Golf: The nurturing of a rare English Rose

Tim Glover uncovers the roots of a talent bred to enjoy a bright future
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The Independent Online
Justin Rose was shin-high in the rough and when he reached for a mid-iron instead of a machete, the onlookers let out a little gasp of astonishment. "He's dead," said one. "He can't get out of there."

Rose blasted out with a five-iron, hit the green and got his par, prompting more noises of incredulity from the gallery at the Amateur Championship at Royal St George's. "He may look like a gangly kid," Ken Rose said, "but he's incredibly strong. Just look at his hands. They are capable of strangling a tiger."

Under normal circumstances he might have alluded to a grizzly bear, but the pervasive influence of Tiger Woods is everywhere and none more so than on the career of Justin Rose. Whatever Woods did as a child prodigy, Rose has done it younger. Even after being beaten in the fourth round of the Amateur, his opponent, Sam Little, said: "Justin will be the Tiger Woods of the European tour. He has all the shots you need."

It seems that Rose was just a twinkle in his father's eye when he was destined to be a major force. Ken Rose had been a useful tennis player in South Africa before he took up golf. "It was the most fascinating thing I'd ever played," he said. "In tennis I'd have to watch myself on those iffy calls. I don't want to get too philosophical about it, but golf seems to have a code of ethics for life itself. I was determined that if I had a son, I would introduce him to golf at the earliest stage."

Thus, almost before the umbilical cord was cut, Justin was hitting a plastic ball with a plastic club. "He was besotted with it," Ken said. "He became so proficient at it he could hit the ball 30 yards. It was like a cabaret act." By the age of 11 months, Justin was using a proper club. He was still in his nappies when his parents stood on the first tee at the Johannesburg Country Club, waiting for the mixed foursomes in front to hit their shots. "Justin saw a ball on the tee, ran up to it and hit it 40 yards down the fairway," Ken recalls.

It was a defining moment. "That convinced me that I was going to make a golfer out of the kid. What I didn't know was what a dynamic package I had in terms of talent." When the boy wonder was five, Ken and Anne Rose, whose parents came from London and Glasgow, moved to England.

Ken - "I'm a nine handicap slapper" - studied the golf swing and passed it to his son. "We couldn't afford a full-time coach so I taught him the fundamentals and that meant a very simple, basic swing."

At the Tylney Club in Hampshire, Justin broke 50 for nine holes by the age of six. By eight he was playing in junior competitions designed for boys who were at least four years older. By 10 he had broken 70 for a round.

"I was very hard on him and I used to get irritated when he hit a bad shot," Ken, who also serves as caddie, said. "The members would tell me that I was going to destroy the kid. If he snapped and started throwing clubs or told me to go and jump in the lake then I would have known he was never going to make it. That would have been the end of it, but he never did. We don't argue. If I get up his nose, all he'll say is 'why don't you relax, dad'.

"In stroke play I taught him never to pick up the ball on the green. Every hole had to be completed and from that he developed a never-say- die attitude. To compete with the older boys, he also learnt an incredible short game."

Justin, who is now a member at Northants, won national under-14, under-16 and under-18 championships and two weeks ago gained his most significant 72-hole victory, the St Andrews Trophy.

At the age of 16, and with a handicap of plus two, he could become the youngest player to appear in the Walker Cup between GB and Ireland and the US which will be held in New York in August.

Tiger Woods was on the losing team at Royal Porthcawl two years ago. When he won the Masters at Augusta in April, Rose was glued to the TV set. "In making the quantum leap, Tiger has given Justin a new perspective," Ken said. "He realises how good he has to be. Since the Masters his attitude has improved by 50 per cent."

After getting eight GCSEs, Rose, supported by club and county and even anonymous donations, is playing full-time on the amateur circuit. "He could turn professional now and make money," his father said. "That is determined by his game, not his age. We - he - wants to play in the Walker Cup. It's his decision when to turn pro. It could be in 18 months or two years. Some people go too early but he has made the transition from boy to man golfer. His desire never ceases to amaze me."

Woods was wooed by IMG before turning professional and young Rose of England was approached by agents almost before he was teething. Million- pound endorsements and all the Calpol he could drink.