rose with the US Open trophy on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
It’s been a 15-year journey for Justin Rose with a performance graph featuring peaks and troughs in the beginning leading to a gradual incline over the past decade. At last he reached a pinnacle in Pennsylvania on Sunday with a well-deserved victory in the 113th US Open at Merion Golf Club.
There are players who have had the weight of a nation put on their young shoulders and they have had to carry it around for a major part of their career. Justin Rose was the teenaged English boy who was going to instantly convert his obvious talent of a fourth-place finish in the Open at Birkdale in 1998, as an amateur, into everlasting success as a professional.
His transition from amateur to professional wasn’t easy. The reality of professional life for the innocent young golfer was a long way from the heady summer days by the sea in Lancashire. With each missed cut, of which there were 21 in a row, Justin discovered how hope and expectation unrealised featured day after relentless day as he was pilloried in the British press.
There was no leniency befitting a teenager. After a battle over two years, including two trips to the European Tour School, the battered Rose secured playing rights again and slowly regained the form that his inaugural Open Championship performance promised. With three victories in 2002 it looked like the South African-born Englishman had turned the corner. By 2003 he had reached 33rd spot in the world rankings.
In 2005 Rose’s career took another downturn after dropping out of the top 100. He announced he was going to return to Europe, which he didn’t, but it marked the second turning point in his young life.
There is a sense of destiny with a certain class of player, we hear it repeated so often during transmissions that the destiny is ingrained in our subconscious; Justin Rose is destined to win a major.
There is a military-like ceremonial atmosphere on the first tee on the final day of the US Open that makes you instantly aware that this is something exceptional, really special. With the intimate set-up at Merion last week, the clubhouse balcony appeared to be at one with the first tee.
As the announcer called Justin Rose to the tee, the figure of David Graham shimmered in the background. He was in fact perched on the clubhouse veranda enjoying the spectacle of the final day first tee atmosphere, which of course must have invoked warm memories of his victory in Merion 32 years before.
Justin clipped his tee shot away and strode off down the first fairway full of hope like the other players who preceded him into the unknown of the final day of a US Open.
With the severity of the set-up of the east course at Merion, it would be he who messed up least who would win because, with three under being the low round of the day, the leaders’ mission was to make pars.
Justin Rose was making pars, he was doing what he needed to do to win his first Major. There are certain periods in a round of golf that set the tone for the day. Jason Day hit putts that looked good enough to drop several times but never did. Rose hit putts that looked like they were not going to drop but somehow did. With an 80-foot putt on the sixth for birdie we got a sense of who the golfing gods favoured.
When Rose holed, via the sidedoor, a snaking downhill putt on the next, which even he was sure had missed, destiny looked closer. A few holes later he horseshoed into the hole instead of out of it for par. Three putts of such monumental importance at such a crucial stage of the final round would suggest to even the most hardened professional that maybe your time has come.
While caddying for Ernie Els earlier this year we played with Justin. He played impeccable golf each time we were paired together, so much so that Ernie suggested to me that he wouldn’t be surprised if Rose won a Major this year. How right he was.
He has been swinging under the tutelage of the guru of the moment, Seán Foley, for almost four years now and there is no doubt his striking and polish are ever evident.
While caddying for Tom Lewis in Akron last year, Justin kindly asked Tom to join him for a practice round. He obviously empathised with Tom’s instant success as a professional followed swiftly by an extended valley period. I could see and hear him mentoring Tom in a very caring way. Justin Rose at 32 years of age is continuing his journey in world golf now – armed with the confidence of a Major winner.